Look, it’s easy for me to write what I’m excited to share. Like learning a language in a month by talking to topless women, or getting an internship with my childhood hero.
This isn’t like that. It was hard to write, it’s harder to read back, and it’ll be even harder to admit to those I’ve hurt because of it.
It starts in my home ice rink of Leddy Park Arena in Burlington, Vermont, where, from the ages of 16-20 I played for the local junior hockey team, the Vermont Lumberjacks. If you don’t know about junior hockey, it refers to all the 20 & under hockey leagues throughout North America. In most states, it’s a step up from high school hockey, and the most common path to college hockey.
Because eligibility extends until age 20, it feeds into the culture of hockey players taking several years off in between high school and college before they get recruited—making it normal for hockey players to enter college at 20 or 21. Only the top, pro-bound players start at 18.
One day in the fall of my second of five junior hockey seasons, I strolled into the arena in my hand-me-down black suit for game day, Paramore’s Pressure playing through my headphones. As I walked into the locker room for our home opener, I stared at my jersey with a freshly stitched “C” in the upper right corner, representing my newly announced captaincy. I was a junior in high school, still two weeks away from my seventeenth birthday.
Although I was a young captain, we have two teams in our organization. I captained the junior “B” team, comprised of mostly 17 and 18-year-olds, while the junior “A” team was almost entirely 19 and 20-year-olds. Regardless, the ultimate goal of going to the NHL (c’mon, we all had the dream) started with dominating this level, moving up to the junior “A” team for my senior year in high school, leaving two years post-graduation to get recruited. Although I was eager to work my way up to the “A” team as soon as possible, I was content where I was—confident I’d reach the right checkpoint. Still, the anxiousness to advance loomed on my mind daily, especially when I saw them practice before us most days.
As our season rolled into full swing, we struggled, starting the season 2-13. However, our young team didn’t panic. Personally, I felt I needed to step up offensively, and trust the development process our coach was putting in place.
Towards the end of the losing skid, the latter half of that equation came to fruition, as players adjusted to the level. In particular one of our third-line players made monumental strides. On a team, there are four offensive lines—groups of forwards who go on the ice as a unit. The first two lines usually play the most and are typically the best offensive forwards. Third and fourth lines fulfill more defensive roles. “Mac,” as the guys called him, started to rack up points, and on behalf of his drastic improvement, our team climbed the standings as he climbed to the first line.
But as Mac started scoring, his attitude changed, rippling tension into our locker room.
Before one away game in the thick of Mac’s point-scoring tear, we stood in a New Hampshire rink parking lot, forming lines to do our team’s warm-up.
Yet, as we did our warm-up, Mac stood on the side dribbling a soccer ball, making fake three-point shots with our soccer ball.
“Rosie, I’m not warmin’ up,” he called out when I asked him to join the group.
Later that week, as our team watched game film on the projector outside of Coach’s office, I noticed his body language pointed away from everybody. After the film session, I asked him why he hadn’t paid attention at all.
“Yeah I’m fucking sick I don’t need to watch film,” he remarked.
That’s weird. Is there something about scoring goals that make people assholes?
“Hey Mac,” I approached him when we stood alone in the locker room. “Not participating in team events divides our group. Young guys follow your example.”
“Well Rosie if they start following my example, maybe they’ll start scoring goals too,” he interrupted. “I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.”
His arrogance preoccupied my thoughts. How I was performing on the ice was secondary compared to how much control I had over the locker room. It was a challenge as a young leader I couldn’t crack.
Although I was the de-jure leader, I felt my grasp and respect from teammates slip away each week. My personal play—and therefore growth—also flat-lining.
I began to resent him. I hated seeing Mac do well. Every time he scored, a flame raged within me but remained covered in the tumultuousness of team celebration. Due to his skyrocketed performance, he went to the league all-star game.
I deserved his success, or so I thought.
Envy reared its ugly head.
My identity as a leader shattered, my confidence as a player plummeted. My self-esteem sank into a crater deeper than Lake Champlain.
