So, this weekend marks the 75th anniversary of Port Dover Minor Hockey and the Great; Red Kelly’s homecoming at the local rink.
In August, I recall a call out to all Port Dover Alumni Players to be part of this big day in November. At the time I originally thought; ‘Hey this could be fun to be part of’, but as this week approached and I was getting updates and scheduling information for tomorrows event I began reflecting and recalling, remembering all the wonderful experiences, events in time that are still fresh in memory and friends that were made a long the way.
Let, me take you all on a very cool journey; one in which I did not realize brought me into the life that I have today until recently reflecting upon things.
I recall, 1983 easily as I was 3 years old wheeling around on blades faster then I was actually running or able to walk at the time. Mom and Dad had the outdoor rink that was my playground throughout the winter months, which during those days were long and cold unlike what we get currently. I was playing tyke hockey for Mummery Fisheries; this was an avid memory as I still recall the awesome ride on the Mummery Tug Boat that was given to our team that year. I like many other players experimented with goal tending, and apparently was half decent at it so luckily enough for me I got asked to play atom house league as a goalie, because they had no goalies in that division. This was the beginning of the end for my parents, as I fell in love not only with the game but with the time spent on the ice mastering my newfound love and craft.
My second year in tyke hockey I would play goalie, and out in my aged group, but also played goalie for atom house and even peewee house league from time to time, lots of practices too for various teams. I also was able to somehow get Mom and Dad to take me to Friday and Saturday free skates. My time on the ice was greatly increasing and the passion continued growing. I was Mark Messier in the 80’s ripping around the ice and Grant Fuhr while tending the net; the Oilers were my team and my Grandfathers too. My Dad an Torontonian at heart being born and raised in Toronto was a poor misguided soul of a Leaf fan. Lots of heated debates and many numerous conversations on route to the rink about players and teams and trades occurred between my father and I. Hockey became a passion, hobby and lifestyle for me, it was the be all end all through and through!
When I reached Atom I made the rep team, played goalie, but mostly out as I found I would get to move around and obtain more ice time if I did both. It helped that I increased my tending skills and played peewee house and bantam house with my fathers friends team. Power skating was introduced and Friday, Saturday free skates continued. My life revolved around one thing….hockey.
I was waking up early everyday, getting Mom or Dad depending on if Dad was on nights (he was a shift worker) to lace up my skates at sometimes 5:30 am to hit the backyard rink, coming in to get a quick breakfast and running down Don Jon to Doverwood school just in time for the bell. Living close to school was wonderful as at lunch I would high tail it out of school home, get Mom to lace my skates up again for the 55 minutes of lunch time at school before heading back to beat the bell again. After school the same; until we were called in for dinner, then whichever team had a game, practice or power skating. Day after day my poor parents and grandparents navigated our families schedule around my passion for hockey and the game I still love today.
We won Silver Stick, OMHA’s and many tournaments that year. This only infused a profound dedication to push harder, master my art and craft. When summer hit it was road hockey in the driveway. Mom and Dad paved that driveway 3 times, due to ware and tare. The poor garage door received endless patch works and when my brother Mike began firing the puck; my father finally decided a mesh net would save lots of patchwork time and lots and lots of money! Me, I couldn’t shoot for the life of me, still cannot to this day, but I have never been a huge goal scorer. My passion of the game was instill by watching the Great Moose; Mark Messier. He was amazing, but no Gretzky! However, Mark made those around him better and I loved that! So, I emulated my craft similar in fashion to The Moose! Tough, determined, lead by example and made those around me better! Assists for me became everything, goals…not so much. I still liked them but I prefer and still do to this day making that extra move or setting up that team mate for the perfect pass! It felt great giving others a chance, giving others gratification and achievement of a goal.
Looking back and reflecting I began seeing how my passion and love of the game slowly became and lead me to where I am today….
We won Silver Stick and OMHAs again the following year in Atom, then again in Peewee the year afterwards. Tournaments anywhere in Ontario became the ultimate prize; especially bringing home a new trophy to add to the multiple shelves Dad had to continue building year after year along with medallions, plaques, flags, pins and so much more! I did hockey schools, summer camps, summer hockey even traveled to Blenhiem to partake in their yearly summer hockey school where I was asked to come down to help run drills and chase pucks down for the Warner Family; yes…..Todd Warner a former Toronto Maple Leaf and NHL player.
Bantam hockey was my last year in Port Dover, memories became a little vague as I reflect on these days; once in high school focus become less and less but my passion lived on despite the Oilers being dismantled! These were tough years; however I always enjoyed watching highlights from another Canadian unsung hero in Steve Yzerman, so began my love for the Detroit Red Wings….and continues to this day! My rec room is Red Wings top to bottom, lots of memorabilia of any kind I could begin getting my hands on! There is a story behind everything…. I also began supporting others and was asked to help coach my youngest brother Tim’s hockey team and loved more ice time, but found a love for sharing and teaching the skills I had to others learning the game at an early age.
