I fell in love with hockey in college, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison - I was dating a player, so went to all the games my sophomore year, not so many after we broke up. But still loved the game.
Fast forward 15 years, and I married a hockey player, the Fish Husband. He started as a boy in his back yard, flooded by his dad each winter, so the kids could play hockey, and mom and dad could practice their ice dancing. He played all through high school and college, and went on to become a hockey coach in Wilmette for many years. Being a coach entitled him to play in a coach's game on Sunday mornings, something he continued for decades.
Our son played hockey as well, from Peewee, Squirt and on up. He changed to tennis in high school, and I must admit I'm very glad, especially with what I know now.
Hockey is a beautiful, exciting game, but it's also a violent game. Checking is violent, and the fighting is violent. The refs have the ability to stop the players from fighting - if players would get thrown out of games, they would stop fighting. Why then, you might ask, do they let the fighting go on? Because the pro hockey team owners think it sells tickets.
The Fish Husband gave up hockey when he was 50, not because he wanted to, but because he started having headaches after he played that were so severe, he could do nothing but go to bed. It seemed like a sign that perhaps he should hang up his skates, and he did. But it may have been too late. Even no check hockey takes its toll.
Last year, he was diagnosed with memory loss. The doctors can't definitively tell us what the cause is, but certainly the banging around his brain took during all those years of hockey didn't help. In the early days, getting your "bell rung" was a common occurrence - the coach would let you sit on the bench a little longer, then back out you'd go. The equipment is better now, back when he started over 60 years ago, the kids didn't even have to wear helmets.
This is why he retired rather abruptly last year from the fish business. It's been a rough time, for all of us. We still love watching hockey, but I cringe whenever a player gets smashed into the boards, or they pull off their gloves and start pounding each other.
We will be cheering on the Hawks Monday night, with friends and family and lots of Burhop's shrimp - and hoping that no one gets hurt. Everyone is talking about the brain injuries in football, maybe they need to look at how to make hockey safer as well.
Just read in the Chicago Tribune this morning about Stan Mikita and his memory loss - I'm guessing that even if he knew what could happen to his memory, he still would have played hockey. My husband would go out and play today if he could - it's a wonderful game, I just wish that they could make it safer.