The Summer before Senior Year was when I decided to get serious about hockey. For the past one and a half seasons, I’d done the bare minimum to become acquainted with this very new sport, attending games and the practices offered to my high school team (there weren’t many). The fact was that playing hockey was already so far out of my comfort zone that merely participating felt like pushing myself. But as anyone who’s attempted to master anything knows well, one cannot reach their full potential by merely showing up.
And so I resolved to participate in Summer League ice hockey, a program based in Olney where several color-coded teams, chosen based off geography, played each other informally over the course of July and August. Determined to prevent myself from ducking out last minute, I registered as soon as humanly possible… only to realize, a month or so later, that the program had somehow lost my registration and had not assigned me to a scene. My mother called and worked it out, and I was belatedly added back to the system. One would assume this was where the mix-ups would end. In this case, one would assume incorrectly.
Howard County isn’t exactly the hockey capital of the nation, and so its residents really only belonged in one of two teams. The White Team was made up of a number of high-level players from a local club team; and the Black Team was composed of basically everyone else from Howard County. However, when I arrived at the first game, I realized I’d been placed on neither of these teams– I was on the Blue Team, or, more accurately, the Seahawks.
The locker room was empty when I arrived on that very first Sunday. With a tight fist clenched around my heart, I set to work dressing for the game, both nervous and excited by the prospect of meeting my new teammates. After several tense moments of isolation, the first kid walked in, and we made pleasant conversation. Things were going okay. But once the others began to trickle in, laughing and joking as if they’d known each other forever, I realized that something was off.
As it turned out, the Blue Team I was playing on was made up entirely by the hockey team of a school elsewhere in Maryland. Their hockey team was apparently large and active enough to field an entire team for the Summer League, and for some reason– perhaps overflow from the Black Team, perhaps the similarities between “River Hill Ice Hawks” and “South River Seahawks”– I’d been placed with them.
My parents offered to try to switch me onto the Black Team with the other Howard County students, but I refused, seeing this as a challenge and a chance to push myself socially. (Even now I’m uncertain if that was the right choice). Sure, I was isolated from everyone, but they were friendly enough, and they had a few players around my skill level. I could make this work.
Playing on the Blue Team exposed me to an entirely different hockey experience. For one thing, the team had only one girl, unlike every other team I had and would play on which had at least two or three. She changed in a different locker room, unlike the Ice Hawks or Huskies. The guys, on the other hand, had an entirely different dynamic than I was used to. Blue Team was a lot closer knit than the Ice Hawks, and the guys were a lot more comfortable joking and messing around in the locker room. They also were more prone to the mythic “locker room talk”, or lewd and occasionally un-PC comments. (However, when I briefly played on a different team for two games, their jokes made the Blue Team’s look positively wholesome).
In the end, this season was an exercise in perseverance and futility. Becoming friends with a group of tight knit strangers was a nigh impossible task, but I can rest easy knowing I did my best and went out of my comfort zone in an attempt to at least briefly connect with my teammates. I pushed past myself to start conversations, cheer them on, and just be present in the moment. As soon as the season ended, the entire team would unfollow me on social media (except for one). It wasn’t that they were mean, or bad people. It was just that they had no interest in being friends with me, which was perfectly fine.
I did end up improving a good amount from Summer League, and really, that was the point. I had fun playing hockey, blocked some pucks with the side of my calf, and accidentally tripped an enemy player when I fell. Most importantly, Summer League gave me the courage to play Rec Hockey with Huskies that year, which was such a trying and rewarding experience.
We all often worry about being hated, but in reality more often people will be indifferent to us. We can’t worry about situations like this, just do our best to extend a hand of friendship, and move on if it is unwanted. Sometimes you have to put yourself out there, face the music, and have fun.