Still priceless

As the advertising campaign tagline says, there are some things money can’t buy –things that can only be found while playing high school hockey






By Dan Bauer

MasterCard struck gold with their “priceless” advertising campaign as they showed us both humorous and heart-felt illustrations of what money can’t buy. It was a gentle reminder to all of us to slow down and smell the roses hidden within each and every day.

With our heads buried into our cell phones and our ears plugged into iPods, seeing or stopping to smell anything has become a challenge. We struggle to be politically correct, environmentally friendly and make sure our kids have enough self-esteem.

Perhaps the iPhone will soon provide us with an app to help us find those elusive roses. Days speed past us like an Illinois driver on the freeway. Too afraid to stop for fear we will get left behind, we set the cruise control and try to keep up.

Like the roses that are so cleverly camouflaged by everyday life, the priceless moments of a season can pass us by if we aren’t paying close attention. As the high school hockey season begins, here is my list of priceless moments reserved for those who as the Beach Boys proclaimed, stayed true to their school and themselves.

Priceless: The commitment, sacrifice and energy of a three-sport athlete. 

Less: The eternal season, pick your sport, that serves up the same menu all year long on the remote possibility that you are the elite one percent that will get a Division I scholarship.

Priceless: The pride and tradition of wearing the letter jacket your dad or your older brother wore.

Less: Having so many team jackets hanging in your closet that you can’t remember which one to wear to which game. One team’s season blends into the next and weekend games become more common place than going to church.       

Priceless: The excitement of scoring a game-winning goal and wearing the Winter Carnival king’s crown in the same day. 

Less: Giving up the once-in-a-lifetime experience of high school for an “elite” athletic opportunity that will still be there when you graduate.

Priceless: Playing on the same line with your best friend since kindergarten. 

Less: Playing on a line with a selfish mercenary, on an elite developmental team, whose only objective is to get what is best for him.

Priceless: The sweet symmetry of five players celebrating together after scoring a goal. 

Less: The selfish antics of choreographed celebrations.

Priceless: The pride in going to school the next day after beating your biggest rival. 

Less: Playing on an elite team, far away from home, going to a strange school the day after beating a team nobody ever heard of and nobody came to watch. 

Priceless: Meeting privately with your coach, looking him in the eye and taking responsibility for a mistake, or asking what you need to do to get more playing time. 

Less: Hiding behind your parents, lying about what happened, letting someone else solve your problems.

Priceless: The adrenalin rush of scoring the game-winning overtime goal with your family and girlfriend watching in the stands and the emotion of seeing all of them after the game. 

Less: Texting everybody about your accomplishment. Wishing they were there to watch and missing the hugs you won’t get.  

Priceless: Sunday afternoon pick-up game on the local outdoor rink with your neighborhood buddies. Pick your own teams; make your own rules; no coaches around to tell you what to do. 

Less: Another organized practice, another four-game weekend, another four hours on the road, another lecture from your coach and later your dad.

Priceless: Accepting your role as a third line “grinder” or a little-used sixth defenseman. Being a positive influence on the bench and bringing a “Rudy-like” performance to every practice. 

Less: Quitting because you didn’t get enough varsity playing time.

Priceless: Watching a fourth line senior introduced in the starting lineup on senior night. 

Less: Cutting marginal seniors in favor of younger players who offer more potential in an effort to win a few more games.

Priceless: Playing before a jam packed arena in the sectional finals. 

Less: Playing at some national tournament in front of 50 people.

Priceless: Playing in the state tournament. The absolute career highlight of so many athletes – who have gone to accomplish so much more – but have never forgotten that experience. 

Less: Anything else! 

Priceless: The loyalty of making a pact with your best friends in middle school that one day you will win a state championship together, then realizing when you fell short, it was the best decision you ever made.

Less: Shopping yourself around until you find a school that can “guarantee” you a winning season or the right amount of playing time or shot at the title. Leaving friends behind, believing you are bigger than the team and chasing a “holy grail” that can’t be guaranteed.

Priceless: Watching a senior class huddle on the ice after their final game—unable to bring themselves to leave the ice for the last time. Understanding for the first time that falling short of their goal is now insignificant to the fact that this team, this family of friends, will never play again. 

Less: Leaving the ice and the locker room with little or no emotion because you are playing with your third team in the past four years.

Priceless: Hugging your coach in the locker room after your final game, wishing you could play just one more game for him. 

Less: Shaking hands with a coach who never could get your name right and regretting your decision to leave your high school team behind.

Priceless: Sending your coach a thank you letter after you graduate. 

Less:  Never talking to your coach again, because he (choose one) “was always out to get you … never gave you a fair chance … didn’t utilize your skills properly … ” when you played for him.

The distinctive four-year window of opportunity offered through high school hockey is truly a priceless experience. 

Everything else has so much potential to be just less. 

Dan Bauer is the head hockey coach at Wausau East High School. You can contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..