I grew up the middle sister of two brothers. I spent the first few years of my life being dragged to my older brother’s baseball and hockey games. I always looked up to him because he is such an amazing athlete. In his younger years, he was a goalie with incredible reflexes. I can’t say I loved watching the games at a young age but I did love watching him. One of the few bonuses to being a “hockey sister” was being able to meet the other “rink rats” in the group.
Nicole was one of the other “hockey sister’s” I met. She was hilarious and full of attitude. She was older than me but she never made me feel like I was too young to hang out with. She exuded kindness and I loved being around her. She made the trips to the rink bearable for me. The more I got to know her and the more I learned about her, the more I looked up to her. She was also a goalie and I thought it was so cool that she had the nerve to strap on the pads and face pucks just like my older brother did.
Sadly, our friendship was very short lived. Nicole was diagnosed with cancer and passed away far too young. Not long after her death, her incredibly brave Mom offered me all of her equipment to try out the position. Her stick was still covered in the pink tape she carefully wrapped around it. Up until that point, it was all figure skates and twirls but once I put Nicole’s gear on, I was a goalie. I fell in love with the sport and will always be grateful for the start she gave me. There was a part of me that felt like she was right beside me giggling and cheering me on. Nicole gave me the opportunity to become a goalie like my older brother. My younger brother used to come and watch my games and it wasn’t long before he became a goalie too. “Nik” will never know the influence she had on all of our lives.
*Nicole pictured on left, Emma on right
To this day, Nicole is one of the strongest people I have ever met. Her gear slowly diminished over the years but her memory never did. I feel like she would have loved the fact that I wore it out. Her stick and the famous beanie baby she gave me will always stay close. The beanie baby had little tiny paws that looked like they were praying. It’s like she knew I’d need someone praying for me when I needed to make a big save.
When I think about “When Hockey was Simple”, I think about Nicole. She was my fellow “rink rat” friend who taught me more than she’ll ever know. I will be forever grateful for the giggles and her friendship. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to be around someone that exuded courage like it was her job. She made me realize that it’s always worth trying new things even if they scare you.
- Written by Allyson Tufts
Author of Lessons from Behind the Glass