NHL Network and TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie is one of those parents going through withdrawal syndrome.
Bob's son Mike has wrapped up his collegiate career at St. Lawrence University.
Being a typical hockey parent, Bob made it to most of Mike's games at SLU. Today, he penned a poignant thank you note on the Division 1 forum of USCHO.com.
Here is what he wrote about his exposure to NCAA hockey. His words speak for themselves, and what he writes is just as appropriate for anyone involved with the ACHA.
I would just like to take a moment to thank everyone in the U.S. college game I’ve come in contact with over the last four years and express how much I have enjoyed my four years as the parent of a student-athlete at St. Lawrence University. For as involved as I am in hockey, the truth is until my son Mike went to SLU my exposure to the college game was extremely limited. Who’s kidding who, it was almost non-existent.
It has been a wonderful four-year ride for him and our family and I am going to miss it very much.
I had heard all sorts of things about the college game before I got there, how the stickwork was terrible because the players wears full facial protection or how there was no respect because the players couldn’t fight or how there was no hitting or whatever. But after four years of not missing too many of my son’s games, home or away, I discovered the hockey was terrific. I didn’t see the stickwork I was warned about and on the lack of respect issue, I think we’ve seen that it exists in all levels of hockey, even where fighting is permitted. The hockey I saw over the four years, for the most part, was fast and exciting and physical. I loved that there were very few scrums after the whistles and the action went up and down the ice with breathtaking speed and games were usually complete in a just a shade over two hours.
I generally don’t get too engaged in the whole college vs. major junior debate because they are, for me, apples and oranges for the most part. Both have their inherent strengths and weakness. The vast majority of high-end kids now end up in major junior and that's fine. The CHL is a terrific league with a lot of high end talent, but it’s a league for 16 to 20 year olds. College hockey is a league for 18 to 25 year olds. And it's still a great development league as well. It was an easy decision for my son. He probably wasn’t physically mature enough even at age 18 to play major junior, though he did have the opportunity and offer to do so. So he rolled the dice on getting a scholarship and was fortunate enough to get one solitary scholarship offer to attend SLU (Thank you Chris Wells and Bob Prier. )
My son was a 20-year-old freshman and I know that sometimes is an issue that’s debated on these boards and elsewhere and I’m obviously biased but I don’t think college hockey would be any better off if were limited to true freshmen right out of high school. Not everyone is ready at 18, for the college experience in general and college hockey in particular. I’m not afraid to say my son couldn’t have competed at this level any sooner than age 20, but he still went on to have a pretty good college career both individually, at least they tell me 49 goals and 100-plus career points is a worthy achievement, and team wise (one regular season championship and an NCAA tournament appearance as a freshman, three trips to Albany in the ECAC tournament) too. As I said, I’m baised but I believe the 20 year old freshman can offer a lot to the college game.
The truth was when my son first started, I wasn’t even sure he could play at this level. I remember walking out of Schneider Arena at PC in his first ever road game, after he was directly responsible for giving up the winning goal, and thinking he may never get back into the lineup. But that first year ended up being something special, my son’s large freshmen class performed well and had the honor of playing with three great and special senior Saints – Drew Bagnall, Kyle Rank and Max Taylor – who epitomized what class and character and leadership and being great student-athletes were all about.
There were all sorts of hilites too numerous to mention that year, but the win over BU in the Dartmouth tourney – my son scored the GWG on a penalty shot in OT on John Curry and I was back at TSN watching it on TV because of WJC commitments, one of only two games I missed in his freshman year – and the come from behind win over Dartmouth in the ECAC consolation game in Albany – he scored two third period goal, including the GWG – in a victory that put SLU in the NCAAs were probably as good as it gets. My fears of him not being able to play at this level were gone, but the great thing about his college career was that every game was a challenge. There were never any easy nights. The ECAC is nothing if not competitive.
I could go on and on about so many specific instances – good and bad and pretty much everything in my kid’s sophomore year was bad, can you say jinx? LOL – but when it’s all said and done it will, for me anyway, be about the people and places I got to see.
