What's the difference between a pit bull and a hockey dad?

There is no difference.

With all the attention paid to hockey moms in the past couple of weeks, hockey dads are getting short shrift. That might not matter in Florida or Ohio or a lot of places considered swing states in the presidential election.

But in Minnesota, where a statue of Herb Brooks -- exulting in victory after the gold medal game in 1980 -- stands outside the arena where the Republicans held their national convention this month, hockey dads should not be overlooked.

The State of Hockey has the most hockey players in the country -- 55,000 amateur players, including 9,000 girls -- according to Minnesota Hockey, the governing body for amateur hockey. I may have missed it, but with all those "USA, USA" chants we heard coming from Republicans at the Xcel Energy Center, I was surprised no one mentioned Herbie.

Hockey moms, thanks to Sarah Palin, have replaced soccer moms as the most-desired female demo being sought after by both parties in the campaign.

I have known a lot of hockey moms in my time, and, with all due respect, I'm not sure if being a hockey mom qualifies anyone to stand in line for the top job in the country. Most of the hockey moms I know have a hard enough time boiling enough hot dogs for the season-ending banquet.

I am not trying to insult hockey moms. They scare me, and they do more than their share, dragging the kids out of bed, finding the shin pads, pushing them out the door and dumping them off at cold arenas, usually at ungodly times on a weekend morning when any parent would rather be in bed or ought to be in church. But it is dads who turn hockey into our religion.

Most moms are too kind to do that to their kids. It is the male of the species -- the competitive, over-compensating, pushy one -- who puts the little tykes on ice.

I have put three kids through hockey, from Mites through high school, which means I have more than 30 seasons of Hockey Dad memories.

A lot of them are good ones.

But not all of them.

Sometimes, you see kids wearing T-shirts saying, "Hockey Is Life."

It's true, but not in the way the shirt means. Life is a lot more than hockey. But hockey prepares you, and teaches you, a lot about life. The good and the bad. Because hockey is a lot more than a game on ice. It is, like all competitive endeavors, the agony and the ecstasy, the pride and the humiliation. The lipstick and the attack dog.

I remember the hockey dad who climbed the glass at one arena to scream at the officials, his eyes bulging out of their sockets. He was a good guy, a nice man, and totally off his rocker for a few minutes as we tried to get him down before he blew a gasket or got arrested. I remember one game where the dad next to me, the scent of alcohol wafting on his every breath, screamed at his kid to try harder or he'd be sorry later. Or the dad who I shared car-pooling duties with -- taking three boys in their bulky pads to practices -- until I learned he had lost his driver's license. And the dad who, as an assistant coach of a girls' team, made the organizers of a tournament take back a third-place trophy they had awarded to the team and engrave his name on it, too.

Then there was the coach who benched a 9-year-old player for several games until the kid's parent called up and angrily demanded to know why his son wasn't playing.

"He isn't 'hungry' enough," the coach told the father.

'''Hungry?'" the dad shouted into the phone. 'He's not supposed to be 'hungry.' He's 9 years old! He's supposed to be well fed! But if he doesn't start playing, YOU might be hungry, because I'll come over and you won't be able to chew for a week."

That dad was me. Not one of my proudest moments. But it wasn't the only time I wanted to pop someone.

Hockey is a violent game. Especially in the stands.

The hockey moms aren't immune; some of the worst are the hockey grandmas. I remember an out-of-town tournament where my boy's team was playing a northern Minnesota team, and the small-town grandmas in the stands were taunting the visiting players because they were from the big city.

I cannot repeat here what those lovely old ladies said. All I can tell you is that the big city kids were embarrassed to hear it coming from withered, lipsticked lips.

Not even lipstick helped.

I could tell you a lot of hockey horror stories. I will, too, some cold night, over a beer. If you tell me yours. But don't get me wrong. I love hockey. I always have. I have some more youngsters in the pipeline, and I'm getting ready to sign 'em up.

It'll be good for them.

ncoleman@startribune.com • 612-673-4400