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Story on hockey coach returning from tragedy

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by smsu_scribe, Feb 4, 2010.

  1. smsu_scribe

    smsu_scribe Guest

    Would like some feedback on my story about the local hockey coach returning after the recent death of his wife. It hasn't run yet, so I'd love some suggestions people might have. Names have been changed.

    It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and the Winstead boys hockey team is preparing. The Tigers are set to face New Hope the next evening, a team undefeated in the South Central Conference.
    Winstead head coach Dan Henning glides across the ice, running drills, calling out tips, trying to keep his players focused on the task at hand.
    But these days, by focusing on hockey, Henning is also finding a much-needed distraction.
    Henning’s wife, Sadie, died from meningitis complicated by her lupus on Nov. 26, at the age of 32. Her death came two days before the Tigers’ season-opener against Austin. Henning returned to the bench on Dec. 17 for a home game against Spring Valley.
    For the 34-year-old Henning, now in his sixth season as head coach of Winstead, the daily practices and games have helped to take his mind away from the tragedy that hit last Thanksgiving.
    “Hockey’s been my whole life,” Henning said, “and just the distraction part has been so helpful.”

    A Best Friend
    Henning grew up in Manitoba, Canada, where he picked up hockey around the age of five. He competed at the highest midget level available in Manitoba, and eventually went on to play at Southern State (N.D.) before finishing his career at Concordia College, Moorhead.
    It was during his first year at Bottineau when Dan met Sadie. She didn’t play hockey, but was well-versed in the game. Her father, John Brigman, was the head coach at Southern State. Dan played under him, and eventually landed a coaching job under Brigman at Jackson University. Dan and Sadie were married in 2000.
    Sadie was diagnosed with lupus in 2003. Dan said Sadie was taking care of her body, and with the help of her doctors, things were going well. She gave birth to a son, Ryan, just nine months ago without problems.
    “She was on top of (her lupus),” Dan said. “She was on top of pretty much everything. She was real organized that way.”
    For Dan, Sadie was a pair of ears he could voice his coaching frustrations to. It was Sadie who would remind Dan in the spring that they needed to get graduation gifts for his senior players. She would attend games, and tuned her radio in to Tiger road games.
    “For me to have a passion like that and for her to care about it meant a lot,” Dan said.
    But in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, Sadie began feeling ill. Dan said she started to come back around briefly, but went backwards on the Wednesday before her death.
    “She felt terrible in the morning,” Dan said. “We took her to the hospital at noon, and from then on it was pretty much a nightmare.”
    Tigers assistant coach Scott Camby has worked with Dan since he became head coach in 2003, and had gotten to know Sadie.
    “I had been at work all night and he told me late that night that she was in,” Camby said. “Every time she got sick we were worried about her. Everything can be serious, and I knew that. … I just felt like it was different this time and seemed really bad.”
    The next morning, Tigers forward Patrick Jacobsen was awoken to the news by his mother.
    “It was heart-stopping for a second,” Jacobsen said.
    If not for Sadie’s meningitis, Dan said she would still be alive.
    “She was my best friend,” Dan said. “It’s tough, her not being around. Everything’s a reminder.”

    Coming Back to the Bench
    Henning came to the Tigers’ first games at Herman Ice Arena this season. He wanted to watch, but knew he couldn’t return to the bench.
    “As I was watching I was getting excited and anxious,” Henning said. “I wanted to be out there just for the distraction of it, but I knew I wasn’t ready to take over.”
    Instead, Camby stepped in for Henning. The Tigers started the season 4-0. Camby said the team rallied around Henning.
    “I think that’s why we got off to a good start,” Camby said, “just because everyone kind of had a common goal, just to show up at the rink and feel better about everything and play hard.”
    By mid-December, Henning was coming to practices. He immediately gathered his players and sought to reassure them.
    “We had to sit down and I had to say, ‘You know what? I’m here. I’m your coach. I’m not bringing anything with me,’” Henning said.

    Finding Strength
    Henning keeps a close eye on the action going on at practice. The postseason is fast approaching. This part of his day – coaching hockey – is what he calls a safe haven.
    “It gets me in a place where I get excited, intense,” Henning said. “I love teaching what I know to these guys. … Just the thinking of what needs to go on and who needs to go where and all that just kind of takes my mind away from everything else.”
    Henning said his days have been easier than nights, particularly late nights. Getting enough sleep has been difficult.
    He’s also looking after two sons, Christian, a second-grader, and Ryan. Henning said things have been hard for Christian, who he said doesn’t fully understand what’s happened. Ryan is nine months old. Henning said the two have grown closer since Sadie's death. He mentioned the importance of Christian in helping Ryan cope when he gets older.
    “I think it’ll be helpful that his older brother will know and be able to help,” Henning said. “I think the biggest thing, we’ll just tell him how much his mom loved him.”
    Camby said the team understands how much hockey means to Henning right now.
    “We know that that’s his fun part of the day,” Camby said. “He’s got a lot of responsibilities at home now he’s got to do by himself, and getting up here is his fun.”

    A Feel-Good Win
    Practice is ending now, and Henning’s players come to center ice, kneeling in a circle around their coach.
    Henning stands at the center of the circle and delivers a pep talk for the game against New Hope. He tells his players that they’re an underdog story in the game. They’re not supposed to win, he adds.
    “All I’m asking for is your best effort,” Henning tells the team.
    The next night, the Tigers walked off the same ice with a victory. It’s a big one, with the postseason a few games away. Winstead and New Hope are in the same section.
    Tigers defenseman Evan Ingstrom would like a long playoff run for his coach.
    “It’d be really nice,” Ingstrom said.
  2. fishhack2009

    fishhack2009 Active Member

    Very nice story, SMSU. It's obvious that he wanted to talk about his wife. Having gone through that experience myself, you reach a point where you need to talk it out, and this was good. I did a lot of mine through my sports column and relating my grief journey to the lessons of sports.

    Well done!!
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