By Maxx Tissenbaum
I wrote this post weeks ago, but didn’t want it to be any kind of a distraction to Molly as she finished out her season. This is a totally different type of post, but it’s absolutely one of the most important ones to me.
On Jan. 28 I drove to Boston to watch my sister, Molly, play in Harvard’s “White The Bright” game against No. 8 ranked Cornell.
As I was filling my car up and leaving Albany I got really choked up as I thought about what I would be watching once I arrived. With spring training getting closer, and hockey season reaching its tail end, I realized that this might be one of, if not the last time, I got to watch my sister lead her team out of the tunnel and on to the ice. It got me thinking, reflecting and looking back on the last 15 years of our lives.
In 2002 I was still playing select hockey for York Mills, and as usual my mom took me to get my skates sharpened before one of my games. The man Mom and I always took our skates to, Jeff Potter, asked Molly a series of questions that changed our lives. He asked if she’d ever played hockey before, if she’d ever been a goalie, and if she’d be interested in coming to a AA tryout as a goalie.
Of course, any of you that know Molly know that even at eight years old she wouldn’t ever pass up a challenge, and with a smile she told him that she had been a goalie only when her house league team passed her the goalie bag, but that she’d love to play. My mom was on the board at York Mills Hockey Club, so she went into the equipment bunker and found Molly a set of pads, and they somehow ended up with the same doodles that adorn Mom and Molly’s favorite blue jeans. Molly was small enough that she fit entirely under the crossbar. She made the team, a team that finished dead last and I don’t believe ever won a game. Her nickname was born out of a misunderstanding, the coaches order her jerseys with BAUMER across the shoulders, assuming that was her last name based on our family email address at the time. So when she took the ice in her tiny equipment for the first time, Baumer, the goalie born.
I remember vividly the first game she started, a 14 or 15-0 loss to Durham West, a powerhouse in the 9-10 age bracket. In spite of the barrage of shots, and the overwhelming loss Molly came away excited about her new job. The switch had been flipped on, and she would stop at nothing to become a “real goalie”. It was one of her first goalie coaches that told her that until she was in high school, and being recruited, she should play for the very worst team she could find to get the most shots on goal to work on her craft. Every season she faced absolutely ridiculous shot totals, rarely finding the win column.
Molly’s first season, in her doodled pads. Small enough to stand under the crossbar
I watched Molly lead her team to the ice as a Red Wing, a Shark, a Flame, a Storm a Chief, a Canadette, and an Aero. I spent all of my winters traveling around with her teams, weekend tournaments, weeknight games in Barrie in a snowstorm. I never wanted to miss her games, I still don’t like to. I volunteered to be her shooter at practice, a tradition we carried through the end of my time playing hockey, and into her high school years. I remember passing the torch of having Dad behind the bench, as he took charge at the Storm. I remembered how special it was for me to have my dad coaching, and I was so happy that Molly got to experience that too.
Molly and Dad on picture day for the North York Storm
I remember when she first started out I’d spend most of my time on the ice with her trying to hit her pads, or her glove. I’d flip the pucks up at her blocker and glove, so she could get a feel for moving under the weight of the equipment. She worked harder at her craft than I can possibly explain, she always wanted one more shot, one more play. Over time, with the thousands of hours she put in training, I started to have a more difficult time actually finding the net. If you know anything about me, I’m competitive in everything, I HATE to lose. So when Molly started to get really good, I had to step me game up to try and beat her, as if she’d let that happen.
I remember one cold night on our backyard rink Molly asked Mom and I to play the rebound game. The game is basically shooters vs goalie and the points are awarded either for a goal, or a puck that is smothered or directed away from the scrum in front of the net. My Mom fired a shot, it hit Molly’s pad and deflected right to my sweet spot, I had a wide open net. As I skated across the front of the net to flip the puck in, I suddenly was horizontal, airborne. What Molly didn’t seem to understand is the difference between game speed and “back yard rink when her brother isn’t wearing shin guards” speed. As I clutched and grabbed my sore shin she told me in the most matter of fact tone “you shouldn’t have been there.” Of course Molly, I shouldn’t have been there.
I remember the roller coaster that was her recruiting process as she went from pretty much locked in to go to school at Syracuse, and how it all of a sudden fell apart. I remember Molly flying to New York and coming to a Stony Brook softball recruiting camp and getting offered a scholarship pretty much on the spot, and how it tore her up thinking that in the blink of an eye her hockey career had seemed to vanish. Later that week I remember getting a phone call from her during which she told me that Harvard wanted her, and that she was going to apply and commit there. Proud isn’t even close to enough of a word for what I felt when I found out that she’d earned that opportunity. She had always wanted to play at Harvard, it was her original dream school.
It’s funny looking back, when one of her first goalie coaches who played at Brown asked if Molly wanted a pair of her old Brown hockey pants. Molly’s answer was simply “I don’t want brown pants.” I don’t think she realized what she was actually being offered. In typical Molly fashion, she achieved what she set out to achieve, no matter how many people had told her it was crazy to aspire to that goal (remember them?).
Molly, to say that I’m proud of everything you’ve put in, accomplished, learned and been through is the understatement of the century. You’ve inspired me to be great, you’ve pushed my limits and my god, you’ve frustrated the hell out of me when that bloody toe of yours kicked out and knocked my tap in goals away. No, I will never forget those either. The half celebration turned “oh sh**, you got that?” When I think back to that day at Just Hockey it amazes me how some seemingly innocuous questions could have had such an impact on your life, and all of our lives.
It’s hard to believe that my little sister who once fit under the crossbar is soon to be a Harvard graduate. I realized today, you’re actually an adult. A really incredibly impressive one, and one hell of a goalie. Congratulations on everything you’ve earned through your years of preparation, hard work, and determination. It’s an honor and a pleasure to have gotten to watch you lead the way out on to a fresh sheet of ice.