Opinion: On Teddy Balkind, by a hockey parent

Teddy Balkind playing hockey.

Teddy Balkind playing hockey.

Grace Duffield / Hearst Connecticut Media

Editor's Note: Since this story was published, Greenwich police have clarified the circumstances of Teddy Balkind's injury. Police say Balkind was upright and on his skates when an opposing player's leg was in the air and a skate hit his neck.

Whenever I go to the hockey rink to watch my son’s team play — a 14-year-old bantam, he plays in Danbury — I sit for a period in the other section, with the opposing team’s parents. I like to hear what they’re saying and how they’re responding to the ebb and flow. My friends think I’m crazy for doing this — it’s all partisan war in America these days — but it’s a way I’ve found to remind myself that their parents are just like our parents and their kids are just like our kids and, in the end, we all want the same thing: for our kids to have the experience, then emerge from it healthy, happy and sound.

You remember this whenever a kid goes down on the ice. Players take a knee. The coach shuffles out in street shoes. When we applaud as the kid gets up, as he or she almost always does, we are not applauding what happened but what didn’t. Hockey is a fast game, and the danger is always there.

This all came to mind in the most painful way last week when the tragic news of Teddy Balkind tore through the hockey community. Teddy, a high school sophomore at St. Luke’s in New Canaan, was killed in a game at the Brunswick School in Greenwich. He’d fallen to the ice. A Brunswick player, unable to stop, accidentally hit his neck. Teddy was rushed to the hospital, where he died. If you read about him or look at his picture or the Instagram post of Teddy and his teammates at the New Canaan Winter Club celebrating their state championship, the beatific smile, the medal around his neck, you want to get into bed and stay there forever.

After any tragedy, the first thought is: What could have been done? Was he missing a piece of gear or breaking a rule? You hope the answer is yes, because it would let you off the hook. Not me. Not my kid. I would have done it differently, and it wouldn’t have happened.

Bull. Whether Teddy was wearing a neck guard or if it would have even made a difference — there are some kinds of accidents that no pad can prevent — I don’t know. Yes, every player should be required to wear a neck guard, but such talk lets you avoid the point: It could have happened to any of our kids, meaning it can happen to any of our kids. It was a freak accident, a lightning strike, but here’s the truth: No one is ever completely safe. And yet we let them play anyway. Because, well, take a second look at Teddy with his team and the medal.

We’ve become a little intolerant of risk in this country, but those who know, know you take your life into your hands every time you leave the house. The best you can do is hope and pray and remember, when tragedy does befall, as it always has and always will, that there really are no teams, there is no us and them and that, when it comes down to it, every kid out there is your kid.

That’s why hockey people from mite parents to NHL stars have been so affected by the tragedy of Teddy Balkind; why hockey families across the country have posted photos of sticks as a kind of memorial. It’s not just the danger we want to remember but the smile in the picture. Without the danger, there is no joy. It’s part of what makes life so sweet.

Rich Cohen of Ridgefield is the author of the book “Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent,” published by Picador this month.