A big forward with biceps the size of pot roasts skates over the blue line and fades away from us. Without slowing he lets rip a 20-foot wrist shot at the goal, or more precisely at Scott Tollestrup, the poor guy in net.
The puck meets Scott’s face mask with a slap, and he sits down hard on the ice, shaking his head.
“That happens when you play goal,” says Scott’s dad, Barry.
Scott takes a break from practice and skates over. He pushes up his helmet. Behind him the rink resounds with the heavy echo of voices. All around figures are moving, sticks and skates zigzagging on the ice. “You get hit; you shake it off,” Scott says, and grins.
His mother folds her arms and rolls her eyes. “People say hockey goalies have rocks in their heads,” she says. I like this family already. They are real people.
The fact that Scott, 14, would allow burly hockey players to fire 90-mile-an-hour pucks at him may be beyond comprehension for most of us. But to Scott, hockey is part of him. The shots he faces in a game are like the challenges of life. He realizes he can’t be perfect, get a handle on everything, but he’s getting better all the time.
Almost every boy in Canada has batted around a hockey puck at least once, and most have dreamed of playing professional hockey. Scott is no exception. Growing up in this hockey-crazed town of Lethbridge, Alberta, Scott longed to be the last defense on the ice, 15,000 fans watching as he shut out the Edmonton Oilers, taking MVP honors in the Stanley Cup finals.
Still, the odds are against him ever making it to the pros, so he’s enjoying the experiences along the way. He’s especially proud of representing Southern Alberta at a tournament in Vancouver last year. He played well enough to be selected a Canadian All-Star.
But being an all-star can go to your head. Every now and then Scott has to remind himself what’s really important.
“Once you put the hockey jacket on it’s instant popularity,” he says after practice. Scott’s with his older brother, Troy. They sit cross-legged in their basement, trading hockey cards and playing video hockey. “Some of the guys think they’re pretty hot. Once in a while I might join them and put somebody down—let it go to my head. When I put somebody down I always end up thinking about my brother, Troy.”
Troy, 17, has had a slight motor-skills problem and learning disorder since birth. It’s not serious enough to affect his life much, but it does make him a little different from the other kids. “When he was in elementary school he got picked on a lot,” adds Scott. “I think about that and stop. I try to get the others to stop, too.”
Not to be outdone, Troy starts talking about something he intends to do for Scott. He’s planning on a mission. One of the main reasons is to be an example to his younger brother.
“It’s very important I go on a mission,” says Troy. “Scott probably feels if I don’t go, he won’t have to.” I notice a sideways glance he gives his brother. It’s obvious they’ve had this conversation before.
“I see a mission,” Scott counters. “I hope to go. I want to keep the Holy Ghost with me and that’s a good way. If you’re fooling around with your friends you lose the Spirit, but if you pray and think about it hard, it’ll come back.”
A Tie That Binds
Barry and Mary wander down to join their boys in the basement. Dad picks a black Pittsburgh Pirates cap off the floor.
“We have to pry this hat off Scott’s head,” Barry tells me. Scott grabs the hat and pulls it on. His blond hair disappears and his ears look bigger—I decide not to mention that. “He’s listed as 163 pounds on the team roster, but he’s really only 162. The hat.” Barry points to his head. Scott ignores him.
A son in the National Hockey League—that’s a dream a dad can get excited about. Barry goes to all of Scott’s practices, every game. He admits he had to control his enthusiasm.
“The first few years I pushed him,” Barry says, “but I’ve learned you can’t be too critical or push too hard.”
It took some time for Scott and his dad to find a good mix, but the relationship they have now seems to help them both. For Barry, the payoff is in the time with his son. While Scott, Troy, and their mom are very active in the Church, Barry is not. So he counts on the hockey tie to bring them close.
According to Mary, the boys’ mom, “When Scott’s in a game, he’ll look up into the stands at his dad. They have a silent message system. When Scott makes a good play he’ll look up and know his dad’s happy, and not too happy if he makes a mistake.”
And Dad has good things to say about Scott. He tells about the time Scott tried out for Bantam hockey. One of the other goalies was cut. “Some of the kids started giving him a hard time,” adds Barry. The coach was moments away from having a bad situation on his hands when Scott stood up for the goalie and got the players to settle down. “Scott knows what it’s like to be cut. But I think it’s more than that, something you can’t teach. He tries to care about other people’s feelings.”
Perhaps Scott has learned there is always somebody watching. On the rink it may be a scout or a future coach. In life it could be anybody.
“When Scott played on the Southern Alberta Select Team,” says Mary, “the coach told the team they needed to drink coffee to get going for the games. Scott and another LDS player wouldn’t.”
Scott smiles. “The funny thing was all the other kids ordered coffee, but they ordered caffeine free.”
Scott starts pulling out the odd collection of pads and equipment he needs for an afternoon game in Red Bluff. It’s a typical Saturday with typical commitments to hockey. But while the game does take up a good part of Scott’s life, he wants to be a balanced person.
He stops organizing his hockey gear to show me the saxophone and guitar he likes to play. He says he’d take me for a ride on his motorbike but it’s seized up. And he talks about seminary as if it’s the greatest invention since face masks for goalies. The gospel, he’s discovered, is important in being a well-rounded young man.
“Seminary has opened a lot of doors for me. There’s so much to know,” says Scott. “My seminary teacher is really good. With him it’s easy to understand the scriptures. The Millennium and the Second Coming are really interesting. Reading the scriptures is like reading a story—not a fairy tale, but about a different time. It could be a perfect movie, if you shorten it up a bit.”
But in trying for balance, Scott has discovered he needs to set priorities. A year or so ago, he was playing several sports, going to school and seminary, taking music lessons, spending time with friends. “I was thinking of quitting hockey,” he says. “I wasn’t happy, and it took up so much of my time. I realized if I wanted to play hockey I had to give up some of the other stuff.” He decided to put aside other sports and his guitar for a while. The NHL, the crowds, the excitement—it’s a hard dream to let die.
But other goals are approaching fast. A mission, marriage, and all the decisions in living the gospel are almost here. Just talking to Scott you get the feeling he’ll make the right choices when he needs to. You hope hockey will help him get where he wants to go, but that it will be a part and not the whole.
The Final Whistle
The last word on Scott is saved for his coach, Kirby Nishikawa. Something Kirby said at practice—something you may have already guessed about Scott. “He’s an all-around great guy to work with. He has a great work ethic and is a good example to the other players. What he does with his talent is all up to him.”
But before I can start wondering where they will put the statue of “Scott Tollestrup—The Perfect Young Man,” Coach Nishikawa sees our hero goofing off at the other end of the ice and bellows, “Tollestrup! Get over here!”
It’s a command that has echoed through this arena more than once, Scott’s mom admits.
Scott takes his place in goal. In front of him a line of players stands waiting to challenge. By now Scott knows he can’t be perfect or get a handle on everything. But remember, this is one goalie who is getting better all the time.