From Hockey Player to Soldier

It was just another Sunday night. It was one of the few times my husband Colin or I had not gone to an out-of-town tournament with our son Scott.

But this time would be different. The door opened a little past midnight.

“Hi Scott, how was the tournament at West Point?” I asked.

There was a gleam in his eye. “Mom, they want me to come play hockey at West Point.”

Scott Hamilton played hockey at Army, now he's serving the Army in Iraq.

Scott Hamilton played hockey at Army, now he’s serving the Army in Iraq.

He was excited at the prospect. The next night it was the topic of discussion at the dinner table. He and his dad, an Air Force veteran, talked about what a great opportunity it would be to play hockey for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

As they talked about the challenge, the education, the hockey team, I felt a pain in my gut at the prospect of my “hockey player” becoming a soldier.

The talks continued, the recruiting trip took place, the acceptance came in from West Point. Before I knew it, my “hockey player” was, in fact, a soldier.

We made it through the rigors of basic training, the plebe year and the struggle with the academics. All along I kept saying to myself, “He just wants to play college hockey.”

The hockey continued, the games were exciting and Scott started to see the pages of Army hockey records. “Okay,” I said, “we’re just playing college hockey.”

Then reality hit with great force.

We felt great pride that we had a "college hockey player." But now that pride has shifted. We feel great pride that we have a soldier.

As I turned on the TV the morning of September 11th, 2001, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My thoughts turned to Scott. Not knowing where he was at the time, I called his room at West Point.

“Hello,” he said, in that tired voice I had grown accustomed to hearing. “Scott, now what?” I asked.

I was afraid, scared for my son that we might have to confront this attack of terror. As a Mom, I felt I needed to comfort Scott, as scared as I was. But all of a sudden the tables had turned.

“Mom, don’t worry, we’ll find out who did this and make them pay for the lives they have taken.”

For the first time in twenty years, Scott was comforting me, not the other way around. For the first time since Scott left for West Point, I realized he was not “just a college hockey player,” he was a soldier. Prepared to put his life on the line for our freedom and the entire United States.

We had always been proud of our “college hockey player,” but was Scott ready to play another role in life? Since he was five, hockey was his only focus.

But as I thought, a sense of calm came over me. Scott is ready for this. Ready because I realized his hockey life was the perfect preparation.

Hockey has taught him teamwork, discipline, the stress of managing hockey, academics and family. And, as a goalie, keeping the enemy from crossing your line of defense.

So now my son, who “just wanted to play college hockey,” is playing a very different game in life. But, in reality, the two are very similar.

He is working with his teammates, managing a full plate, and working and performing through the stress of it all. Through his hockey life, he has had to protect his teammates, win gracefully, and, after suffering a loss, learn to dust himself off and get right back into the game.

I only hope that now, in Iraq, Scott remembers the highs and lows of his hockey life and how time after time he got “back in the game” and made us all proud.

We felt great pride that we had a “college hockey player.” But now that pride has shifted. We feel great pride that we have a soldier. Putting his life on the line for us and his entire “hockey family,” his country.

His “hockey life” has prepared him, West Point has prepared him.

And now we only pray that the final score will show: USA 1, Saddam 0.