Endless amounts of instagram pictures and facebook posts of action photos litter my feed every Friday and Saturday morning, reminding me that today is the two dreaded words, “game day.” This day is not “dreaded” because I hate the team, I’m not dressing, or anything along those lines (which are all beyond false). Game day is dreadful for a pine rider because this day consists of a large spectrum of emotion. We must sit and watch our team play the sport we’ve loved since we were little girls, while we contain the anger, happiness, anxiety, fear, and eagerness that we are flooded with.
I would be lying to you if I said we weren’t angry when we didn’t dress. If we were satisfied with watching our friends play the sport we love while sitting out, we would be poor athletes. We’re happy because we love the sport, and can’t wait to see the outcome of all the hard work our team has put in all week. We are eager to see what happens throughout the game, keeping injuries, goals, penalties, and our team’s overall performance in mind. We watch like hawks for any opportunity that may arise for us to play. While we want the team to be successful, we also hope the success includes us being in the lineup. We feel anxiety and fear because we are afraid of being in someone’s way or not doing something we have been asked to do correctly, which brings me to my next point: all the things we do for the team.
While my teammates warm-up, tape their sticks, listen to their iPods, play soccer, and sing out blurbs of rap songs that come on in the locker room, we are busy doing all the dirty work that the sport entails. We are grabbing 50 hockey sticks by the arm-full and carrying them to the bench, which may or may not be all the way across the rink. We then organize each stick into numerical order, which isn’t always a speedy task. We then fill up all 12 water bottles with the best quality water we can find, and must carry them around to the bench and into the locker room, only to have to refill them a half hour later. We must make sure the whiteboard for drawing plays is in the right spot on the bench. We must make sure the medical kit is somewhere easily accessible. All before the game.
Finally, we get time to rest. As a group, we talk about what we think the outcome of the game will be, and how we have been looking as a team in practice. We ask each other how we’re holding up, giving each other emotional pep-talks to keep each other going for the next three hours. Maybe if we’re lucky, we can sneak in a quick book read or juggle with the soccer ball. After what seems like an eternity, it’s finally game time.
Now, we must record the game, our hands ice bricks by the end of the period. One of us must rush down to lock and unlock the locker rooms in time for the team to come in. Most times, we will pat each player on the shoulder as she walks by, sometimes getting the occasional sour face and “not now” comment, depending on how the period went. In between periods, we often get the “can you get me a…” comment, which we rush off to get before it’s time to hit the ice again. Then, there’s the team meal.
Each away game, we are asked to meet the caterer at the door, grab the food, and place it on the bus. Doing so results in us missing a portion of the game, just our luck always happening to be the most eventful parts. When the game is over, we have to round up 25 sticks, inhalers, water bottles, the board, and anything else that was left on the bench. We then dump the water out and round up ice bags for the athletes in need. These tasks may not seem terrible, which they generally aren’t, but it’s an entirely different experience for the team pine riders.
Sometimes, flustered teammates take their emotions out on us. Sometimes coaches lecture us about a mistake we made in regards to one of our assigned jobs. Sometimes, we aren’t quick enough to get the items teammates need and hear about it. We are floating in a subliminal exile, since we don’t get to wear the sweater we dreamt all week about wearing. Sometimes our comments to the team in between periods are contested, even though we have the best view in the house. Every single game, we are given blank stares by parents, condescending looks from the other team, and are laughed at by cocky college boys. This makes our lives even harder while we try to hide all the powerful emotions we are feeling.
You have no idea how amazing it feels when a teammate thanks us for something on game day, no matter how small the task was. It makes us feel reconnected with the team, and reinspires us to keep helping. It makes us feel respected on a day where we are just bystanders at a hockey game. After all, we are your biggest supporters and loudest fans.
I think every player should have to sit one game to understand how privileged they are to pull the sweater over their head every game day. Those who do find it humbling to see what we see and do what we do. We fight all week through the sweat, tears, and internal frustration only to reap no reward. Try sitting for one game, two games, eight games. It only gets harder. It takes a hard shelled, mentally tough, irrationally supportive, strong person to be a pine rider, and only the toughest survive.