Is it Unsafe for Our Kids to Watch Hockey?

I am a hockey mom. I wasn’t always this way. In fact, I used to dislike the whole sport. I definitely didn’t understand it. Grown men dressed in padding from head to toe, passionately chasing a little black puck with long wooden sticks, was not interesting to me. But my view of hockey changed three seasons ago. My son Noah, then 6, suddenly decided he liked hockey. And by liked I mean he totally, absolutely, without a doubt, completely, and passionately loved it. Suddenly every Saturday night we tuned into CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada  to watch the game on television. When we scored tickets to a live game there was no turning back – Noah had become hockey obsessed. And as his mother I jumped on the Zamboni for the wild ride. I suddenly knew what a power play was, a hat-trick, a breakaway, a face-off, stick handling, and hooking (totally not what you think)!

Before Noah had an interest in books I taught him to read from hockey cards; it was the only thing that would hold his attention long enough to sound out the consonants and vowels. Over the last few years I’ve had no choice but to purchase hockey figurines, a colorful assortment of mini sticks, replica pucks, and many jerseys. Everything is white and blue, the colors of the Toronto Maple Leafs that Noah adores so much. Sometimes the Leafs win and sometimes they don’t, but it was never an option to ban watching hockey in my home to prevent Noah’s disappointment if our team loses.

Last month the Toronto Star published “Is Leafs Nation Safe for My Kids?” by columnist Vinay Menon. It’s a humorous, well-written, tongue-in-cheek (I hope) account of the writer’s experience growing up watching hockey, specifically the Leafs. But now Menon is jaded because the Leafs keep losing their chance at the Stanly Cup season after season.

“As parents, we want our children to do better than we did,” writes Menon, a dad to girls Noah’s age. “We want our kids to be happy, to feel safe. The problem is, Leafs Nation does not manufacture a surplus of joy or security.”

Well he’s right about a few things. I mean who doesn’t want their kid to be happy and safe? I definitely want that for Noah. But I won’t shield my little guy from watching sports for fear of disappointment from his team losing. Menon is hoping his girls won’t get into hockey to avoid being disappointed if the Leafs don’t win the Stanly Cup. I see his logic, but where is the hope? What if the Leafs do win? How awesome would that be? I want to teach Noah that anything in life is possible and to reach for the stars. I have said many times that winning isn’t everything and as long as he does his best I am proud of him.

In reference to the Leafs, Menon jokes, “It’s too late for me.” He comically writes that he wouldn’t encourage his children to smoke or drink so why encourage them to watch the Leafs if it’s just as addictive? I laughed and then shuddered when I remembered what happened in May 2013. Noah and I were watching the game at home, and it was already past his bedtime on a school night. It was the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. The Leafs were winning. Noah was thrilled. It was almost a sure win for the Leafs since they were ahead by three goals.

My friend Keith, a longtime Leafs fan since childhood, recalls, “The date was May 13, 2013. It was Game 7 against the Boston Bruins, do-or-die for both teams! The Leafs were up 4-1 with ten minutes to go in the third, but allowed the Bruins to score three times to tie it up, including two goals in the final 90 seconds. The Leafs ended up losing the game in overtime on a goal scored at 6:05. A painful memory as a Leafs fan…but…I am still a fan!”

Let me repeat that. We were winning. Noah and I were seconds away from our victory dance. And then our amazing lead turned into a horrible, embarrassing, and devastating loss. The Leafs were out of the finals. Noah started screaming when Boston won. Then the tears flowed uncontrollably down his sad little face. I felt worse for Noah than I did for the Leafs. This is exactly what Menon is referring to!

But just like in life (outside of hockey!), there will be ups and downs. And as long as Noah knows I am there for him throughout all of it I know he will be okay. There was chocolate and hugs for Noah that night and a glass of wine for me.

Maybe one day there will be another Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs. But just in case there isn’t, for Noah’s birthday I took him to the Hockey Hall of Fame and let him see the Stanley Cup for himself.

Photo: Miriam Porter