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Dan Shaughnessy

Parents ensure kids are all right

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 11, 2009
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WASHINGTON - They don't go out to dinner on Saturday nights and they don't sleep late Sunday mornings. Fueled by hot coffee and cold doughnuts, they're forever driving. When they're not standing/shivering next to the Zamboni, they're buying equipment, planning the next road trip, and figuring out how to get away from work for big tournament games.

They are hockey parents.

And this one is for them.

The Boston University Terriers tonight play Miami University in the national championship game at the Verizon Center in our nation's capital. BU is trying to win its fifth NCAA title, its first since 1995. Jack Parker and his hungry hounds are ranked first in the country, carrying a 34-6-4 record into the Frozen Finale.

And none of it would be happening without the love and dedication of folks like Anne and Herman Lawrence of Saugus.

Herm has been a physical education teacher in the Everett school system for 34 years. Anne is a paralegal. They have a 26-year-old daughter who pitched at Emmanuel College. And they have 22-year-old Jason.

Jason's hockey career took over Anne and Herm's lives about 16 yeas ago. It has been an all-consuming investment of time, money, and emotion. Elite hockey players do not just happen. They can't get to the top by themselves. They rely on parents who put their own lives on ice once their sons first lace up skates.

If you talk to people who cover sports for a living, most will tell you hockey players are the most polite group of athletes. More than likely, this is because most hockey players are raised by supportive, unselfish parents.

"We've got good kids because we've got good parents," says Parker, coach of BU for 36 years. "It's part of our sport for two reasons. There's an economic commitment and there's a time commitment. You drop your son off at the rink and you don't leave because you've got to take him home in an hour. And it's a family commitment. Sisters end up watching. And they tell their friends, 'We're all going to watch my brother play.'

"I tell our recruiters, 'Make sure you talk to the parents.' Kids don't grow up to be like their neighbors. They grow up to be like their parents. We've got good kids on this team because we've got good parents."

Jason Lawrence is a senior forward with the Terriers. He scored the winning goal in the final minute against New Hampshire two weeks ago to push BU to the Frozen Four. He's played hockey for Austin Prep, the Junior Bruins of the Eastern League, the US National Development Team, and Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Mich. He's already played in the Czech Republic and in Sweden. And now he's got a chance to be a national champion.

"It's his dream come true and we're along for the ride," says Herm Lawrence. "This has always been his choice. When he was young and we'd have to get to the rink at Belmont Hill or Pingree at 6 a.m., he'd set his alarm. I'd go into that room and say. 'You ready?' He was always ready. Sometimes he'd already be in the car waiting for me.

"One early Sunday morning, we got to the rink and he was closing the back of the Jeep and he accidentally brought the lid down on my head. I was bleeding, but he had to practice, so I just held a towel up to my head while he went through practice. I've watched every practice and every game. And we used to have our greatest talks driving to and from the rink."

The dreaded equipment bag is part of every hockey household. It's huge. And it stinks.

A good hockey mom knows she can't touch the bag - even if it smells like a compost heap on a hot afternoon. Designed to carry uniforms, equipment, skates, and karma, the bags are bigger than Mini Coopers.

"The bag has its own room in our house," says Anne Lawrence. "It is horrendous."

"You don't touch anything in the bag," echoes Sheryl Higgins, mom of Chris Higgins, who scored the tying goal for the Terriers in their pulsating 5-4 semifinal win over Vermont Thursday. "I tried to sneak in there and wash some things once, but I won't anymore. Chris is so superstitious. He wouldn't get rid of his first skates even when he was wearing a size 6 and the skates were a size 2."

Sheryl and Jeffrey Higgins live in Lynnfield. Sheryl is an executive assistant and Jeffrey is a plumber. Chris played at Pingree School in Hamilton before coming to Boston University. Like Jason Lawrence and just about every other Terrier, he also played on a litany of junior teams, travel teams, and all-star teams.

Hockey families need big vehicles. To accommodate the people. And the bag. The Higgins family rolled in a Windstar, then an Expedition. Jeffrey coached in the early days. Sheryl has been the driver forever.

It's no sacrifice.

"When it comes to hockey games, the guys I work with, they know I'm gone," says Jeffrey Higgins.

"When our friends would be going out, we'd be at the rink," adds Sheryl. "That becomes your vacation. It really is your world. And I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Hockey is their world and tonight the Verizon rink is the center of their universe.

Memories frozen in time. For players. And parents.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.