Last week I made the 1,000 mile round trip journey home with my young children. I did it last year about this time, and I'll probably do it again next year. While the timing coincides with the holidays and the New Year, I came home to play in the Fargo North High alumni hockey game. Living out of state has made it difficult to get back, but the stars aligned and I was able to make a quick trip back. I'm glad I did.
I think an alumni game gives a pretty good perspective of what playing a youth/high school sport is really about. At this age, it is more about survival for the time you are out there. You know, trying not to pull a muscle or lose a tooth so you can go to work on Monday morning. Because of that, you are out there to have fun playing the game. And, that is what it is really all about.
Our game had almost four decades of FNH alumni. There were guys who played with Cooperalls, guys who played their state tournaments at the "Old Ralph," guys who played for the Raiders when they transitioned from red/white/blue to the blue/gold, and then some guys who have had a cell phone since they were 12. I coached some of the younger guys at one time, and was coached by some of the older guys. Sharing stories in the locker room about old arenas, bus trips, and teams we played is a special part of the night. That camaraderie is what it is really all about.
The game plays a little different. Most of the equipment on the guys is antiquated. The bench is filled with smiles and laughs, poking fun at each other over talent lost. We don't move like "the old days." Instead of a student section, our kids are in the crowd watching. Nothing is more special than that. For some, our parents are there. For them, I think for one night it brings back years of memories. But, they are also busy chasing the grandkids. As a player, you see all of this. Sometimes, it is in slow motion as you take everything in. Really, that is what it is all about.
I hope I can keep this a tradition. I don't like the travel, the white-knuckle driving that comes with it, or the 50-60 degree temperature swing from central Iowa to Fargo. But I want my kids to continue to see what this is really about. Hockey, and other sports and games, is about having fun, enjoying the people, making memories, and creating life-long friendships. As long as I can continue to have fun, spend the night with friends and family, and be presentable for work Monday morning....I'm in! That is really what it is all about.
Gress is a 2004 graduate of Fargo North High School living in Des Moines, Iowa. (Free agent, undrafted, 2000 NHL entry draft)