It’s 5:30 a.m. I know this because I’ve been awake for 30 minutes. The alarm clock's big red numbers light up the right side of the bed. I’ve been religiously waking up at 5:30 a.m. since June. Gyms shorts on, Discman in hand, and out the door for a 4.5-mile run. Time to do it again.
I find doing things out of routine fun and anxious at the time. So doing something routine felt like the right thing to do. Walking into the cool September morning in a new place displayed a new set of emotions I generally had never felt. I was nervous. It's not the typical 16-year-old nerves you get when you talk to a pretty girl or when you put a puck through a car window. The nerves were different.
Running down 18th Street had a new challenge I hadn't faced before that morning. A hill. It's a rather steep hill. I was used to flat prairies. Dead flat, see for miles flat. So halfway up the north side of the hill, my body went, "What the hell are you doing?"
Lose Yourself by Eminem started to play. Ironic. After, Bring Me to Life by Evanescence. My MP3 disc had some timely bangers on it. I was at the top, looking back, you could see the fog slowly lifting off the river as the sun started to come up. I made it.
New experiences for me never really set in till later or right before they happened. I really thought I had made it. I was supposed to be here. Clocks by Coldplay starts. A quick glance at my Casio watch, "damn it." It's 6:10. Breakfast is at 7.
Same shoes, same shorts but a new shirt and pullover. The confidence a team-branded sweater gives is unmatched. I had them lying out on the chair to change into. I didn't unfold them or change a thing. "You belong," I told myself. It took away the nerves. I belonged.
Walking into the arena, you either go left and up to the concourse. Turn right, into the offices or stay right and head down to the dressing rooms. We head down. Then left into the depth of the arena then right, right past the gym and coaches offices.
As we turn the corner you can hear it. The turning of a blade on the fresh ice. The sound of the stick hitting the ice before the puck was followed by a bang off the glass. The ping off the post. Down the stairs we go and there it is. The ice surface. The chill on your legs is real. The cool air is refreshing as it starts to take hold. The lights are dim, but the ice is bright.
Very few things compare to an early morning, in September at the ring. The air outside has a slight chill, the days are getting shorter. You can see the hot coffee steam out of your cup. Sweater weather in the morning and by noon it's t-shirt weather again.
September where the journey begins. Junior camps open up, players are slowly returning to the practice facilities. Front offices see what they have assembled. Rookies dream of making their debut, and veterans dream of hoisting the Stanley Cup for the Colorado Avalanche.
I remember just standing by the glass. The sounds, the smell, the chill. The ring was empty but I could imagine it. The cheers, the horns, the whistles, the crowd noises. Hockey is back. Sweater weather is here, but the journey has just begun.