It's fair to wonder whether the future of all sports in
America comes down to this very moment. At 6:30 one April morning in the Detroit suburbs, Joey Carpenter, 10, is pushing scrambled eggs around his plate. To his left, the countertop TV is tuned to the hockey world championships in Helsinki, where the U.S. men's national team plays its opening game. Joey is mulling the options before him. Both of his teams, hockey and lacrosse, have games at the same time this morning. He is torn.
He walks upstairs and shows me the room where he had slept fitfully beneath a Spider-Man blanket, next to a sock puppet and white tiger stuffed animal. He swipes a row of dark brown curls across his forehead and nods at the poster on the wall above his dresser. It's of former Red Wing Marian Hossa, though his current favorite is left winger Henrik Zetterberg, another of the superskilled Euros who have propelled the team's unmatched success over the past two decades.
"I like what he does with passing," Joey says.
Hockey is Joey's first love. He has been the best player on his various teams since he started playing travel at age 5. Now he's not the best, which is good. Three months ago, he joined Orchard Lake United, one of four USA Hockey-designated "Model Associations" that have excelled at developing well-rounded players. "I feel like I'm way better now," he says. He imagines the path before him: a state ranking ... high school glory ... maybe an invite to join the U17s up the road in Ann Arbor at the National Team Development Program, finishing school for NHL-bound prospects. Around Hockeytown, as Detroit fancies itself, the dream can feel more like a progression.
Lacrosse here, by contrast, is more like a day in the park -- or in this case, in the crash-landing zone of a county airport across town. That's where Joey's team is set to play this morning, on a patch of grass lined by parents so new to the sport and its rules that they aren't sure how to yell at the ref. While hockey is a year-round adventure for kids as young as kindergartners, lacrosse is a spring-only affair in which the youngest rec teams in Joey's town form in third grade. Fees are $160, or one-thirtieth of what the Carpenters will spend this year on hockey -- which helps explain why lacrosse is one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation. For more than a decade, it's been stealing kids from hockey, baseball and football. Joey gathers his equipment. His father, Bill, tucks a silver thermos of coffee under one arm, and off they go in Dad's Cadillac sedan.
What will it be today -- lacrosse or hockey?