And I blamed Mac for it. For taking the role—the goals, the all-star game, the admiration from teammates and coaches—I thought I deserved.
The following season, Mac moved up to our Junior A team, while I stayed at the junior B level.
Despite my hard work, despite being captain of a successful team, the coach of the “A” team told me I wasn’t good enough.
And the fact that Mac did move up, made the dagger of envy twist and turn inside my guts.
The following season, I had the worst hockey year of my life—worst life year too, which I don’t think is a coincidence—as I was caught up with what was happening at the higher level, wishing I were playing there, so much so I hardly cared about our team. We had a stacked team, going 36-4-4 in the regular season. We could’ve won the championship had I remained focused on myself and my team.
But I didn’t. I was too concerned with what my former teammate was doing with the junior A team. Of course, he was doing terrific, playing on the first line and scoring goals. All the things I felt I should’ve been doing by that time. I floated in mediocrity the entire season because I couldn’t rip myself away and stay present.
The following year came, and I finally moved up to the junior A level, and Mac and I were teammates once again. He was our leading scorer, and I was a fourth-line guy. In fact, he became MY captain. Oh, how the tables had turned. I still hated to see him score, hated to see him succeed, and hated where I was in my career.
One morning early that season, I got the usual text from the group chat with the lineup for the day. Sitting in my living room I scrolled through the four lines. My name wasn’t on any of them. I was left out of the lineup.
A few minutes later I got a text from Mac.
“hey man, keep working hard. you’ve been huge for us and i think you’ve been playing very well and doing everything we’ve asked from you. keep grinding and you’ll be fine. seriously you’ve been big for us. i mean that. i’m glad we have you.”
As I read the text, I gripped my phone tighter, and my jawed tightened in anger. I rationalized this gesture as him trying to be a good captain. It made me dislike him even more, especially because he didn’t capitalize his fucking texts.
He actually took the time to go into the settings on his phone and turn off auto-capitalization. What an asshole.
The season wore on, he committed to a great college hockey team for the following season, while I fought to stay in the lineup.
My envy filled to the brim and spilled over into life away from Leddy Park.
One day, an innocent Tinder swipe turned into a match with Mac’s ex-girlfriend’s best friend. A match led to a conversation and lunch at the local Thai restaurant.
The girl pushed me on info about the break-up. I sensed she knew I had inside information. The inner debate began in my brain. Do I keep my mouth shut? I wasn’t the one who did anything, what do I have to be afraid of? With a whiff of interrogation, I opened the door for more questions. Soon, I was relishing spilling it all out. His secrets streamed out of me, like a river bursting a dam and flooding the whole town. Feeling relieved—and satisfied about getting the truth out—I left lunch feeling like I’d done the right thing.
When Mac confronted me about it I denied my collusion profusely.
To this day I still haven’t told him it was me.
I was envious he led the team I was captain of.
I was envious he moved up while I stayed down.
I was envious he had the letter on his jersey while I struggled to stay in the lineup.
To the extent, I rationalized sabotaging his personal life.
All he did was join a team, adjust to the level and improve, putting our team on his back in the process. Sure, the arrogance was there, but it really didn’t negatively affect our team the way I imagined. My image of losing my grip as a leader turned out to be a construction of my mind—I learned years later from teammates. And, his confidence was a testament to how much he’d improved.
Deservedly, he moved up. Deservedly, he became captain. And deservedly, he’s playing at a great college program.
Entering my last season of junior hockey, Mac was off to college. At last, I felt free from his presence and my envious tendencies.
In my fifth and final season, we were led by guys like Mason Emoff, Glynn Robitaille, and Logan DiScanio. While they scored lots of goals, I stayed in a modest role position.
When they scored, tinges of envy came crawling back, pricking my skin like a rush of cold air. When the gusts came, I shook it off.
Finally, on an overtime power-play goal by Mason at Leddy, I knew it was time to look inward. As soon as the puck rifled into the top corner of the net, I had to force myself to celebrate, to be happy. I loved my teammates. I had no more scapegoat. What caused me to shift inward, I wish I could pinpoint. I suppose it was because I no longer had a logical sequence to justify my feelings. But, the emotions were still there, as strong as ever, and I had to confront them.
