The following series is something we are excited to bring you. In Southern California, we don’t play or see hockey on frozen ponds and through harsh winters. While the sport grows here and the western states, we do lose out on the experiences many kids who grow up on the East Coast and the Great White North get to live and love. That was the catalyst to this series. We are going to bring that experience to you in a series of short stories. Each of us will contribute to it. The stories are based on the life of one of our readers, whom we thank for the inspiration. Here is part I, aptly titled, “The Morning Practice.”

Each morning starts with a jolt upward and a panicked reach for the alarm clock. 3:30 in the morning to be exact. Second time this week I didn’t stop the alarm before the second shriek…my older brother Robby will make me pay for that tonight. Christ. It’s too early for anything to be up. I rub my eyes awake and kill any temptation to place my head back on the warm pillow.

My feet hit the floor which feels like nails hammering into my soles. I am still sore from practice yesterday but complaining about it, even to myself, wastes time and time I don’t have right now. In front of the mirror, I frantically brush my teeth and get a throbbing reminder of the puck that deflected off my right arm yesterday. I check the clock on the way to the dresser, 15 minutes have passed, not good, I throw on two layers of clothes, pick up the pace and get to the chores that have to get done before dad drives me to the rink.

Downstairs and out the front door, it’s bitterly cold outside, probably below freezing but the blast of fresh air feels good and nothing says, “good morning Patrick” like an icy breeze through my nostrils. It gets my adrenaline pumping. First, the garbage gets hauled across 3 acres for pick up. 14 years of doing that, you would think I would have gotten better but nope, still slow as molasses on snow. I run back home to feed the animals. They are always happy to see me and it’s nice to know someone appreciates the hard work.

Chores done, I grab a shovel and clear a path from the garage to the street so dad can get the car turned around. I hear him inside already trying to start the engine. I pray it didn’t freeze over night like last week when I missed practice.

The snow is off my boots, I rush inside and work through a bowl of cereal, swallow a piece of toast in two bites and wash it down with an ice cold glass of orange juice I hold in my left hand while my right turns on the coffee pot for dad who is walking back inside. A quick clean up, books in hand and homework ready in the folder, I didn’t set any speed records this morning but so far, my time is pretty respectable. I check the clock in the kitchen. 5:00am. I am ready to go.

The few minutes of silence in the car, waiting for dad, I gaze at the icicles that hang from the fir trees while the stars fade into the early morning light that is kissed by the falling snow. The field sits barren now but, soon enough, it will become a fertile land covered with wheat. Dad opens the door and sits down. This is as much a routine for him as it is for me. He understands. He loved the game as much as I do now, even without reaching his dream of playing it for a living. We pull out of the driveway. The passing images of frozen yards and roads put my mind right where it belongs – the upcoming practice.

30 minutes is a fast car ride in heavy snow but dad won’t be able to drive all the way through it and up to the rink. I thank him for the ride, jump out and jog through the flurries with my bag and gear over my shoulder. The outer lights of the rink are on. I walk to the Zamboni shack to find the owner, Mr. Gates. He is in his usual foul mood and curses at me in his kindest tone after I ask him to turn on the main lights so I can begin my workout. He doesn’t get to me. Nothing is going to wipe this smile off my face because I know my skates are going to hit the ice soon. The feeling hasn’t changed since I was 3 years old when I stepped on the frozen pond in our neighbor’s field. It was magic then and is today, the closest I have ever felt to flying.

I hit the ice 45 minutes before my coach and teammates are supposed to arrive. Look, I am not as talented as some of the boys. I know that. But these minutes, right now, I can work on my skating and those weaknesses in my game and I believe, I know it will keep me competitive and give me that edge.

I work on my shot, stick handling, I am in the zone, absorbed the entire time until that ancient Zamboni’s horn honks and starts to prepare the ice for the 6:30 practice. What possesses me to be up for these 3 hours, when my older brother and two sisters are only now rolling out of bed and waking up to a warm breakfast prepared by mom?

“Brown nose!” Tyler yells at me.

“Kiss ass!” Cal follows.

I laugh. I know they are joking and appreciate how hard I work. Most of all, they know I have their back when things get rough out there during a game.  Having their respect means everything to me and it’s what pushes me every day.

Practice is about to begin. I check all my equipment one last time. School starts at 8:00 but practice is the most important thing I will do today. I am going to be exhausted but it’s going to feel great. I love this game, will do this seven days a week to earn my place on the ice and I won’t stop until the spring thaw melts the snow and the leaves blossom to mark the end of the coming season.