716 Sports Podcast is excited to announce Buffalo Beauts’ Director of Operations, Linda Groff-Mroz, will be contributing her behind-the-scenes perspective on the 2016-17 season.

Do you ever sit back and think about that what if moment in your life that changed your destiny, or perhaps just the road you were on? It comes down to one single moment in my life…my first hockey practice. I remember everything about that day, the early morning bite in the air of a fall Saturday, the anticipation of walking into the rink as a hockey player and not the little sister/rink rat mask I had worn for years. I remember the anxiety of putting my equipment on, too; but perhaps the one thing that sticks out in my mind was the smell of the Audabon rink when I walked through those double doors, struggling to carry my bag and hearing my dad’s “hurry up!” which became a staple throughout my career. 

Audabon had a different smell that day. It wasn’t stale sweat and crushed aspirations, but it was something different - determination mixed with passion, desire, hope and overall joy. I walked in the locker room and threw my bag down. Looking around, I took a deep breath and walked out of the locker room. I checked to see who was working the snack bar and see if I could score free candy...nope. I checked the zamboni office to see if Flash was working...nope. Where was everyone that I knew? I went up the ramp and through the double doors to the ice surface to check to see who was on. BUSTED! My dad saw me and signaled that I get in the locker room and get dressed. I turned and ran like a bat outta hell, down the ramp and into the locker room. 

“Where is my bag, I know I put it in here?” I couldn’t find it - there were only like seven other bags in the locker room. Then I saw my bag…it was in the garbage. I pulled my bag out of the garbage and put it back where I dropped it earlier, unzipped it and started to get dressed. A few boys walked in the locker room and gave me a dirty look, but one boy in particular gave me such a stink eye, I knew this wasn’t going to go well.

“Girls don’t play hockey and you don’t belong here” the little turd sputtered at me. I gave him a look, and those of you know me, you know the look I’m talking about. the one where I’m pretty much telling you to shove off but I don’t have to say a word. YES, that look. 

“What are you deaf too? Girls don’t play hockey.” He stepped closer to me. At this point I had my pink popples long underwear on. I had velcroed my garter belt and had my socks off (yes I’ve been skating barefoot since I was five years old.) I sized him up and I knew I could take him - I’ve got two older brothers that beat the crap out of me daily and in return taught me a few things about fighting. I knew I could take care of myself. 

“Listen ‘girl,’” he started, and before he could get another word out, he grabbed his face and fell to his knees. I walked out of the locker room to find my dad.

The boy came following behind me holding his face and cried to his mother. “What happened? Who hit you” his mother questioned. I looked over and immediately got the death stare from my dad. He knew I had to be in the middle of it. As I stood waiting for my verbal beating, the boy pointed to me and mumbled something to his mother. She grabbed him and walked him over to me and my dad stood behind me, silent.

“Do you know your daughter hit my son in the face”?
“I do now…Linda, did you hit him in the face?” My dad kind of stood proudly - a little taller - when he asked the question. I knew I wasn’t in trouble…yet.
“Yes…” I tried to explain myself, but the mother cut me off.

“Why would you do that, he is your teammate?”

“Well, maybe if he didn’t put my hockey bag in the garbage and tell me that girls don’t belong in the locker room or play hockey...” 

She cut me off again.

As she looked at her son with disappointing eyes, she gasped, “Did you do that?” While her son nodded his head yes with pride, she looked at him with disapproval.  

He never apologized to me, but he did stay away from me the rest of the year.
My dad on the other hand gave me a terrifying look and I just could not understand why until it hit me (or rather the smack on the back of the head stung me into reality) That’s when my dad spoke. ”You know better,” he stated. The mom looked on as she thought I was being reprimanded, but my dad continued; “Never throw the first punch, but don’t let them up either.” 

The mother looked at my dad with daggers, and I just shook my head in agreement and asked him to help me get my socks to hook to my garter belt. 

I was the only one that got dressed by myself;every other kid had a parent helping them. I didn’t feel like I needed it, to tell you the truth - I even tried to tie my skates, but my little hands just could not pull the laces tight enough.

I remember being dressed and ready to go, with my hair in pigtail braids (as my mother insisted) so my hair would stay out of my face. I stepped onto the ice and I took off. I had been skating with my dad and brothers since I was 18 months old, but this was the first time with equipment. I decided to test this theory out that if I fall, I won’t get hurt. Sure enough, I got up to a good amount of speed as my little legs could get me, and I dove and slide for a good 15 feet. YES! Did not get hurt.

As practice continued, my toes went numb first…my skates felt super tight, like there was something wrong. Then they start to pinch in my arch, and I can’t take the pain, but I had, like, 40 minutes of practice left. I skated over to the boards and flagged my dad down. “What’s wrong” he asked and I started to tell him that my skates don’t fit and my feet hurt and I want to get off the ice. He looked at me with the look that I am now blessed with. “Get back out there, and don’t come back over here again.” 

I turned and skated with tears in my eyes. I needed a new plan. MUM! Mum would help me! I scanned the rink to see where she was and finally I found her! I skated over toward her, ignoring the whistles and instruction of the coach, who at that point, sounded like a Charlie Brown grown up. The agony of my feet pounded in my head.
“Mommy, please, my feet hurt. My skates are too small, please take me off the ice, please mommy, please!” I cried. Then I really turned on the tears.

“Oh Twerp, you’re almost done, you’re almost done. Get back out there, you’re almost don,”” she said in a calming mum voice. I turned and skated back in line, sucking up the pain. At this point, I couldn’t feel my feet. I knew that it had killed my mother to turn me away, but she knew playing hockey was something I always wanted to do. We have had so many conversations about that; she tells me all the time she wishes she would have ripped me off the ice and ran, but she also knows that without hockey I would not be the woman that I am today.

Practice was finally over, and besides the fact my feet were nonexistent, I had an absolute blast on the ice. I knew at that moment, I wanted to be a hockey player. In the locker room I started to take off my gear and my dad came in and peeled my skates off of me. “So, Runt, what do you want to do? You want to be a hockey player?” 
I could see that my dad was serious, so being the little lippy kid replied, “Yeah, can I get some skates that fit”? 

“Finish getting undressed, meet you in the lobby and we will discuss this with your mother.” He put my skates in my bag and walked out of the locker room. I finished getting undressed, carried my bag to the lobby and out to the truck, throwing my bag in the bed of the truck, and climbed in the middle of my parents.

It was decided at that moment I was going to be a hockey player. We went to Great Skate for a new pair of skates.

So, that what if moment changed my destiny forever.  What if my mother snagged me off the ice? Would I be the woman that I am today?  Would I have the attitude that I have today?  Would I be as strong willed? Would I be a coach? Would I have the blessings that I have today?  

Certainly, the small moments in life can change everything and every perspective. Take my advice; don’t ever take miss out on the small moments in your life. They could change who you are to become or want to be.
I am a mother. I am a daughter. I am a coach. I am a friend. But most of all, I am a hockey player.

So thank you dad for being hard on me every practice, every game and the dreadful truck rides home.

Thank you Mum for swallowing the pain and agony of having a hockey player as a daughter. I know we are not in agreement most of the time, but because of you, I am who I am. Because you turned me away and back to the game I grew to cherish and love 32 years ago.

From a hockey player, thank you.

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