Edmonton·First Person

I was a reluctant hockey mom. Here's how my disdain for the game turned into pride

Edmontonian Jocelyn Crocker disliked hockey from a young age and didn’t understand her son’s longing to play the sport.

It took my 11-year-old son’s first hockey team for me to realize how offside I had been in judging it

Alt text: A woman wearing a brown winter jacket with a fur hood smiles while standing next to a man, a girl and a boy in a navy blue hockey jersey and holding a hockey stick.
Jocelyn Crocker, right, and her family at the arena on the night her son Francis scored his first goal in February 2023. From left, her daughter Charlotte, 12, husband Mike and son Francis, 11. (Submitted by Jocelyn Crocker)

This First Person column is written by Jocelyn Crocker, whose son plays hockey in Edmonton. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

It's December and I'm in a chilly Okotoks, Alta., arena, watching a sport that I've hated since I was a kid and I'm sobbing. No one is more surprised than me that I'm shedding tears of joy.

I am at a hockey tournament and my 11-year-old son Francis has just won the "heart and hustle award" for playing his best ever game, and as a result, the final shreds of my long and determined dislike of hockey have melted away. 

Growing up in Edmonton, hockey was never my family's thing. My parents chauffeured my sister and I to art classes and musical theatre rehearsals instead of practices and tournaments. On weekends, we watched episodes of Star Trek, not Hockey Night in Canada. In our home, icing was applied to cakes, shoot-outs belonged in Western movies and periods were put at the ends of sentences. 

A toddler focuses intently while applying bright orange paint to a piece of paper.
Two-year-old Jocelyn painting in a 1983 photo taken at her Edmonton home. (Submitted by Jocelyn Crocker)

Despite (or perhaps in spite of) its cultural significance, I continued to avoid hockey as an adult. I lived on Whyte Avenue, an entertainment district where there were many hockey viewing parties, in 2006 and it was impossible to ignore the fact that the Edmonton Oilers were in the Stanley Cup finals.

I knew the outcome of the games based on the honks and roars that reverberated through the thin walls of my rental unit but I was not caught up in the excitement. The opposite, actually. I was genuinely baffled as to why a game would matter so much to so many people when it seemed like a colossal waste of time, money and teeth. 

I am now a professional nerd. I'm the chair of the physics department at an Edmonton post-secondary institution and a few months away from completing my doctorate. I have a husband and two tweenagers. In my (sparse) spare time, I make art. I did not think there was room in my busy life for hockey.

It took a U13 Tier 6 hockey team for me to realize how offside I had been in judging the sport. 

By the way, for the uninitiated like I was until this year, U13 Tier 6 translates to a team with inexperienced kids under the age of 13 whose hockey skills are at the "joy of the game" level.

A woman with short brown hair wearing a yellow Star Trek dress holds a baby wearing a matching yellow t-shirt.
Crocker with her infant son Francis dressed up for a Star Trek convention in Calgary in 2012. (Submitted by Jocelyn Crocker)

Serious reservations

I had many reasons why my son should not play hockey. It's expensive. Schedules are unpredictable, arenas are cold and the equipment is stinky. He could get hurt. Mostly, though, it's because I didn't like the game.

I had concerns about the enculturation Francis might receive. I did not want him to become the hockey stereotype that was cemented in my mind: jersey-wearing dude bros more focused on the Stanley Cup instead of real life priorities. The Hockey Canada sexual assault controversy made my blood boil and I did not want my son to join a system that would try to protect powerful men at the expense of powerless women. 

I tried to get him into science fiction, but my nerdy indoctrination attempts failed. The greater my opposition, the more Francis yearned to play. I tried to divert his attention to other activities. He dabbled in soccer, baseball, fencing, even ball hockey, but they were never enough. They were not hockey. 

A boy wearing a hockey helmet, hockey gloves, a snowsuit and ice skates on an outdoor rink.
Crocker's husband, Mike, in a photo taken in 1985 when he was five and skating in his backyard ice rink in Edmonton. (Submitted by Jocelyn Crocker)

My husband, Mike, disagreed with my reluctance. His fondest childhood memories involved backyard ice rinks, practices and games and he was keen for our son to experience these things, too. Hockey — namely his and Francis' enthusiasm for it and my active dismissal of it (and them) — became a source of tension between us. My daughter Charlotte was my only ally since her interests also skew toward the arts. However, since marriage and parenthood involve compromises, I finally relented in June 2022. 

Mike jumped in with both feet as an assistant coach, which I initially celebrated because always having one parent at the games meant that both parents in general — and yours truly in specific — did not have to be there.

I was wrong. Have you ever had your child ask, "Are you coming to watch my game tonight?" You cannot say no, even if you would rather be getting a root canal. 

A woman and girl, both wearing winter coats, sit on cushions on the wooden bench inside a hockey arena.
Crocker, with her toque, tea, cushion, art project, and her daughter Charlotte. Crocker now has parental hockey spectating down to a proverbial sport. (Submitted by Jocelyn Crocker)

Change of heart

While sitting in those cold arenas, my reluctance and reservations have turned into pride. I've watched as my son has learned sportsmanship, resilience and confidence. He's learned how to fall down and get back up again, how to win and lose with grace, how to celebrate the successes of others, how to recognize progress, how to work toward a goal and how to win a game through teamwork. 

My son is not the only one who has grown. The coaches, players, and parents have helped me learn the ropes.  I now know that skates need to be sharpened more than once a season. That the players — not their parents — carry their own hockey bags. That you stop counting after your team is seven goals ahead (or behind). That there is a difference between home and away jerseys. That said jerseys should not be put in the dryer for too long or they will melt.

I also have parental hockey spectating down to a proverbial sport. Tuques and gloves are a must as is a cushion to go in between the cold benches and one's posterior. I also recommend a thermos with warm tea to allow for sustained cheering and a portable art project to keep one's hands busy. 

Francis' team made it to the gold medal game during their league's minor hockey week in January. The game was so close that as the clock ticked down toward the end of the third period, I had to remind myself to breathe. They didn't win, but it didn't matter. It was a great game. Is my son destined for Gretzkyesque greatness? No, but that's not the point of it all.

When Mike was 14, he was unlacing his skates in the change room at Donnan Arena when an ice resurfacing machine exploded. His father acted quickly with two others to save the life of Ralph Henke. I now understand that bravery and quick thinking are a core part of hockey culture, which deserves to be celebrated and not denigrated. 

Opening up

Now that our family's first hockey season is winding down, I've realized that my rejection of the game has been wilful ignorance. I expected raving competitive lunatics in the stands but instead have seen kind parents who provide encouragement for every goal — even the ones our team scores on itself. The toxic masculinity that I dreaded has not materialized.

This column is not intended to be a Gordie Howe hat trick, which I recently learned is a goal, an assist and a fight in one game. It is a public declaration of love to my husband and son to tell them that in letting go of my biases, prejudices, and assumptions, I have learned that the great Canadian game of hockey has some … OK, fine, many redeeming features.

That said, I still don't understand when a player is offside but there's always next season for me to learn it. 

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Jocelyn Crocker

Freelance contributor

Jocelyn Crocker is the chair of the physics department at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) and is nearly finished her doctor of education from Western University. She is also an avid beekeeper, community gardener, volunteer and artist in Edmonton who just finished her first season as a hockey mom.


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