Closing Remarks: Memories From Columbia Hockey
By Andy Dunn
I don’t know whether I should start from the start or start from the end.
The end seems to be now, unfortunately. Marked by a blue grad gown and a hat with a string.
The start was in 2017, when I piled my gear into the back of a beat up university van on the corner of Amsterdam and 116 St.
Everything that happened in between––the practices, games, goals, celebrations, jitters, sighs, smiles––are much more difficult to pin down.
I suppose it doesn’t matter where I start, because the moments of significance that occurred between the start and the end all came with such forceful spontaneity that a linear description would seem inappropriate, insufficient.
Part of the problem is my patchy memory. I am incapable of telling the whole truth because I am incapable of remembering all of everything. It sucks that we can only corral together fragments as they appear, emerging in flashes––out of chronology and without pattern.
I can mention, for instance, that in my third year we bought a shovel and decided it would be our Player of the Game award. I can mention that in my first year, undermanned and outgunned, our ice time would often exceed forty minutes. It was like the Wild West: exhausting, disorganized, freeing. I can mention memories of a puck passed to the slot and a Dan Cirminello wrister and a subsequent goal. There are the memories of ordering a Popeyes Chicken Sandwich and streaming the game we’d just played on my laptop: big laughs about big mistakes, player detection on blurry screens, replays and replays and replays on plays worth replaying. I can mention that time at the Ivy League tournament in Philly, 12 of us jammed in an elevator, and a debate, had the elevator crashed, of who would've played Coach Bruce in the consequent biopic. I can remember the notoriously aggressive van driving of forward Ron Chang. I can remember that in my third year we won eight consecutive games. More wins in that streak than in the previous three seasons combined. I can remember beating Stevens in overtime. Being crushed by Fordham in regulation. Jumping into the glass at King’s Point. I can remember that hopefulness seemed to perpetually course. That there has never been a more hopeful locker room than the locker room of Columbia Hockey.
I can remember plenty of things. Plenty of fragments. I can no longer accumulate any more, but that's okay. I have plenty.
I do remember the last game of my third year, and the last game of my hockey career. I remember standing in the locker room and praising Dean Foskett and Kyle Lopes, our outgoing seniors, on a remarkable pair of hockey careers. I remember watching as they sat and removed their gear and tried to comprehend their ending. They looked downward, at their skates. They removed sock tape. Loosened knots. Even in sadness, their end was a culmination of all the hockey that had come before. They appeared to be getting a proper ending.
Looking back, I envy that they were aware of their ending. I am a firm believer that a proper career is culminated by the opportunity to sit in the locker room and give all that came before proper contemplation. The opportunity to sit and think and feel. I think that if I was in that situation I probably would’ve dripped a few tears. Some tears of joy. Tears of nostalgia. Tears of moving forward and moving onward.
Of course I didn’t know that this was also my end. Covid would remove my senior year. And now, sitting by my computer with that cap and gown in the closet, I wish I took the time to look at my skates and think and breathe and smile and feel. Perhaps, in those moments, I may have found a proper ending. Perhaps, by writing this right now, I’m manifesting a proper ending through a different medium. Perhaps. Perhaps.
Now, everything about Columbia Hockey is memories. Memories and lessons learned. I learned a few great, amazing lessons from Columbia Hockey.
I learned that I always played hockey not because of level ascension, or impressing coaches, but because of that ineffable rush that occurs in the midst of a game. I learned that true success on a team is achieved only when the players remove the idea of hockey as an obligation, and instead cave to the idea of hockey as a passion. I learned also that hope breeds a self-fulfilling prophecy: it brings unity, excitement, winning, and more hope all over again.
The cliche thing to say is that I would not trade my years with Columbia Hockey for anything. In this case, the cliche is true. And I hope that forever I will have these fragments to store and cherish and tell. Because Columbia Hockey, with all of its wild highs and lows, was the truest ending to a life, to this point, spent in the rink.
Thank you Columbia Hockey,
You have a new biggest fan.