Managing Editor Hannah Manning credits hockey for helping her get through hard times. (Hannah Manning/Connector)
On New Year’s Eve 2014, I would have traded my college education just to see the United States beat Canada. In hindsight, judging by the state of mania I was in I’d say I came pretty close to doing just that.
The game was tight and highly anticipated; time-honored tradition in Canada dictates that families spend their New Year’s Eves parked in front of the television for the yearly showdown of future National Hockey League (NHL) stars. I made the most of what I had from my home in Massachusetts that was being torn apart for renovations. I parked myself in front of my computer screen, plied myself with maple cookies and sweat bullets.
What I was really supposed to be doing that night was finishing up my college essay because applications were closing, but I liked to think I had my priorities straight. Any reasonable person would disagree, but in my defense I was far from that state of mind.
I was in a state of flux. There was no constant to comfort me. My childhood home was being ripped apart for renovations (bad), my father had been kicked out the summer prior (good), I was almost passing out in my classes from exhaustion (bad) and I was grappling with the sinking feeling that the world might be better off without me (neutral). I didn’t deal with change well; to a lesser extent, I still don’t. I felt alone, unsupported by teachers and friends, as my entire life was torn up in front of me.
In lieu of medication or therapy, which at the time I was hesitant to try, I used hockey. I had started watching during the 2014-15 lockout season with my father, and I loved the constant movement on the ice. I found it to be like a story with an ending that wasn’t clear yet – every second, every last bounce of the puck counted. I had always loved sports, and after a short time I realized that I loved this one best.
And as the world fell apart around me, as I felt like I couldn’t breathe for reasons I didn’t quite understand, I at least had hockey.
The schedule rarely deviated; I always had something to look forward to in class when all I wanted to do was withdraw and sleep everything away. Even as I felt hurt, worry, things that I should never have felt at that age, I could switch on a Bruins game and try to forget. I never did, but it was good to have that background noise as I worried my way through my assignments.
Even as I sat over my staircase after the railing was taken down, as I realized one little push could end my problems, I had a hockey game going and I stood up and continued my frenzied pacing around the house. I also had my mother to worry about, raising two children on her own. I may as well have stuck around just to see how the game ended. That extended to sticking around to see who won the Stanley Cup, which turned into sticking around to go to Lake Winnipesaukee with my friends, to visit my cousin in Texas and slowly into learning to live again.
I was still a wreck when I arrived at UMass Lowell. Significantly less so, but I was still strangled by my own anxiety and depression issues in my everyday life. I struggled hard. I was too nervous to eat by myself on weekends, so I didn’t eat. I was too sad to get out of bed some days. I felt like an outsider in all of my classes, like I shouldn’t have made it this far. Like I didn’t belong, and that no one really wanted me around.
Like clockwork, though, hockey season started. And I lined up at the Tsongas Center two hours before puck drop with my best friend, braving the cold and unpleasantness. I buzzed at the thought of watching live hockey; my wallet prevented me from ever seeing the Bruins at TD Garden, but I had this. And as I soon found out, I loved this hockey best.
My time to cover a game for the Connector came soon enough. Our former editor-in-chief called me while I was back home and asked me to cover a game against Merrimack. I chafed, torn between wanting to go as a spectator and staying home to wallow in my own sadness. It’s hard to say no to Marlon Pitter, though, so I found myself quavering in the Tsongas Center press box come Saturday night.
When I looked over at the ice two hours before game time, at some of the players sitting in the stands chatting, I felt something like completeness. A sense of ease that calmed my nerves, even as I was scared to talk to the notoriously prickly Coach Bazin in the postgame presser. Even as the chill settled into my bones, something clicked.
For the first time in a long time, maybe even forever, I felt like I was in the right place.