We all have an embarrassing story that sticks with us. We've all made little mistakes, errors in judgment or oversights that have a way of haunting us for days, months or years thereafter. Ok, some of us make a couple or even a few of them over the course of our lives. I happen to be one of those rare but not so unique multiple offenders. Cuz ya see, I'm part of a not so rare breed "homo hominis". I'm a man with all the natural faults that title bequeaths.
Some of my finest and admittedly infamous moments have occurred at the multitude of hockey tournaments we've attended over the last ten years.
The first unflattering tale that I really shouldn't, but will share at my own peril, occurred at one of the Devil's tournaments in Aylmer, Ontario. Tournaments mean hotel stays, which more often than not are the actual highlights of the tournaments. The choice of hotel is based on a combination of its amenities (i.e. does it have a pool or better yet a water slide?) and its proximity to the rinks the team will be competing at. Now for this particular tournament in rural southwestern Ontario, the rinks were quite spread out and this will become an important part of this story. This tournament was scheduled for at least two and possibly three days beginning on a wintery Friday in January. This translates to a guaranteed three and possibly four or five games depending on results. The Devil's team played well enough in its first three games, two wins and a loss if memory serves, to advance to the semi-finals, which were to be played at 7:00am on Sunday morning. On a side note, the team was struck by a virus that had the team possibly playing its fourth game in three days with only 11 or 12 of its original seventeen players. Now here's where the story goes a little sideways for me so be sure to pay attention.
The rink for the already early game on Sunday morning was a full half hour drive from our hotel. The girls needed to be woken at 5:30am and ushered out into the sub-zero temperatures for the trip to the rink. This after having played on Saturday night and not getting back to the hotel and into bed until close to 10pm. We parents may have stayed up an hour or two later chatting and consuming the odd alcoholic beverage in the hotel hallway (another fine hockey tournament tradition). My wife and the Boy would be staying behind in the hotel so they need not suffer the lack of sleep or warmth. Having never really been to that part of the province, I would need to make sure I followed someone out to this foreign hockey rink.
5:30am may as well have been 2:00am as the Devil and I wearily made our way out to our frozen, but warming mini-van waiting out in the parking lot behind the two-storey hotel. I tossed the Devil's hockey bag into the back of the van and tucked her carefully into the back seat wrapped in a couple of blankets to buffer Jack Frost's icy grip.
The van was understandably encrusted in frost so I set to work with a scraper. I wanted to have at least half a chance of seeing where I was going. I kept a close eye on the father and daughter I would be following over to the rink in order to make sure I didn't lose them and myself in the process. I hopped in the van and away we went. There was one necessary, traditional stop to make on our way to the rink. I pulled up to the Tim Horton's drive-thru and barked my order for a large black through the frozen air to the obliging attendant. I didn't even bother asking the Devil if she wanted anything as she lay soundly asleep behind me and generally wasn't one for pre-game meals; particularly not at 5:45am. She needed every bit of rest she could get if she was going to help her team move on to the tournament finals.
My first sip of coffee did provide some degree of the much needed thawing and awakening effect. I followed my guide closely for the next 25 minutes through winding roads and a succession of left and right back-roads turns. I was pretty sure I never would have found the rink on my own in the dark of the early morning.
Arriving at the rink I jumped out and summoned the Devil. She didn't rise from her slumber immediately so I beckoned again, this time with a little more force. Still no movement in the rear of the vehicle. What I experienced next can only properly be described as a combination of shock and abject fear. I opened the side door of the van and suddenly realized the Devil's lack of movement was due to her lack of....presence. I now shouted her name a couple of times. There was a blanket, but no child. Had she been somehow abducted right beneath my nose? Had she vanished into thin air like some sick magician's twisted illusion? Where the hell was she?
I raced over to my guide's car and quickly reported that my daughter was missing. He naturally asked, "What do you mean?"
"I mean she's not in the back of the goddamned van!" I was more than a bit frantic and I'm not sure of the exact chain of events that followed, but I believe I turned on my cell phone to call back to the hotel to let my wife know that I had lost our daughter; but not quite sure how to deliver that scary message. I hadn't turned on my mobile phone prior to that point because who would need to call me at 6:00am in the morning as I was driving out in the middle of nowhere. And now here, the middle of nowhere brought with it a total lack of cellular signal. At this point, I pondered jumping back in my van and racing back to the hotel and perhaps stopping at a local police station to file a missing person's alert. My mind was racing.
However, before I had a chance to do that the team manager pulled into the rink parking lot with his child in tow. He called me over to his vehicle and with a smirk that grew into what felt like derisive laughter asked me if I was "missing" something? As it turns out, he had turned on his cell phones, had received a signal as well as a call from my understandably upset spouse who quickly reported that I had left without our daughter.
"I WHAT? I DID NOT!" was all I could muster. The manager assured me that I had indeed left without my daughter, but that she was still on her way to the rink courtesy of another family. And so, I hung my head, grabbed her gear and headed into the rink to wait with and be ridiculed vociferously by the other parents as the story spread like wildfire. Each set of parents seemed to arrive with a new stinging barb for me. I tried to jab back with quips like, "At least I got her gear here safely!", but I knew all too well there was no way I would ever live this down. Eventually, the Devil, in her own bewildered sense of disbelief arrived with the other family and told the her side of the story.
It seems that the chilly morning air got the best of the Devil. She decided while I was scraping the front window of the van to saunter back across the hotel parking lot, up the stairs and into the warm embrace of her blissfully sleeping mother. After five or ten minutes, and yes the timeline is a little sketchy here, mommy convinced the Devil to head back downstairs where I was no doubt anxiously awaiting her return. But the Devil would be back rapping on the hotel room door a minute or so later with her own somber report, "Daddy forgot me!"
"HE DID WHAT? HE DID NOT! DON'T BE RIDICULOUS!"
Mommy threw on a robe and ran down the stairs to verify the Devil's unwitting discovery. Luckily, I and my guide had been among the first to leave the hotel. One family of five was still in the parking lot and my wife was quick to flag them down to beg for a ride. This would have been fine save for the fact that they only had a five seat van and now they needed to accommodate a sixth passenger. They decided the best course of action would be to strap the Devil safely into one of their five seats the mother in the group would ride with the gear in the back. Yet another dagger in my already severely embarrassed heart.
The game that fateful, freezing Sunday morning would be the Devil's team's last that weekend as their depleted squad put up a good fight, but succumbed to a fuller local team. We were all pretty sure the other team had more healthy players, more sleep in their own beds and none of the self-afflicted drama I had unintentionally introduced. But hey, I already explained the whole male human thing and every couple of weeks and/or months since someone has a chuckle at my expense. And, as mentioned, this is not the only one.