This summer I was asked to come out and play summer hockey with Rob Blake, Nelson Emerson, Geordie Kinnear and Jassen Cullimore….a funny story to go with this was one time I had the puck flying in the corner and the next thing I knew I woke up on the bench, standing over me was Rob Blake. I recall this like it was yesterday; he said ‘Sorry buddy, you were going too fast and I was afraid you would make me look bad’ I got knocked out by THE Rob Blake! One of my claim to fames! hehehe
My second year in Bantam took me elsewhere; to Brantford….this was an incredible year where I traveled so much it was actually quite ridiculous, I still to this day do not understand how my parents made it happen with three boys! Long story short I was approached by Michigan State for a full ride hockey scholarship….fast track ahead to the following summer. Coming home from summer hockey which was a yearly request after hitting Atom level, I recall being tired and exhausted after a dry land workout and two hour practice dazed and on the verge of a much needed snooze, somehow reaching a state in which I was dreaming….and dreaming of a roller coaster ride, which was odd for me as I do not do heights. As it turned out upon reaching full consciousness being covered in red, blood and feeling numb all over we were t-boned driving through an intersection in Boston when someone ran a stop sign….life changed in that moment for me! Hockey and the NHL was the dream, the be all end all! But, with two bummed knees from the accident, things went South in a hurry!
Tried as much as I did, pushed myself harder then ever and three knee surgeries later I could never get back to where I was and the path I was on. Scholarship got revoked, depression set in and blackness filled my life, hockey was no longer an option, numerous doctors said it would never happen! I tried so hard to get back but began realizing it wasn’t going to happen after a try out weeks after the accident once again waking up on the bench from passing out while skating….turns out walking into rink on crutches in Michigan with a hockey bag on my back, strapping skates on and reaching into the depths of courage and heart lead me passed out again from a shock I put my body into way too early as the doctors and my parents said. Heart….I couldn’t and wouldn’t give up, but I realized in that moment my path in life changed and altered.
What next? Where to go? I had no intentions on anything but a career and life in hockey, but as it turned out all my time on the ice learning and mastering a craft from others, working hard and diligently on failing, trying again and again and finally mastering cross overs, stick handling and so on and so on, I found showing and teaching others my skills was fun. My parents actually put the notion into action; I recall ‘Hey Joe, you love sharing and teaching younger people your hockey skills as a coach, and a coach is basically like a teacher and you are great at coaching, why not teaching?’….hmmm well low and behold when one door closes another opens. This was when I learned that life sucks, but their is a plan and everything is meant to be, even the crappy stuff! What will be will be, if I continued on my hockey path I would not have spent the night watching Steve Yzerman finally hoist hockey’s greatest prize over his head, tears rolling down his eyes and celebrating with my friends Detroit Red Wings winning Lord Stanley’s Cup, only to kiss my future wife that evening and setting a new relationship and love into motion.
Shannon and I started dating this year in 1997; fast forward through college, university, teachers colleges and masters program, married, three kids and now living and working as a teacher in Port Dover in 2017. 20 years in the making on the 75th anniversary of Port Dover Minor Hockey I get my homecoming as well…after 9 years of teaching, targeting returning back to Port Dover I have now reach my newfound dream; to return back home to my beloved hometown and teach at Lakewood.
You see Minor Hockey gave me a love, a passion a dream. When that dream shifted and altered hockey lead me into a newfound love and passion similar to Messier and Yzerman; leading by example, setting the tone for others and teaching others…..as a teacher! Now, I love running into former teachers of mine and when asked what I am doing today, they either do two things; laugh so hard or instantly obtain ‘jaw drop’. I guess I was not the greatest student, but what I heard often was I loved my hockey and what I love becomes everything for me! My family, my wife, my kids, my sport now my career….although it is not the original path and dream it is now my new dream!
Being a father and a teacher is unbelievable! I get to mold and craft young minds to find their love and passion for whatever it may be; watching that unfold and take flight is the greatest feeling in the world! Hockey brought me to this life and my wife, infused me into this town something fierce, I grew up rollerblading the streets, playing road hockey in various driveways, bringing trophies, plaques and banners to our beloved rink in Port Dover. Now I teach next door to the local rink, as a Fire Fighter at Station #2 Port Dover we support the members of our amazing community in many ways as well. I coach my kids, my friends kids and live and breath Port Dover!
Watching my kids find themselves through hockey now is the ultimate gift! I see myself in my son often while he is on the ice; his stride, heart and intensity and hope and dream that not only he, but also my daughters find the incredible love and life lessons hockey offered to me!
Wrapping things up I reflect upon past Port Dover coaches, my father, Kent Cleland, Eddie Hunter, the late Tom Breeze and many, many others and think if not for them where would I be; so in closing to all those parents out there take the leap….get your kids into the most amazing sport of all! Its OUR game as Canadians’ its our games as kids, parents and fans loving and living the moments ourselves and alongside our kids! Get involved and infuse yourself into sport in some form fashion or another….you can and will make a difference for the little bodies finding themselves on the ice learning life lessons such as sportsmanship, dedication, teamwork, manners, cooperation, determination, heart, hardwork and perseverance! Teach those little ones that in a lose is a learning moment, a time to reflect and learn from….life sucks! But in sport we learn how to deal with all the crap life throws at us….overcome defeat, job loss, divorce….reset, fail, reset, fail, reset and overcome! Learn from mistakes, failures and loses….teach your kids that sport and this incredible game is so much more then just a game!
Thank you Port Dover Minor Hockey for taking this youngster through some amazing up’s and horrific downs, but for teaching me along the way that entitlement is not a given but effort, determination and hard work is rewarded as so in life as an adult!
Live in the moment and enjoy your time! Learn from the moments and craft your life in which you can be proud of! I found myself in hockey….and in hockey I became an adult, a husband, a father, teacher and fire fighter whom works hard at everything I do and will ever do!
Without Port Dover Minor Hockey, my passion and dreams would not have been fulfilled and reached! Thanks to minor hockey past, present and future members for molding the children and youth of Port Dover’s past 75 years and the next 75 to come ahead.