That evening, I didn’t celebrate. After forking down dinner, I cocooned myself to my room. I turned the lights off, closed the curtains, and lay down on my carpet, staring at the ceiling. As I started to admit maybe something was wrong with me, my ego fought back. It searched and searched for rationalizations. When I reflected on from previous years—sometimes time provides a more objective lens—I realized how wrong I was. I played through old memories, the expressions on people’s faces, and read through old journal entries under only the moonlight.
Acceptance was a sword strike to my ego, to my portrait of myself as a good leader. I have no idea how much time passed. But I know my brain didn’t have another ounce of energy, so I went to bed, passing out instantly upon surrender.
The next morning, I grabbed my journal and committed to diving into my introspections from the previous evening. I resolved to journal on gratitude: the opposite of envy. Everything I was lucky for. Everything others may have been envious of me for. The list grew as the page flipped to a second and third. In those journaling moments, envy was the furthest feeling from my mind. Emerging with a sense of progress, I walked outside, breathed in the fresh Vermont air, the orange and red of foliage season around me, and I hugged my dog.
I changed my approach from wanting more to accepting what I had. The constant low dose of envy coursing through me dissipated.
But, inevitably game time would come, and my friends would score goals, and that would present my first real challenge.
The next weekend, I admired Glynn Robitaille as he jutted through two defensemen and ripped a shot five-hole. My ego, for a moment, came right back. Like a dragon with three heads, I could cut one off and there were still two more to deal with.
My mind was far from the game. It was set on recognizing the fight inside me, between envy and appreciation. I took a deep breath and lived to fight another moment.
The practice became a moment to moment battle with my three-headed ego. Each goal for our team, a rep for me.
The process was ongoing, my envious tendencies still prickling me.
Over the last half of the season, I learned to keep the dragon sleeping in its cave. I felt for the first time I was truly rooting for my friends, for our team. When they scored, I knew their success was intertwined with mine. When they made their college hockey commitments for the following season, I was truly happy for them.
I suppose, in addition to recognizing my envy, I also began to make peace with myself with where I was at with my hockey career. I had a lot going for me and was exuberant in my own decision to attend NYU the following fall. I was proud of what I was accomplishing as a strength coach—having recently gotten a strength and conditioning internship with the Umass Lowell hockey team (who finished this season ranked #12 in the nation)—and elsewhere in my personal life. By working on myself, the dragon got a little bit lazier.
The end of that season was the most meaningful hockey I’ve ever played, as I developed bonds stronger than any team I’ve been a part of, which still grow a year after our team’s dispersion.
And as the years go by we’ll remember less and less who scored the most goals, or who had the best college hockey career. We’re going to remember our friendship, our bond, our brotherhood.
Now, I’ve moved on from junior hockey to the next chapter in my life.
And envy has moved with me.
Every now and then, the dragon wakes up to take a peek.
At the luxurious New York City apartments I can’t enter.
The restaurants I’m not rich enough to eat at.
The parties I can’t attend.
The success stories part of the city’s rhetoric.
In the hockey world, when I see young players coming up through ranks, I still feel envious they’re accomplishing what I always dreamed of.
And I feel the rapier start to press against my skin. I can’t help it. As much as I’ve worked to eradicate it from my being, it’s still my default. And I think it always will be.
Perhaps those slight pangs inevitably arise in all of us—a reality of being human. Maybe it’s those little pangs that spawn us to do our best work.
As I walk around Manhattan’s busy streets, I’ve been consumed by the indescribably motivating air millions of others have. Maybe, the New York state of mind comes from the pangs of others around us: New Yorkers eloquent clothes, eclectic lifestyles, and admirable hustle prompting a micro-dose of envy that spurs us subconsciously to action.
Too often, however, those pangs of envy flare. But, when I recognize it, I take a deep breath. And I sing the dragon a lullaby.