Addison Aker column: Home for the holidays
Superior High School senior Addison Aker writes about her experience as a manager for the boys hockey team during its debut at the annual Bill McGann Holiday Classic.
At 12:11 p.m. on what for many was a lethargic day of winter break, I found myself at a full sprint towards Wessman Arena.
Normally I live by “You’re either 10 minutes early or you’re late,” but something about not being five hours away from home for the first time in three years for the Green Bay Holiday tournament, had me testing the limits of how much “me” time I could squeeze in.
As I catch my breath after my feet finally hit the bus steps, I am greeted by the bus driver, who will be navigating our trip up the hill, and I sit in the only open last spot. Depending on the location in which the team is headed, the atmosphere can vary. It seems on short trips a silence casts over and all you can hear is the brief muffles of music from headphones, earbuds and small chit chat. The bus is warm but the windows always ice over with a thin layer of fog and the only way to know how close we are is poking your head in the aisle to look out of the front window.
You can feel the readiness of the team in the air, jaws clenched and mindsets setting in. The coaches go over last minute line ups and who’s playing where, while mixing in the occasional joke from their days back on the ice.
I can see the St. Luke's Sports Center and everyone begins rustling around getting themselves together. First rule of thumb gathered over the last four years of managing, boys off first, so they can get the box and their sticks off the top of all the bags. That way I don't freeze while waiting for them to unload. I needed to get on my parka and JV Coach, Ryan Hendry, commonly referred to as Hendo, always finds some way to poke fun.
He says, “Get off the bus” in a jokingly stern voice.
I snap back and in my best smart alike tone I say, “I’ll take my sweet time, thank you" and that’s just what I did as they laughed, groaned and moaned, waiting on me. One of the biggest joys of managing this team is the way I value and respect the coaches but have the freedom to test their limits and crack just as much fun as they do.
I’ve never quite seen the point of arriving at a rink two hours before game time, but the guys use it to tape sticks, sharpen skates and get all they need for competition. I use the time to acquire a snack and then set up games on all of the devices we use for film and stats. Shay Christianson and I cover these tasks while the other three girls continue filling waters, grabbing sticks and running any errands coaches have throughout a 17 minute period. It’s simple work, but it’s quality work.
Head Coach Evan Nelson usually comes with a coconut Red Bull and to a T, one was in hand as we approached locker room B in the back areas of the arena. Each coach is dressed in the CCM black Spartan Hockey jackets, and the level of professionalism that comes from the unison apparel sets the tone of the team.
As managers, the girls and I have on our navy blue Spartan parkas that, hands down — although pricey — is the best jacket I own. Lined perfectly to keep me toasting in the countless frigid arenas we visit.
Now, surprisingly enough I am around locker rooms a lot of the time, but with the privilege comes many times facing walls, seeing sorrowful faces after a tough period, and the occasional victory dance to "Around the World" after a win. One team, one fight is what we always keep in mind and there is no denying my position on this team.
My duties pick up about an hour before the game, as I fill waters and transfer sticks to the bench with the help of sophomore Andrea Pearson. JV had lost against Brookfield earlier that day, but varsity would be challenging North Shore. As the clock reads 0:00 and is joined by a loud buzzer, the boys' skates hit the ice.
The team usually would find themselves in Green Bay around this time, but what better way to welcome our new team and coach than with a whole new tournament to make our mark. As team introductions begin, it is my job to listen for the teams' opposing goalies, most often I can also check a roster, but I found that this year it was unreliable quite frequently.
Excitedly enough at first faceoff my work really begins; for the next chunk of the game I get in the game zone. Every movement of these boys is my job to record. From who is at faceoffs, to who won it, time stamping goals and players scoring them, even to the type of penalties and which number is headed to the box. All this is stored on Sports Engine: Score Live, where anyone with an account can sign on to our game and see the progress as I punch it into the computer.
It can be intimidating at times, especially when the games lack a live virtual version. Sometimes I am the only one sending out updates on how the game is turning out. My right hand women are Shay Christianson and Olivia Lundgren, who alternate film. If there is ever a moment that I miss, they have my back with a quick run down of the line and who was out on who while the goal was scored.
In games like today, many of the players are prepared to test their limits of competitiveness and aggressiveness. Brayden Hurtig, number 17, had returned just the day before after an injury to the wrist. As players get injured our duties do diminish because, coach believes the players should still be just as engaged with the game as they are on the ice. This in turn means we give up stats or we find boys recording film for JV as well.
As I sit and click around the iPad with the ever-so-fancy Apple pen, I find it the most stressful to keep track of shots, especially on a power play but with the couple of guys out this week they managed to help me keep up. My nose runs the whole time and I am craving something warm to drink by the end of the second period, but I decide to tough it out since we will be home in less than an hour.
Hockey managing can be a large commitment with not a lot of reward, but what seems to bring me back is the relationship I build with the team and the support I know I provide. I have a thing for loving to be helpful and productive, and through the long winter months this keeps me fulfilled.
As Christianson and I fill waters for the third, I notice two boys from the other team with a crate of water in hand and I can only assume they are the team managers. Whenever I see guys managing a team I can not help but have a famous Adam Sandler "Waterboy" joke cross my mind. I recall one asking how many managers we had and with a quick smile I responded “six.” Their eyes got wide and I assume they were taken aback by the amount of assistance we provided. Coach Nelson had known that the amount was a stretch, but in turn wanted to feel prepared and allow for the boys to focus solely on the game. So happily we take on the rest and reap the benefits of a close up look on the team.
I reside in my metal folding chair located in the media area and wrap my legs with my Spartan blanket, since I can’t bundle like I usually would because of needing my hands. The boys spent the third playing just as hard and fast as the previous two. We were not a force to be reckoned with and my head was spinning with the amount of shots I was tracking and blocking goalie Trent Peterson was taking care of. I had to eliminate updating the time stamp setting because I was getting so backed up with shots, blocks and faceoffs. The chaos eventually comes to an end as minute 51 hits and the boys are shaking hands as they hold their win with high pride.
I can barely contain the excitement of getting out of the cold, but knew I had a bus ride to power through before getting my hopes up. As I said, it is a different aura as a manager. At this point I have been in a rink for about seven hours and would love to smell anything besides the sour socks and jerseys I was rounding up in the locker rooms. I exit the locker room with a jersey bag weighing half my body down. I could not count the number of times each player asks to help me, but my self determination drives me to complete the task.
As I exit the arena I fist bump and congratulate each player I pass. I watch as they hug families, girlfriends and shake hands with opposing team members. Most bags are already piled in the back of the trailer but luckily I took my time so the jerseys would be placed directly on top so I am first inside when we arrive back at Wessman.
Although I do not play, a hockey family is nothing less than my family. The bus flourishes with the adrenaline of a big win. You hear upperclassmen rooting on the underclassmen, constructive criticism, and goals to ensure they have just as much success tomorrow. Coach tells the boys to fuel tomorrow's game from this, and with that I put in my AirPods, close my eyes, and rest to do it all again tomorrow.
Addison Aker is a senior at Superior High School.
This story is part of the Telegram's efforts to showcase the work of young people in the community. For more information on those efforts, contact reporter Maria Lockwood at firstname.lastname@example.org.