I sat in my truck last Saturday, searching through social media news feeds for the latest update on the accident involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team.  I don’t know anyone on the team but I have this pain in my heart that finds a sense of relief by engaging with the tragedy. At the time, the most recent article had reported a total of 28 people on the bus with 14 fatalities.

The accident weighed heavily on my mind as I left the truck and walked into Lakeland College for Round 2 of a ToastMasters International Speech Competition. I went into the first Round a few weeks ago with very little confidence in my ability to deliver this speech while keeping control of my emotions. The speech: “The Heart of Hockey”, attempts to find some light within the darkness of a series of tragic suicides that rocked the community of North Battleford and her neighbors. Michael Landsberg #sicknotweak encouraged talk, share and learn in his visit to the City. I intend to keep the conversation, stories and insights going.

Before the speech in Round 1, I told myself to just get through it, no matter what, with the following self-talk:

“You know the story well – you lived it, it’s in your heart and every word is true. Your opening sets the stage and your closing is powerful. No matter what happens, just … get to the end.”

I blundered my way through that speech, losing myself in the emotion and mixing things up. It was good enough to get second place and make it to the next round. This time I had rehearsed the speech over and over again in an effort to maintain control over my emotions. Just when I felt confident that I could do it, the speaker before me added to the emotion of the competition.

He is a faculty member at the college and a very accomplished speaker.  His speech opened with an acknowledgment of the tragedy in Humboldt. I was in awe of how he maintained composure. He honored the memory of the fallen players and sent condolences to the families. He then transitioned into his prepared speech. I knew if I were to do a speech titled  “The Heart of Hockey” any justice I needed to do the same. I said a prayer and headed up to the lectern.

Memories came rushing to my mind on the way. I opened the speech with:

There were 28 people on that bus. 14 will never play again. In the top left-hand drawer of my desk is a letter addressed to my son, which remains unopened, from the Humboldt Broncos.

This is the second letter my son has received from the team. The first letter arrived a few weeks after a scout from the Broncos watched one of our games. I was the coach, the scout approached me before the game to ask for a couple of numbers to watch. I never told the boys about the scout in the crowd believing that it would distract them and negatively impact their performance. After the game, the scout and I chatted. I asked him what he thought about the numbers I gave him, his response was:

“Ya they were good, but tell me about #10.”

This is my son’s number. I swell with pride inside but remain composed on the outside:

“He’s ok, works hard … you’ll have to excuse me I need to give the boys my post-game speech”

The scout caught up to me later as I was walking out of the arena. “Hey coach, I found out #10 is your boy, it’s not often that I run across a Dad in my line of work that doesn’t take the opportunity to pump up their own kid”. I responded with: “I think the numbers I gave you have more skill” and he suggested: “Listen to me, your son has something that’s hard to find – we will develop his skills.”

A few weeks later a letter came in the mail. My son and I fought over that letter. He didn’t want to go to the tryouts. I pleaded with him citing the scout’s words and begged him: “Just go … you will never know if you don’t try”.

He never went. I shudder at the thought of what might have been, but how could my encouragement have been any different? My advice to him today would be the same “Just go… you will never know if you don’t try.”

When a second letter came in the mail last spring I was much more prepared. I work with a brilliant executive coach. I am developing an increased ability to observe emotional process. Through the coaching and reflection, I came to see a pattern of projection within my functioning. It is my own untapped potential that has driven me to fight with my children over opportunities that I want them to go after, especially hockey opportunities. When the letter arrived I placed it on the island in our kitchen. It sat there for two weeks before I finally broke the tension, “You going to open this?” … his reply was simple, straightforward and unapologetic “Nope”. We left it at that. I keep the letter as a reminder to stay focused on developing my own potential and leave him to choose what letters he opens.

A letter recently came addressed to my son from the University of Saskatchewan. He rushed to open this letter, spread out the little pieces of confetti and posted a picture to Facebook of his acceptance into the Edwards School of Business.  I sighed as I hit the little “like” button. A University Degree does nothing to vicariously boost my untapped potential, I’ve been there done that. But I will NEVER play for the Humboldt Broncos … and he had a chance.

Going his own way despite his father’s neediness … there’s another rare find!

I will do my best to capture “The Heart of Hockey” in a seven-minute speech on April 21, 2018.  Round 3 of the competition starts at 1:30 pm at the Don Ross Center in North Battleford. I was able to keep it together emotionally in Lloydminster and won that competition. It remains to be seen whether or not I can keep it together in this venue. I will tell the story of two regular-season midget games between the Turtleford Tigers and the North Battleford Barons. If you could use some inspiration I encourage you to come out and enjoy the many speeches from local talent across the Province. There will be a small admittance fee at the door.

I wear the #28 on my jersey. This number is a reminder for me to stay grounded. Long ago my friend tragically committed suicide. We sat beside each other in the arena and for much of that last game I had yelled at my son to play harder. At the end of the game he looked over at me, squeezed my knee and in a voice that was filled with compassion and urgency said “Diesel, It’s just a game”. Those were the last words I ever heard him speak.

#28 is on the ground and #29 lives on in my heart. Before I take the stage I look up and silently call out for one of those rare assists from that Hockey Goalie in the sky. The game has forever changed … but it lives on.