NHL.com’s Q&A feature called “Five Questions With…” runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features New York Times bestselling author Rich Cohen, whose new book, “Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent,” will be published Jan. 12. The story follows Cohen’s 11-year-old son, Micah, playing the 2018-19 season for the Ridgefield Bears Pee Wee A team.
Rich Cohen remembers the moment his next idea was conceived, one that would bare his soul as a devoted hockey parent — for better and worse.
The New York Times bestselling author was with his 11-year-old son, Micah, for a hockey clinic at Brewster Ice Arena in Westchester County, New York, 20 minutes from his home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. He was talking to a friend about the ebbs, flows and emotions of following Micah’s first season playing for the Pee Wee A Ridgefield Bears of the Fairfield County Amateur Hockey Conference in 2018-19.
Cohen’s work includes “Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football,” chronicling one of the greatest seasons in NFL history (15-1 and winning Super Bowl XX). His memoir, “The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse,” explores the 2016 team winning the World Series for the first time since 1908.
Yet Cohen, once a youth hockey player, said the sport is his first love and that there was a story yet to be told. In “Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent,” he correlates the history of the NHL and how hockey culture applies to the game of life.
“I wasn’t prepared when I had kids and my son got into playing hockey [for] how intense the experience is. But when I’m in the middle of it, it’s like you lose your mind,” Cohen said. “You get so into it, the highs and the lows. That, to me, the best stuff to write about. I felt like I could write that guide in a way for parents.”
Most parents cheered. Others cussed, coaches shouted, and some people haven’t changed since film critic Roger Ebert wrote about “a harrowing portrait of how we’d sometimes rather win than keep our self-respect” in his April 13, 1976, review of “The Bad News Bears.” That hasn’t extinguished Micah’s spirit, and Rich said there’s a hidden message in the climactic scene — one of many that placed an obsession of winning over the joy of playing the game.
“A friend of mine who’s another huge fan pointed out something I’d always missed in the movie — when they’re in the middle of that intensity of that last game where the guy (Roy Turner) slaps [his son Joey], and the director has this long shot where you see the field and you see the traffic just going by,” Cohen said. “My dad used to say it’s just a blip on the radar screen of eternity. It’s a very unimportant important thing, and that’s what’s kind of great about it.”
Here are Five Questions with … Rich Cohen:
You write why you believe hockey is the best sport for kids and parents. What can those with an interest in trying it get out of this book?
“Hopefully what they’ll get out of it is what makes hockey the best sport, which is this idea of a team. It’s a great lesson that a team of good players working like a team will beat a team of all-stars every time. What I love about hockey as opposed to other sports is everybody gets their chance. You can score from anywhere on the ice almost at any time, and everybody has to work together. We’ve all seen these teams where you have a bunch of great players but they’re not working together and it just doesn’t go, and then suddenly it clicks. It’s the most exciting thing I’ve experienced in my life, and that’s probably why I wrote the book — just because of that excitement in that moment.”
Did you ever stop and ask yourself if unruly coaches and parents would discourage anyone from participating?
“When I was a kid, it discouraged me from participating. That was one of my fears of hockey for my son. When I was a pee wee, I ran into a really bad coach who was using a team as a vehicle for his kid. It made it not fun. I played through it, but it changed my relationship with hockey for a while, and I worried about that with my son too. What I thought I was protecting him from was the pitfalls you’re talking about. It turned out that he was stronger than me in that regard. He didn’t care because he just liked playing hockey.”
Does the moral of ‘The Bad News Bears’ influence you as a hockey parent?
“Definitely. Step back and think about how you’re going to look on this in a year, how you behaved. Do I want to remember it like it’s about me and I lost my mind? My father (Herb Cohen) wrote this book when I was a kid called ‘You Can Negotiate Anything.’ His whole thing is the key to success in life is to play it like it’s a game and to care — but not that much, because if you care too much you do a lot of stupid things. That comes up in youth hockey, and it comes up when your kids apply to college and you realize it doesn’t really matter if I get him into the greatest school and he doesn’t want to go there. He’s got to be part of this decision. It’s his life and ultimately it’s the same thing with hockey.”
What did Micah learn from the experience?
“As you get higher and higher, the stuff that you do when you’re a little kid doesn’t work. It’s a lesson we all learned as kids: No matter how big and tough you are, there’s somebody bigger and tougher and you’re never going to be good enough to win any kind of game yourself. You absolutely need to pass and to anticipate plays and make plays and involve everybody on your team in the play because that’s the only way you’re going to win — if you’re all working together. What he learned from that season is that the world isn’t always fair. In the end, it just really matters what you do in the game and not what the parents were saying in the stands.”
Bottom line, how do the positives of playing youth hockey outweigh the negatives?
“The kids don’t even realize it. Even when it’s a bad coach screaming at them, they tuned it out. Being on the team — the friends, the camaraderie, the lessons of the game and then just how fun and exciting the games were — outweighed it by a million. And it’s all different kinds of people. It’s the guy who’s a brain surgeon and a guy who’s doing professional demolition and we’re all together, all different backgrounds. Hockey is a sport where you can find a place you can contribute on the ice. You learn how to operate as a team, and you learn how to not give up when you’re down.”