In part 1, Zach talked about the hockey experience, beyond the practices and games. Here, he talks about starting to skate at 4, then his years coming up through the junior ranks and transitioning to high school play. Like many hockey families, the social circles of the player and even parents are defined by the team, bonding through the wins, losses and the travel schedule.
When did you start to play hockey. Were you always a D-man?
Zach: It was rough at first. I kind of switched off through squirts and in peewee I found myself as defender for my first two years. You know peewees, bantams - you know all those terms, right?
We don’t know much about the kid ranks. You started playing as a squirt?
Zach: Your first year, you start as a mite. You have Mite 1, Mite 2, Mite 3, then you’ve got your two years of Squirts, your two years of peewees, and your two years of bantams. So, as a bantam, you’ll be an eighth-grader and then, or a as a second-year bound you’ll be a freshman in high school, and then your three years of high school will be high school hockey.
Walk us through the early years.
Zach: I played 3 years of mites, and that’s standard, but my birthday’s in lateso I’m rather young for my grade, so one of the options was to stay back an extra year on that peewee -bantam switch. I did never play bantams. I just went right from – I played peewee for 3 years, an extra year playing with the kids younger than me, as an A-peewee they were a grade under me, and then I went right from my third year of peewees to play JV at my high school my freshman year.
How old were you when you started as a mite? Is that like 5 or 6? 7 or 8?
Zach: I’ve been skating since I was, I want to say when I was two, my parents bought me a pair of skates and they basically brought me to skating lessons. I actually learned more of the motions of figure skating for the first two years, so that was as a 3 or 4 year-old, maybe I think a 4-year-old.
As a 4-year-old I was kind of learning the basics of skating, doing fish patterns on the ice and stuff like that. Finally, as a 5-year-old, they put me in Mites – maybe a little bit early, and I started with the hockey equipment, started to kind of kind of do drills and stuff like that – not playing in games yet, but doing drills and skating in between cones, and sliding under sticks on cones and whatever else we did back then.
You came from a hockey family and your dad was a coach. Did he play? Brothers that played?
Zach: My dad’s the youngest of large family and he’s got four older brothers and all of them played hockey. So, he grew up in a hockey family. When he was a kid, he used to flood the grass area right by his house to kind of make his own ice rink, and he would shoot pucks back there.
So, he was playing very young as I believe a sophomore in high school, he was playing football with his buddies and he was injured. He was done for hockey. He grew up around here, you know-hockey blood.
What does playing that mean to a family? It’s a commitment all the way around, right?
Zach: It’s more of a commitment, and then it really turns into a lifestyle. You’re not only- it’s not just adding hockey to your schedule, it’s making hockey your schedule, and that’s one of the big things that I don’t think people realize. Yes, there’s some really intense families in other sports and stuff like that, but there’s really no kind of hockey on the side, hockey as a kid.
If you’re in the sport, you’re in the sport. It’s that commitment that not only you make as a kid, but your whole family has to make, and I don’t think most people fully understand that. I mean, it’s really 24/7, you know, playing hockey all the time. Hockey this, hockey that- it’s never anything different.
Did it define your social circles as well, where your best friends played too?
Zach: As far as even my parents’ friends and stuff like that, they’re no longer their old friends from high school or whatever. Their core friends are my hockey team’s parents, so there’s really that bonding experience even from a young age. I remember playing squirts and peewees, and my parents would be bonding with- especially in an out-of-town tournaments, you know- living in the cities, we travel around the state. We play a weekend tournament, we stay in a hotel, the whole nine yards.
I remember my parents and a whole bunch of other teammates’ parents- there’s this annual hockey tournament that takes place, and we all stay in the same hotel. For three years of peewees my parents went up there with all these other hockey families – basically, you end up with the same group of kids and their parents.
They’d get drunk and party [laughter]. You have parents climbing on tables, and I mean this is a true bonding experience, for the kids especially, kind of watching this weird side of their parents that’s coming out, but also, this is how our parents got to be really close friends. So I mean, really- it does define your social circles- your hockey experience, your hockey team, your hockey family all become more than just your hockey family. They more or less become your core group of friends when you play hockey.
What was it like making the transition to high school play? You skipped a year of bantam and went to playing JV?
Zach: I skipped two years of Bantam. I skipped Bantams over all. Realistically, I could have played Bantams U, which is youth hockey- it’s not through the high school- up through my sophomore year, and then as a junior I could have been playing my first year of high school hockey.
I actually transferred schools my freshman year high school, to a private school. It would have been very hard to still play for the youth association socially, but also the drive would have been absolutely ridiculous to get to hockey every day. Skipping bantam made sense and we made the right choice, switching me over to play JV hockey as a freshman.
What sort of player were you growing up? characterize where your performance.
Zach: You know, one thing that’s really overlooked, especially nationally, when you live in a hockey state like I do, and you have a kid in hockey and you kind of realize it a little more, youth hockey is big politics shit. It gets bad. I mean, you have your best players sometimes playing on the worst teams because the parents don’t get involved in the details, and the parents don’t plan little events for the hockey teams or plan parent parties or do shit for the team or the association.
It’s really, it gets bad, so as far as my skill level, I would say I was better than average. As far as the team that I played on, I was usually… There’s A squirts, A bantams, A peewees, there’s B-1 and B-2, which B-1 is sort of a step up from a B+ team, I guess, and B-2 would be a B- team, and then the C scores would be a C team. I would typically play in the B+ team.
A few times, I think one, maybe two years, I was on an A team. As far as the difference between teams go, you get a couple more games, a couple more out-of-town tournaments, maybe one more out –of-town tournament as an A team player compared to a B team. C at any level is pretty much a joke. You can’t expect much from it.
Next: “Out in the locker room.”
Note: None of the Mites pics are of Zach. They were all pulled from the web to add simple graphic elements to the post.