Friday, January 6, 2017

Recruiting A Gold Medal Kid



With USA beating Canada for the gold medal at the World Junior Championships last night, there are a lot of amazing stories being told about the team and its players.  It was an incredible game with a storyline centering around commitment, resiliency, and a team-first attitude that lifted the squad to their gold medal.

I have a story about USA’s star defenseman, Charlie McAvoy.  And it’s one that I think all kids aspiring to play college hockey (and their parents) need to hear:

During my time as an Assistant Coach at Cornell, I remember watching Charlie play as a younger kid.  He skated for the New Jersey Rockets, and he instantly became noticeable on the ice for his play.  He was competitive, could really skate, and had an unbelievable head for the game (He had great grades too!).

We invited Charlie up to Cornell for a visit to check things out, and it became one of the more memorable visits I had in my time as a coach.

During the hours that Charlie and his dad were on campus, I quickly realized that Charlie absolutely oozed character.  He was a phenomenal kid, and while getting to know his dad as well, it was easy to see where that goodness came from.  We had heard from numerous others that they were incredible people, but upon spending more time with them we understood why so many people had such great things to say.

We talked about values and family, we talked about what Charlie wanted out of his future, but the conversation that I will always remember centered around Hurricane Sandy.

Prior to his visit, Charlie’s hometown on Long Island got hit really bad by the storm.  Stores and homes were decimated, and the town was in really rough shape from what they were saying.  But Charlie and his dad spoke passionately about the resiliency of the people there, and the ability for everyone to come together and help each other out in the community.  Charlie’s dad himself was a plumber, and spoke about the numerous jobs he was doing for his neighbors for free.  It was really incredible to hear their stories.

And here’s the thing: Before the visit, Charlie was a fifteen-year-old kid that we really liked as a player and wanted to keep a close eye on.  At the end of the visit, I knew that we had to have him as a part of our program.  And here’s what I think all kids and parents need to hear:

Charlie was an immensely talented player, but there are a lot of immensely talented players out there.  We knew that this kid was special and destined for great things because of his character.  And what gave us comfort in recruiting this fifteen-year-old kid was the fact that his dad was such a great individual as well.  We didn’t decide to fully commit to Charlie because of his hockey playing ability (although that certainly had a huge part in it!).  We decided that we needed to have him by the type of person that he was, and the type of family that he came from.

Charlie didn’t end up choosing Cornell and wound up going to Boston University.  But, I will always be a fan of his.  I am not surprised one bit that he became a first round draft pick and a captain of this gold medal winning team.  Yes, because of his hockey playing ability.  But more importantly because of his character and work ethic. 

For all you kids out there reading this: if you work hard and strive to be a good person, the probability of good things happening to you will be great.  Character shines, and colleges aren’t just recruiting good hockey players…they are recruiting good people just as importantly.

For all of the parents out there reading this: What you do and how you act MATTERS.  Just as how Charlie Sr. gave us comfort in recruiting Charlie, myself and many of my former colleagues at other schools have chosen not to recruit a kid because of his parents.  Your attitude and your actions have consequences for your kids.  Encourage them to love the game and work hard, stay out of the youth hockey drama, and for the love of God…Your kid can’t hear you yell from the stands when he is on the ice.

Watching Charlie lead the Americans to a gold medal last night brought a smile to my face.  It’s awesome watching good things happen to good people. 

Especially when it involves beating the Canadians.

Monday, November 28, 2016

That Smile


A few months ago, I had the most amazing moment of my life.

I saw our baby move.

Yep…

WE ARE HAVING A BABY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow…We are having a baby.

While holding Emma’s hand during the ultrasound at the hospital...we witnessed our child move for the first time.

Seeing that little figure squirm around the black and white screen made the thought of becoming a parent so incredibly real.  And as I stood there in a blissful wonder, a wave of emotion hit me like I’d never felt before in my life.  It was an amazing moment.

And then I looked at my beautiful wife. 

And the smile that she had on her face while gazing at the screen was one of those rare moments in life that you know you’ll remember forever.  It was mom meeting her baby for the first time…an introduction to a beautiful journey they would take together over the next several months.

She deserves that smile more than anybody that I know, and I fell more in love with her in that moment than I ever thought was possible.

In my moment of bliss, the second I saw that glowing smile I became instantly more contented.  My joy was in witnessing her insatiable happiness, and I was grateful to share in that moment with my soulmate.
   
After a few minutes of being in awe, it sank in that we were finally starting a family.  And another wave of exhilaration swept through my body knowing that my child was going to have Emma as a mom.

I can’t wait to see her in that role.  She is going to knock it out of the park.  Like, Grand Slam out of the park.

And how do I know?

I know because I am able to see the goodness inside of her every day.  I see a strong, independent woman who is so incredibly talented, driven, and kind.  I see a person who cares so deeply about others.  I see an incredible role model for our future child.  And although her genetics don’t exactly help this future child in the height department, he or she will hopefully be blessed with their mother’s will and determination.

Her smarts. Her courage.  Her strength.  Her gratefulness.  Her beauty inside and out.

And that breathtaking, wonderful smile.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

French Toast & Family


Imagine your mentally unstable (and alcoholic) mother trying to throw you out of a moving truck when you were a child.

Imagine the police knocking on your front door with news that your incredibly successful, but abusive (and alcoholic) father committed suicide.

