Whether it’s getting up at 5 a.m., hopping from hotel to hotel, or eating family dinners in shifts, nearly every aspect of Crystal Craig’s life is affected by her kids’ involvement in hockey.
“I always say the most stressful position on the team is goalie mom,” said Craig with a smile.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mother to goalie Gavin, 13, and defenseman Dawson, 14, both of whom play organized hockey in Yellowknife, Craig has been juggling home, work, and rink life for nearly a decade.
Craig first became immersed in the city’s hockey world after she encouraged her oldest son, Dawson, to grab a stick and hit the ice.
“It was just a given. You’re playing hockey – you live in the North,” said Craig’s mother Dale Bouchard when the Yellowknifer caught up with the Craig family at the Fieldhouse earlier this week.
Craig said her son Dawson was reluctant to lace up his skates at first, but that he’s since embraced the sport. Gavin jumped at the chance to get on the ice and in between the pipes as a goaltender.
For the past two years, Gavin has played on a development or “rep” team – a group of skilled young players eyed for their on-ice potential. For Craig, that’s meant more costly traveling, more on-ice and off-ice responsibilities – and more money.
“A lot of money,”as she puts it.
If hockey has become the face of high costs in organized sports, goalies – who require much more and much pricier equipment than their padless counterparts – are picking up the bulk of the tab.
While Craig opts to sign her kids up for affordable hockey camps when they’re available in town, trips to camps outside of the territory, including Edmonton, can cost the “goalie mom” $3,000 a pop.
With more tournaments and more travelling following Gavin’s move to the elite squad, Craig estimates she coughed up between $25,000 and $30,000 in one year alone.
But money isn’t Craig’s only expense when it comes to supporting her kids’ hockey dreams. Her hectic schedule demands time – and lots of it.
When she isn’t working at her day job, Craig is dropping her kids off at school and picking them up at games or practices, providing groceries to her sons’ teams, and arranging for Gavin to fill in for absent goalies on other teams. Most nights Craig’s family isn’t able to eat together as a whole.
“Gavin’s probably on the ice everyday, sometimes twice a day, sometimes two or three games,” said Craig. “If we didn’t have a night at the rink last year we were pretty shocked. We didn’t know what to do with ourselves.”
But Craig said she’d axe the taxing schedule if her boys fell out of love with the sport.
“I always tell them if it’s too stressful … it’s just a game, you don’t have to do it. But they love it,” she said.
For Craig, seeing her kids enjoy hockey while having fun on the ice makes every penny and minute spent in the rink and on the road worth it.
Across the city in Old Town, few parents are in sight as a group of 20-something sluggers swing for the fences at Fritz Theil Memorial Park. But the enduring impact of parental support on young adult athletes isn’t hard to find.
Before picking up a glove to join the Yellowknife Slo Pitch Association, 21-year-old.
Kaitlin Chambers played organized hockey – and a laundry list of other sports – under the watchful eye of her father, who coached her on-ice squad.
“For me and my sister, my dad coached us in hockey like every year,” said Chambers. “So (he) was extremely involved.”
Chambers said her dad would always book tournaments and provide gear, even if she didn’t always understand or appreciate the commitments he made.
“It builds their confidence, it builds their self-esteem. Just the friends (Gavin and Dawson) make and the people they’ve become,” added Crystal Craig.
She said sports help young athletes “develop tough skin, people skills, learn how to regulate the highs and the lows of a win or a loss; seeing yourself as a group rather than individuals.”
“And if they’re loving it and enjoying it, I think it’s definitely worth the investment,” Craig said. As for goaltender Gavin Craig, he has one piece of advice for would-be athletes wading into the world of organized sports in Yellowknife.
“Just try your best.”