Meet my armored princess

Ballet is out, hockey is in

There was a time when my daughter was a ballet-dancing princess who wouldn't hurt a flea. Then one day she decided she wanted to be a hockey player.

Out with the tutu, in with the elbow pads.

She never really expressed any interest in the sport when she was younger, but over the years she watched her mother play net for the N.H. Senior Lady Monarchs hockey team and work as part of the off-ice crew for the Boston Blades in the Canadian Professional Women's Hockey League. It's there she met Olympians like Angela Ruggiero, Erika Lawler and UNH alum Kacey Bellamy. She got to talk to these pioneers and see what great role models they are. Already her mom's biggest fan, hockey was starting to look pretty good.

And then the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.

“Daddy, I want to play hockey,” she said one day this past summer.

That night we talked to her mom about it. Actually, her mom tried to talk her out of it – she was afraid our budding hockey player wouldn't like getting hit or falling down. We could see this wasn't a passing phase, so we got her geared up and signed up for a clinic run by the Seacoast Lightning girls hockey program. The night before her first hockey practice, she laid out all her equipment and showed me how she already knew how to “drop the gloves.” My favorite Bruin is Shawn Thornton – I blame myself.

My parents smiled at the news. They drove my brother and I all over New England when we played youth hockey, so now it was my turn.

My wife's mom was a little less overjoyed. She had visions of missing teeth and fights and body checks. We assured her she was still going to be rather princess-like – just an armored princess.

The night finally arrived when she'd make her hockey debut. I tied her skates as tight as I could, patted her on the helmet and told her listen to her coaches, try her best and have fun.

She walked down the ramp and turned the corner so all I could see was the top of her helmet bopping up and down as she made her way to the ice. She stepped one foot out onto the ice, and then – very gingerly – the other. She started wiggling her hips, swaying back and forth and moving forward. The first obstacle had been crossed. She was standing and making forward progress. This was the first time she'd ever skated in full hockey equipment with a stick in her hand. She was very much a beginner among other little girls who had more experience and some great skills.

My wife and I sat in the stands as the coaches began running drills. She often came in last, but it was clear she was doing her best. As the hour went on, her mom and I began to get very tense. It was impossible to see her facial expressions behind the cage on her helmet so we had no idea what she was thinking. Was she uptight about being the beginner on the ice? Did she feel bad about her level of skill? We weren't those parents who forced their kids into sports they weren't necessarily interested in, were we?

At the end of the hour the coach picked her up and carried her around the ice, swinging her back and forth before depositing her at the door.

The moment of truth had arrived. We had ourselves convinced she was overwhelmed and we'd have to whip up an impromptu pep talk on the way home. She walked back up the ramp, took off her helmet, shook her long brown hair back and forth and broke into a huge smile.

“That was great,” she said. “I can't wait until next time.” I exhaled, feeling more relief than I could've imagined.

“Did you see the coach carry me around? I felt like I was flying.”

She was in the midst of her first post-hockey adrenaline rush, and she kept talking.

“I know I'm a beginner, but if I keep working hard I'll be as good as the other girls someday.”

“Did you see me fall on my bottom? I got a ‘buttcussion.’”

I think there will be a lot more “buttcussions” in the future, but as long as she has fun, I'll deal with being the overprotective dad in the stands.

And I still don't think she'd hurt a flea.

Bill Burke lives in southern N.H. with his goaltender wife and hockey playing daughter, who likely won't lead the league in penalty minutes any time soon.

Categories: Dad on Board