After all that…Imagine your uncles, the day after your dad kills himself, scamming you out of your entire inheritance.  You are left without parents or family support of any kind.  You are left with nothing.

Nothing.

Well, my Grandma didn’t imagine these experiences.  She lived them.

But despite the horror of her childhood, she has gone on to live one of the most beautiful lives I have ever seen.

It is a fascinating story full of love, family, and community.

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I may be the luckiest guy in the world.  I am 31 years old (yikes!), and I still have all four of my grandparents.  I doubt there are many on this Earth that can say the same. 

I cherish the time we are able to spend together.  And with Grandma and Grandpa Scott, us grandkids have a tradition to always stop in for breakfast when we are in town.  It’s a tradition that started in our childhood and brings back so many great memories.

Mmmm…We can’t get enough of Grandma Scott’s Famous French Toast.  And although my stomach always hurts from the amount of food I eat, it’s not the food that I cherish. 

It’s my life’s education. 

It’s the shared stories, the discussion of morals and values, and the strength of our family bond that continues to grow at that little breakfast table.  I’ve learned more about the person I want to be at that breakfast table than anywhere else in the world.

I’ve learned that material things don’t create happiness, connection does.  My Grandma grew up in a life of material luxury, but you read how that turned out.  They had a lot of stuff, but their home lacked a sense of love and understanding that families desire.  When she met my Grandpa, they started with nothing.  They still don’t have much, but they have each other.  I see the way they look at each other, and the way they are still totally smitten after almost 60 years of marriage.  They are the happiest, most in love people I’ve ever met.  It’s incredible for us to see.

I’ve learned that life is hard.  Life isn’t always fair.  In fact, it hardly ever is.  Nobody should have to endure what my Grandma did when she was a kid.  But instead of dwelling on what happened to her, she learned from it.  She can’t understand the “Poor Me” people.  Bad things happen to everyone at some point in their lives, often unjustly.  But she has taught us to stare adversity in the eye and use those events as learning experiences.  Her childhood didn’t make her weak and fragile.  It made her compassionate and strong.
  
I’ve learned to never give up and to fight for what you believe in.  My Grandma wanted nothing to do with my Grandpa when they first met at a dance hall in Chicago.  In her words…He was a drinker, had two left feet, and to top it off…he was a red-head (gasp!).  But Grandpa saw something special in her, and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  So this tough Air Force Cadet from a rough neighborhood in Chicago enrolled in dance lessons to impress a girl.  He showed her how much he cared about her, something nobody in her life had ever done.  He fought for her.  And the rest is history.

I’ve learned the meaning of hard work.  My grandparents often worked multiple jobs to support their family.  They share stories of long nights and odd jobs just to make ends meet.  They scraped together everything they could to make sure they had a roof over their heads and food on the table.  Often, they were left with only a few extra cents for leisure once the bills were paid.  It was thankless and often grueling, but they did everything they could to support the people they loved.

I’ve learned the TRUE meaning of successful.  When I hear my grandparents gush about their kids and grandkids, it’s never about their accomplishments or titles.  It’s about the people they’ve become.  The charities they have helped.  The people they have moved.  The values they have lived.  All grandparents brag about their kids and grandkids.  Mine brag about the right things. 

I’ve learned that anything worthwhile in life is EARNED.  My grandparents made my dad work to pay for his hockey (partly because they couldn’t afford it, partly for the life lesson).  He earned the right to be able to play the game that he loved.  And because he had to earn it, he developed an unbelievable passion for the game.  I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for that passion.  Thanks, Dad. 

I’ve learned the value of discipline.  We talk about how my dad and his siblings were (gasp!) spanked.  I was (OH MY GOD!) spanked too.  And I deserved it.  I learned why it is important to discipline your children.  I was spanked when I was dishonest, selfish, or showed a lack of respect.  And today…Honesty, Loyalty, and Respect are three of the values that I cherish the most.

I’ve learned that showing up matters.  My grandparents were always there for all nine of their grandkids’ events.  From hockey rinks, to gymnastics meets, to…more hockey rinks… they were always there.  They didn’t just say “I love you” and “I care about you”.  They proved it.  And it meant the world to us.

I’ve learned the value of seeing the good in everybody.  When my Grandma talks about her father, she doesn’t allow herself to remember the bad.  She thinks about his laugh and joyfulness when he was sober, and the comfort of his big belly when they would snuggle together in her younger years.  She still calls herself a “Daddy’s Girl”.  Of all the pain that he caused, I honestly can’t believe how she does it.  But I think it’s amazing.

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Let’s face reality: We live in a world where the simple things like having a meal with those we love has gone by the wayside.  I fear that we have forgotten the value of these precious experiences. 

Instead of learning our values from the stories of our elders, we educate ourselves through the many “experts” on the internet.  Our sense of belonging and community comes through a phone or computer, rather than the deep connection with those who (actually) care about us.  

But I’ll be damn sure that I don’t miss a breakfast at 36 Crestview Terrace every chance I get.  The french toast is LEGENDARY, but not as much as the stories told and lessons learned at that little wooden breakfast table.

I am proud of the person that I have become, and I am who I am because of where I came from.  I’ll never forget that. 

And I’ll never forget my life’s education eating French Toast Breakfasts with Grandma and Grandpa Scott.