The hockey family

Ken Rappoport, a long-time writer for the Associated Press, has authored numerous books concerning team, family and personal values as they relate to sports. Rappoport covered a range of sports during his career, but came to the conclusion that he liked hockey the best. As Roy MacGregor has noted, Rappoport came to his decision “not so much because of the way it is played … but because of those who play it,” citing their manner and the values they carry. Rappoport’s theory is that it all has to do with family, and that hockey players have a connection to family unmatched in any other sport.

This edition of Breakout contains stories that illustrate the familial roots of the great Canadian game. We focus on some GTHL players ready to move on to the OHL; we feature an exciting new tournament supporting an excellent cause; and we profile a great hockey organization – the common thread being supportive families.

As we head into the holiday season, many teams will attend games and tournaments across the city. Parents, grandparents and other relatives will be there – hot chocolate in hand – to cheer them on and exchange season’s greetings with other hockey families.

On Tuesday, Dec. 15, the Scotiabank GTHL Top Prospects Game will take place at Scotiabank Pond in Downsview Park. I am sure each of the 40 talented players suiting up in the event will attest to the incredible support he has received from family over the years. While the reputation of this showcase grows each year, the seventh annual event is still in its youthful stage relative to its GTHL cousins.

One of them, the North Toronto Hockey Association, is celebrating its 50th anniversary season. In the half-century of NT hockey, thousands of players have skated for the red, green and white at the competitive, select and house league levels. Like many of the GTHL’s clubs and organizations, countless former players have returned to NT with their own children and to serve as coaches, trainers and managers.

At the other end of the city, the newest addition to the GTHL family – the PlayStation Platinum Cup powered by the Toronto Maple Leafs and GTHL – had its first showing and raised funds for Camp Ooch, a camp for kids with and affected by childhood cancer.

Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan addressed campers and players during the tournament, which was held at MasterCard Centre, just blocks away from Mimico where he and his three older brothers grew up playing minor hockey. Brendan’s roots still run deep here in Toronto and he says that his best friends are the boys who were his friends as teenagers.

Brendan was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013 following a 21-year NHL career in which he scored the 13th-most goals in League history. During his induction speech, Brendan, like all players who achieve the highest levels, credited his family. His mother, brothers and other family members were in attendance and Brendan remembered his late father – whom he lost to Alzheimer’s when Brendan was only 15 – for all his support, including those early morning rides to the rink.

During this holiday season, whether you’re playing or watching – a tyke game or the top prospects – enjoy the time with family and the great relationships we develop with teammates and friends. The rhythm of hockey life marches on, and we should all savor these moments.

As MacGregor wrote in his lyrical book The Home Team:

It surprises hockey fathers [and mothers] how quickly the seasons pass. I have friends in old-timer hockey who, usually in the summer, would bring out their lanky, often-clumsy sons of thirteen, fourteen and fifteen to play with “the men.” Moments later, it seemed, they had become “the men” … Not long ago we had been humouring them; now, if they happen to come out again on a slow summer’s night, they indulge us.

In closing, let me extend best wishes for the holidays – from my hockey family to yours.

Don West

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