I asked a friend a couple of years ago if his kid was playing hockey and he said "Hockey isn't a sport in Minnesota, it's a religion. My wife and I didn't grow up with it so it's hard to pass on to the kids." I know how he feels; my dad, an Illinois transplant, had me play because that's what he figured boys in Minnesota do. He was right in a way; playing the sport made me more a part of this place than I would otherwise have been, but I was never a real hockey player, because he and the rest of my family never truly got hockey religion. My dad went to most of my games, but he wasn't a Hockey Dad. My mom hauled me to plenty of practices but was not a Hockey Mom. The best players are from Hockey Families that LIVE the sport year 'round. They are more than committed-- they're devoted.
With that in mind I give you Tuli, my friend Hans' nine-year-old son, who is a hockey natural. He's the kid on the right looking up at the camera. The "3" patch on his shoulder is given to players who get 3 goals and 3 assists in a game; apparently Tuli got his after the very first game, and could have them up and down both sleeves if they gave more than one. The last game I saw him play he scored nine goals, and that's far from his record. He's one of the smaller kids on the ice, but he skates the puck around the rest of them effortlessly and scores seemingly at will. After he gets a hat trick or two he passes to others out of good sportsmanship, even when he's clearly in scoring position.
The problem? Tuli's not part of a true Hockey Family. Hans was an excellent goalie as a young adult and is the coach of Tuli's team, but is unsure of his own devotion. Tuli's loving mom and sisters are hockey agnostics. There is no generational dynasty behind him (some of these kids are the progeny of famous ex college and pro players). So he's sort of an orphan in the great church, his talents invisible to the clergy, his love of the game unrequited by the great hockey powers. That is the state of hockey in Minnesota; a lot of potentially great players get tossed on the trash heap. It will be interesting and quite possibly heartbreaking to see what happens with Tuli's athletic talents in the future; either way, of course, being a good, smart kid from a loving and supportive family, he'll be fine. Hockey ain't everything.
But you'll never get anywhere in hockey if you believe that.