Robyn Sherry of Montague eats, sleeps and drinks hockey.
The 30-year-old mother of three is typical of a lot of hockey parents across the province, according to Hockey P.E.I., many who brave bone-chilling temperatures at the crack of dawn to get to the rink.
Sherry, in fact, was at the rink just before she went into labour with her first child, Abby, now a goaltender with the peewee A Northumberland Bruins.
“Once we got home (from the rink) I ended up going into labour and we were back at the rink in no time,’’ Sherry says. “We’re always there, that’s just what we do.’’
Sherry has two other children — Naveah, 22 months, and Charleigh, four months — and they’re also spending the majority of their time at the rink.
“Naveah’s first words were “Go Rocket Go’’,’’ Sherry chuckled, referring to P.E.I.’s QMJHL team. “Charleigh was eight days old and we were back at the rink.’’
It’s a life Sherry is quite used to. Her brother played hockey and when that was over she volunteered with a junior B team, working the door and the scoreboard. If she isn’t at the rink for one of Abby’s games or practices, Robyn and her three girls are at someone else’s game/practice, at a Rocket game or a Panthers hockey game.
“The other night, Abby and I decided when her hockey got cancelled we went and watched a peewee boys game at the rink just because that’s what we do together (and) I took the baby with us.’’
That kind of passion will be evident in the Charlottetown area this weekend as hundreds (1,660 players alone) of people descend for the Spud minor hockey tournament.
Rob Newson, executive director of Hockey P.E.I., said numbers in minor hockey are trending down in the province, albeit slightly.
“We have seen a trend in the last few years of some small decline in some parts of the province, mainly in the rural areas,’’ Newson said, noting the cost of hockey (i.e. registration, equipment) is always a factor. “I don’t think that’s a shock to anyone.”
Membership is still strong on a per capita basis and Newson said Hockey P.E.I.’s top priority is retention and recruitment.
“We have seen an impact, an exodus of players, coaches and volunteers going to Alberta for work. We see that because of player transfers. The economy here is obviously a reflection on, I think, all sports.’’
While numbers have leveled out over the years, hockey moms and dads remain a committed bunch.
Doug Currie, the minister responsible for sports on P.E.I., said they are the backbone of the sport.
“We get involved in sports because of the commitment and sacrifices our parents made,’’ Currie said.
Before he turned to politics, Currie served as head coach of the UPEI men’s hockey Panthers and was a Panther himself. He played his minor hockey in the Sherwood-Parkdale Metros system under teams coached by Vern Frizzell and Angie Carroll.
Currie says he has one special hockey memory when it comes to his own parents.
“We always wanted mom to drive us to hockey practice because she used to get up and she’d start the car, warm it up and drive us to the rink and let us sit in the car before they opened up the old cold rink at UPEI,’’ Currie said.
“Dad would make us start the car and drop us off, regardless of whether the rink was open or not, and he’d go home. We always preferred mom. It was an easier trip and a warmer trip.’’
Tishie Shea of Tignish, the mother of two hockey players, can feel the commitment in her wallet. Her oldest child Bradley plays for the major midget Cornwall Thunder, while she has another playing peewee AA in Alberton.
Needless to say, it’s quite a drive from Tignish to Cornwall for hockey on a regular.
“In one week, I put $280 of gas in the van. That was around Christmas,’’ Shea said. “You do what you’ve got to do. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t love it.’’
She said the drive home from the APM Centre in Cornwall can get pretty dicey on those late-night return trips to home.
“It’s worth it. It’s what your kids want to do. You want your kid to follow their dreams, right? So, you’re kind of just living it with them.’’
Shea said it’s more than just a sport, it’s a lifestyle for the parents, too.
“You meet wonderful people. I’ve made that many friends just with hockey, just with the kids. Lifelong friends.’’
Robbie and Denise LaVie of Georgetown, who have one son, Lucas, playing midget hockey, said they wouldn’t trade the life they lead even though their hockey schedule can take them from Murray River to Tignish.
“Not a single day of it,’’ the couple told The Guardian by email.
“It’s been a joy to watch (Lucas) develop over the years and to see the friendships he’s made along the way. Not only has he made new friends, but we have built new friendships as well. It’s been a great social outing that we enjoy and look forward to each week.’’
Lisa MacKenzie, also of Georgetown, said being a hockey mom is just part of being a parent.
MacKenzie’s clan includes Cora, a 12-year-old goalie with Morell/Georgetown peewee girls; Jack, a 10-year-old defenceman with the Georgetown atoms; and Sam, a nine-year-old atom goalie.
“I couldn’t imagine not going to watch my kids play hockey and with (husband) Daryl working away a lot of the time it isn’t an option to just let him do it,’’ MacKenzie said.
Sherry pauses for a few seconds when asked what she would do if she ever gave up hockey.
“I might have a clean house but I would be bored,’’ she laughed.