Long before the sun is up, they’re awake, blearily gathering together gear and snacks. They pack it into automobiles that they’ve bought specifically to fit it all, cars that will forever smell slightly of the stuff. They groggily lace up young kids’ skates, help them with the helmets and pads and layers and layers of protection. They sit in freezing arenas with parkas and blankets and thermoses full of hot coffee – sometimes in the middle of summer. They consume questionable foodstuffs from vending machines. They cheer on the players, encourage and guide them. Go over the rules and strategies during rides to the rink, at the dinner table, at bedtime. They handle their kids’ disappointments and, sometimes, snarky remarks from other parents in the stands.
They pay thousands of dollars every season for the privilege while juggling colossal logistical demands: The carpooling, the kitchen calendars marked up to oblivion, the laundry.
But anything for the kids. Their passion, their dreams, their goals.
This is not a Tim Hortons commercial. This is what life looks like for hockey parents across Canada. Hockey moms and dads who are mad as h-e-double-hockey-sticks right now.
All of this work, all of this money, all of this sacrifice, to bring their kids up into a toxic culture? And to learn that their hard-earned dollars could be contributing to Hockey Canada’s sexual assault problem?
An Angus Reid poll in August, after the Hockey Canada debacle become public, found that most Canadians – women, especially – believe sexual harassment and sexual assault are a problem in youth hockey.
Then this week, Globe and Mail reporting revealed that a second large reserve was created to cover sexual assault claims and other lawsuits, funded with player registration fees. Sponsors – Tim Hortons included – are dropping like face-off pucks.
So what’s a hockey parent to do?
If you grew up around hockey, these revelations may not be entirely surprising to you. Beyond the specific incident in question – the alleged sexual assault of a woman by a group of hockey players in a hotel room after a Hockey Canada gala – there is a perception that hockey players have been able to use their celebrity status in Canadian culture to their sexual advantage. Wild parties and hazing rituals that sometimes involved nudity – or worse.
Even if the culture is changing, there are parents who – even before the most recent revelations – might have hesitated to put their kids in hockey. But, with their kids begging to play, they hoped that their perception of the game’s culture was inaccurate or out of date, signed them up and crossed their fingers.
And then one day they’re driving to practice, listening to the radio, and a story comes on about Hockey Canada using funds from player registrations to defend team players accused of a group sexual assault.
A teachable moment, the most optimistic of hockey parents might say. A chance to connect the horrific story to conversations they might have already had about consent. But what if your kid is five or six? What do you say to them then?
And what if your kid idolizes one of the players who happened to be on Team Canada in 2018, the year of the hotel room incident? What do you say to them about that?
Add that to the long list of costs for a family associated with this sport.
For parents, this was devastating; for some, their worst fears about what the sport might be teaching their kids became justified. And the organization that runs the whole thing did not just pass the puck, it orchestrated the deflection.
This has triggered rink rage among hockey parents – and this rage has nothing to do with that kid on the team who missed a perfect scoring opportunity.
My heart breaks for the kids who are already in hockey and whose parents have decided (understandably) to pull them from the game.
If you’re not yet a hockey parent, and your kids are asking you to sign them up, you may be thinking, why not insist on soccer or basketball instead? Beyond being far less expensive and cumbersome – and with far less head-injury potential – these sports do not come with the toxic baggage that hockey reeks of.
Here’s some of the good I’ve seen at the rink: young players comforting a goalie who let a shot in, or a player who missed what looked like a sure-fire goal. Players giving each other little pep talks, pats on the back of encouragement.
Diversity on the ice. In East Vancouver, where I live, we have teams that are not white-dominated, which is a huge change from the game I grew up with.
Passion and enthusiasm. Parents who don’t have to tear kids away from screens to go do something active.
One of my hockey-mom friends had a conversation with her 10-year-old son this week, a goalie in a competitive development program in British Columbia. When she asked him what he was most proud of in his life, he said: being part of the hockey community.
So how long until that community becomes a threat to his values and actions, his mom asked me. Or turns him into someone who sees himself as being above the law?
That’s the end game some parents are fearing.