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My son’s high school hockey career ended a couple weeks ago. I guess you know it’s coming from the first time they step on the ice. I can still remember the first goal he ever scored as a 6-year-old. Man, where has the time gone?

He scored goals in the last three games. He scored the last goal on home ice for his team. Afterwards, I hunted down the ref and got the puck. I’m keeping it, it cost me thousands of dollars!

Onto the reason for this blog. This season, I started announcing my son’s games in the arena. I was reluctant at first. Believe it or not, it makes me nervous. I’m not really use to using a “script” of sorts, and I’m not great at names. One day at work, I bumped into Mason. Yes, THE Mason who announces the Piston games. He’s exactly like you’d think he is. Passionate, excitable, bigger than life, very nice. I told him that I was going to be announcing my son’s game and what advice he could give me. He said these four words, words I’ll never forget – Make Them Feel Special!

Just a little backstory before I move on. About 6 or 7 years ago I told my wife that I wanted my son to play hockey for his high school hockey team. She responded that I was “living vicariously through him”. The fact of the matter is, I never got to play for my school because it was too small and didn’t have a team. Knowing my kid, I thought this would be great for him. Team trips, playing with and in front of his classmates, the crowd, the overall experience. Knowing his personality, this would be an unforgettable journey that he could take, and it was, with one exception….in 50 plus games, he never got announced as a starter for his team. That’s something he’s wanted to do since he joined. My thinking is, he stands on the goal line every game, hears his teammates names get called to start and waits for his turn. That day never came.

As this season wound down, I told one of the coaches that he’d never started, and could he start in the game we were playing that night. He responded that he would do me one better and that he would start him the following game at home, and I could announce him! Man, I was so fired up and excited. I didn’t tell him. He thought I was going to miss the first part of the game, so I snuck in without him seeing me. I had a hard time sleeping the night before.

As I went to my location to announce the game, I saw the starting lineup. He wasn’t on it. The coach who promised me the start wasn’t there. The head coach told me that the seniors with the most seniority were starting for the last game. I understood, but I was really bummed. I’m not going to get into it, but that fact that I was there for the beginning of the game was an act of moving schedules and doing things at work to allow me to get there. It wasn’t easy.

Ok, we still have at least one game left, and the coaches know of his desire to start. They have to try to get him in, right? Now it’s the playoffs. Lose and you’re out. I could be watching his last game. The kids line up on the goal line. I start my video camera and zoom in on my son. As they start announcing names, I realize it’s not his line they’re announcing. As the rest of the team starts to skate towards the blue-line, he looks up at me and shrugs his shoulders. He played a great game and they won. Yes! We have another game; he has one more chance to start.

As the kids line up on the goal line for the next game, I once again zoom in on him and wait for his name to be called. Once again, it’s not. As a dad of a kid who only wanted the acknowledgment of starting, I was hurt. As the game moved on and he scored his team’s only goal, I moved on and tried to forget about it. They ended up losing a game. That’s it, it’s over.

He got home a little while after I did with his girlfriend. I asked him what the coaches said about his play and just made small talk. Then something happened I’ll never forget. As he walked up the stairs, I could see him start to cry. I asked him what was wrong. He turned around, walked back towards me and said, “They never called my name”. I was devastated. My wife was heartbroken. It was a tough night in the Meltdown household. This kid played for the team for basically two seasons (half of one this year with everything that’s going on) and by all accounts, deserved to start at least one game. He practiced hard, played hard, cheered on his teammates, everything you could ask of him. Just one start, that’s all he wanted.

Hockey teaches a lot of things, none of which have anything to do with hockey. This is one of them. I don’t want you to think my kid is soft, he just wanted to be acknowledged and get to represent his school. For some kids, starting a game probably doesn’t matter much, it did for him. Even after bringing this to the attention of those in charge, they couldn’t find a way to slide him in to play the first shift. For two seasons he saw other kids on the team get their names called. It’s a small gesture that would’ve meant so much to him. There’s not a single reason why he could not have started in one game. Hell, I even started a game for the Motor City Mechanics back on 2005!

I write this blog to let people know that sometimes it’s the smallest things that are overlooked, that can make a huge difference for somebody. Overall, my son’s high school hockey experience was pretty good. In the grand scheme of things, this was a very small thing that could’ve happened. Don’t ever forget, it’s about the kids…..Make Them Feel Special.