“Play like it’s the Stanley Cup!”
When I first heard these words I was all of 11 years-old. I was playing youth hockey and it was my first year playing. Being that we didn’t have a lot of money, I didn’t have the best equipment. My dad, Canadian by birth but a naturalized U.S. citizen, wasn’t about to buy me equipment until he knew I enjoyed the game and was committed to playing. I wore National Geographic magazines under my socks as shin guards and old basketball knee pads as elbow pads. In our league, helmets and teeth guards were not required. After all, it was 1962.
Of course, we played on outside rinks in Kenmore, a suburb of Buffalo, NY. The temperature often hovered in the single digits at our games and when it would snow, they’d have to shovel the ice between periods. As my dad would say, “You’re not a real hockey player unless you know how to back check into a 30 mph wind!” That wasn’t all he said. Whenever he dropped me off at the rink for practice, he’d grab my arm to get my attention and as my eyes met his, he’d say the same thing every time…”Play like it’s the Stanley Cup!”
That was 50 years ago. Now, at age 60, I am still ‘lacing ‘em up’ once a week and playing hockey with a bunch of men. In addition, I’ve been certified as a USA Hockey Level I Official. Whether playing or officiating, every time I take those first three or four strides on the ice and the cold air embraces my face, I’m 11 years-old all over again. I cannot describe the feeling, only how special I feel to still be out on the ice playing a game I love. Maybe the only thing I enjoy more than playing or officiating hockey is watching Stanley Cup hockey once the playoffs begin.
This year, the playoffs have been exceptional. Overtime games, multiple game sevens to decide series’ winners, hard-hitting checks, great goaltending, the occasional fight, and of course, when each series ends, the traditional lineup and handshake by two teams that for 7-10 days basically were trying to hammer each other into oblivion. Bloodied, bruised, teeth missing, they line up, look each other in the eye, exchange messages of respect to one another and shake hands. It is a classic moment in all of sport and one that is not seen often enough in professional sport. Quite frankly, and this is coming from a guy who absolutely loves sports in general and especially college football and lacrosse…there is nothing quite like Stanley Cup hockey.
When my dad died in 1984, there were many people who came by the funeral home in Buffalo to pay their respects. Towards the end of the viewing at about 8 PM, a little guy in a brown leather jacket showed up by himself. He was about 65 years-old (my guess) and maybe all of 5’6” tall. He went up to the casket, paid his respects and as he turned to walk away I saw him wipe a tear from his cheek. Not knowing who this guy was, I approached him and introduced myself, explaining that the deceased was my dad. With a sheepish grin on his face, he gave me a little hug and said, “Oh, so you’re Buddy. I used to play hockey with your dad at South Park High School.” As soon as he said that, I knew who he was.
“You must be ‘Shorty’ Minor” I said in an excited voice and he raised his eyebrows in amazement.
“You actually know who I am?” he inquired.
“Absolutely!” I said. “My dad used to tell me stories about ‘Shorty’ Minor, this scrappy Right Wing and how you once checked a guy from Bennett High School right over the boards into the Bennett bench area!”
He looked down at his shuffling feet, grinning, shaking his head. He obviously appreciated that someone, some kid who was 30+ years younger than him, actually knew who he was and about his exploits as a high school hockey player. He smiled at me and said, “You know, your dad was quite a hockey player and more than that, he was our leader. He inspired us.”
I just nodded my head because that’s how I had always thought of my dad. And then Shorty said something to me I’ll never forget. He looked at me and said, “You know what I will always remember about your dad, Buddy? Whenever we got ready to go out of the locker room and take the ice, he’d say the same thing to us. It was just his way of getting us going. You know what he’d say?”
“I can guess, but you tell me,” I said.
“He used to say, ‘Boys, play like it’s the Stanley Cup!” As he spoke the words, his lips quivered and he turned away to avoid me from seeing the pain on his face. As he turned back to me, he unashamedly looked me in the eye, tears streaming down his face, and he said to me, “I loved your dad.” Not very often men of that generation spoke those words about their true feelings. But, that moment was very special for me; one of those indescribable life moments that you just always remember and carry with you in your heart. I will never forget the moment, or ‘Shorty’ Minor or of course, my dad.
“Play like it’s the Stanley Cup” may be an expression that comes from the game of hockey, but in reality, it is its own philosophy of life. To live your life as though you are playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is to make the very most of your God-given gifts and live life to the very fullest. No wasted shifts, no regrets, no holding back, just taking the ice and being thankful you even have the opportunity to play the game and be in it 110%.
The life we live is just that…one life. There are no dress rehearsals and once a shift ends, there is no taking it back or ‘do overs.’ You just live the moment and make the very most of every experience. So, whether you’re a high school hockey player sharing the inspiration of those special words in the locker room with your teammates or a loving father sharing them as a life lesson with the son he loves, the message will always ring true…”Play like it’s the Stanley Cup.”
Don’t waste your flavor – LIVE Deliciously!