Trust me when I tell you the only way I was getting to an Ivy League school was to watch my son play there. I love so many of the rinks and venues in the ECAC. There’s nothing quite like the Lynah Skating Rink for the whole college experience and Cornell is always a force to be reckoned with there. I absolutely love the unique architecture of the Whale at Yale and Hobey Baker Rink at Princeton. It was always a special night going into Bright Arena, where SLU supporters inevitably outnumbered Harvard fans. Thompson Arena in Hanover is warm and inviting and as good a place to watch a game as anywhere and Dartmouth is a beautiful campus. To be able walk around the campuses of Colgate or Princeton or Yale was special. I was able to see a Big Red Freakout for myself at RPI and I loved going into the hostile environment of Cheel Arena and nothing quite matches up to the animosity or intensity of Clarkson-SLU. I have come to love Providence, a hidden gem of a city, and my geographical knowledge of New England and the northeastern U.S. has never been better. But thank God for GPS, especially in Boston, where you learn the hard lesson that the Tobin Bride is not on I-95 but I-93. LOL.
I was like a little kid for those special out of conference games in buildings I grew up hearing about – Yost Arena in Michigan and Munn Arena at Michigan State – and I had my other favorites too. The Whittemore Center in UNH, although I liked how some of the kids called it Lake Whittemore because it’s so huge an ice surface, the Gut in Burlington, VT, a great old style barn, and Agganis at BU, the nicest new-style college rink I was in.
I came in contact with so many great people, far too numerous to mention. But to make the friends we did in Canton, especially the Phalons, and to spend as much time roaming the road with other SLU parents, especially my running mate Jeremiah Cunningham, well, it doesn’t get any better than that. The SLU fans are a special breed themselves, supportive and passionate and it was a pleasure to get to know Got 6, critsports, hockeyplayer1015, TimU, Muskieman, the Tupper Lake crew and so many others.
Ditto for the fellas, as they like to call themselves, Mike’s roomies in the suite (Flanny, Patty, Weaves, Jeremiah, Teese and D Kells) and all the good kids, past and present, who put on the scarlet and brown in the cozy confines of Appleton Arena and everyone involved with the SLU hockey program, from Joe and all the coaches to the behind the scenes staff to the Friends of St. Lawrence boosters who do such a wonderful job of looking after our kids like they’re their own.
I got to meet so many other great parents of opposing players – Mario Trabucco’s dad, Sean McMonagle’s dad and grandfather, Mike Backman (father of Sean), Bill Gillam (father of Josh), amongst many others – and my college text buddies, Don McIntyre, whose son David starred at Colgate, Dan Whitney, whose son Sean is at Cornell, and Tom Giffin, whose son Charlie also played at SLU. And the many media guys, Dan and Max at the WDT, Ken Schott in Schenectady, Brian Sullivan, Gladdy, Adam and so many others. And thanks to USCHO, INCH and CHN for providing tremendous coverage for the college game.
It was always fun to scoreboard watch and see how my son’s former St. Mike’s Buzzer junior teammates – Brayden Irwin in Vermont, Brendan Smith in Wisconsin, Kevin Schmidt in Bowling Green, Andrew Cogliano in Michigan, John Scrymgeour and Freddie Cassiani at Lake Superior State, Michael Forgione and Andrew Rygiel at Geneseo, amongst others – or how the local Whitby kids (Scott Freeman and Louke Oakley at Clarkson, Dan Nicholls at Cornell) were making out in their college careers.
There were so many good times. Some tough ones, too, because hockey and life at this level isn’t always easy or fun, but on balance it was just such a wonderful experience.
I was disappointed that SLU lost three times in the ECAC semifinal and never won an ECAC title, but on the bright side, Mike’s college career did not come to an end losing to Clarkson at Appleton in the first round of the playoffs and that was less than two minutes away from being reality. That GWG goal puck, Mike’s last at Appleton, will be a valued memento.
I don't think there's any question my son is a better player now than when he started at SLU and he's most certainly a better, more mature young man and in a short time, he's going to have a degree and perhaps an opportunity to keep the playing the game for a bit yet, at what level or where we will see in due course. I am not sure it gets any better than that as a parent.
I hope none of this comes across as self serving. I’m feeling a little sentimental about the end of a phase in our family’s life and when I get like that, I tend to write about it…occupational hazard, I guess. And I really did want to thank everyone, including those who grace these boards and do so (for the most part LOL) with maturity and insight and entertainment. It’s been a terrific ride and just a wonderful four years. So thanks to everyone. I’ve got some roots in the college game now and while I won’t have the direct involvement of being a parent of a player, I won’t be going cold turkey, that’s for sure.
So all the best to everyone, enjoy the games and thanks.