When you’re on the field, court or rink, actually out there, you look up at the stands. You see your fans, your friends, your family. You feel the energy emanating from the mass of people above and around you, and it spurs you to action.
When you’re in the stands after a lifetime playing, they can be the loneliest place on earth.
Last fall, Kylee Meier was primed for a major step forward, coming off a sophomore season in which she was the Crookston girls’ hockey team’s fifth-leading scorer. She never made it on the ice.
Towards the end of soccer season, Meier suffered a knee injury, ending her hockey season before it began. Instead of playing a big role on the Pirates’ first line, she was confined to watching from behind the glass, thinking one thing only: What if I was on the other side?
“It wasn't fun at all,” Meier said Tuesday. “I always was sitting there wishing I could go out there and do what I saw they were doing wrong because I'm just like, ‘I could be out there doing that. I could be out there picking up that loose puck.’ ”
Meier saw these things not out of selfishness or arrogance, but simply out of an unbearable desire to play. As it turnsed out, though, she saw plenty done wrong.
She saw Crookston win just four of 24 games, scoring 1.7 goals per contest. She saw a 9-0 season-opening loss to East Grand Forks, a 10-0 loss to the Green Wave away, a 16-0 defeat to Warroad in January.
One player couldn’t do much to alter those results, but the timing of Meier’s injury, so close to the start of the season, didn’t help matters.
“All of a sudden you're scrambling,” said Pirates coach Tim Moe. “ … You're scrambling and you're kinda chasing it all year trying to find combinations that you think are gonna work.”
Meier’s return to full health gives Crookston that many more possible combinations to work with. A varsity mainstay since eighth grade, Meier’s set for added responsibility off the ice, too — responsibility that, according to Moe, she hasn’t shied away from, and taken on with a positive attitude.
“(She’s) really happy to be back on the ice and not just up in the stands watching,” Moe said. “She's a senior and we don't have a lot of seniors on the team, so we're really hoping she takes on more of a leadership role for us.”
A fresh perspective on the game of hockey itself might help Meier do just that. She noted the challenges of staying positive when actually playing as opposed to sitting out. To her, it’s easier to keep your motivation during the latter, and she’ll look to offer this perspective to help keep her and her teammates motivated during games.
“When you're losing by a lot, you have to keep your head up,” Meier said. “Once you start hanging your head down, that's when it really gets you.”
And now having seen both sides of the rink, Meier brings to it a renewed joy. Once again, she gets to suit up, step on the ice and skate with her team. Only this time, it’s for the last time.
“(Being injured) was definitely was an eye opener,” Meier said. “It showed me a lot, it made me appreciate the sport way more than I ever thought I would.”
So when Meier looks up at the stands this year, she’ll remember the frustration of having to spend the year there herself. She’ll then look back around the rink, hear the noise from the crowd, watch the puck bounce from wall to wall, stick to stick, chase after it herself. And she’ll realize, really realize, that this is her home.
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