FORT COVINGTON — Caiden Cartier had his hockey stick.
But not his skates.
Cartier (Car-ch-yay) was shooting at home.
Had the net. But no ice.
He wound up and swung.
Solid contact. All twine.
No crowd roar. No goal horn.
Just the scrape of his stick on asphalt and the occasional slap shot, running off as echoes into the vast expansion of the North Country.
At least he had one of his favorite sports to pass the time.
Almost. Not quite.
It wasn’t Cavanaugh Arena.
It wasn’t with his friends.
It was the shell of what Cartier felt he had in the sport.
It wasn’t Salmon River boys hockey.
During the winter of 2020, this was the norm for Cartier.
He’d shoot around. A couple nights a week.
The Shamrock defenseman couldn’t think of much else he could do to pass the time.
What was there?
“Probably, nothing,” Cartier said. “(There) really wasn’t anything to do.”
With winter sports shut down last year, Salmon River did not get back onto the ice until last February, in an abbreviated season where it finished 8-0-1.
The currently 7-0 2021-22 Shamrocks haven’t lost a game since getting hockey back.
They have revived hopes that this year’s schedule can lead into sectionals, after enduring a season without playoffs.
Cartier’s father, Casey, played with Caiden’s coach, Tim Cook and Salmon River Athletic Director Shawn Miller. The trio back in 1992 was a part of the Shamrocks’ boys hockey state title run.
“(It started) with my dad,” Cartier said. “I kinda followed him.”
Casey was a state champion, 30 years ago as a junior in high school.
Caiden, now a junior at Salmon River, is direct with his priorities.
“Winning,” Cartier said. “And doing it with my friends.”
Salmon River’s current roster has an entire childhood worth of experience together, whether on the ice or soccer field. The Shamrocks have excitement surrounding this year’s group, a mix of talent they say has been over a decade in the making.
“One of the things that’s nice about this is, these are all the minor hockey kids who have played together most of the way through,” Salmon River head coach Tim Cook said in November. “It’s been a build. Just like soccer, it’s been a 12-year build.”
Following a strong playoff performance for the Shamrocks’ boys soccer team, Cartier this winter has emerged as an all-around player for Salmon River.
“He’s definitely elevated his game,” Cook said. “Whether it be soccer or hockey. I thought in those last couple of playoff games, in soccer he really showed a different gear. And here, he’s been putting some points up but he’s been playing well for us defensively (as well).”
Being the younger of his older siblings, Cameron and Carli, Caiden has been competing since he was first introduced to hockey.
With the rink only three miles from their home, Casey would bring his children before heading into work in the afternoon.
Along with Cameron and Carli, Caiden started skating at around 3-4 years old.
Hockey came in stride.
“He didn’t really have a choice,” Casey said of Caiden. “It was always mini sticks in the hallway.”
Was he good at mini sticks in the hallway?
“I dunno, it turned into a fight half the time,” Casey said. “It got pretty aggressive. They played until we had to make ‘em to stop.”
Casey and his wife, Tammy, said Caiden was an instigator among the three.
Over the years, Cartier has been looking for a balanced aggression on the ice.
“You’ve got to walk that line … He likes to push buttons, that one,” Casey said. “He’ll pick at ya and pick at ya. Kinda like me.”
Casey said, he didn’t exactly take it easy on Caiden, when he first picked up the hockey stick and took on his dad in the driveway. In his introduction to competition, Caiden and his siblings had to work for it.
“Parents always used to say to me, you’re too hard on the kids. You’ve gotta let ‘em win once in a while,” Casey said. “I say, what does that teach ‘em? You don’t have to work for it to win? So, I went just as hard as they did.”
For months, Cartier would pace that same driveway where he started competing.
Flicking shots into the net, alone.
But he can lace up his skates now.
Stride across the ice.
Battle alongside his friends.
Cartier knows, there’s a crown to be won.
“It’s what I like to do,” Cartier said. “Got nothing else to do, so I have fun playing hockey … It gets my mind off everything.”