Chris and Lisa Morrissette don’t sit side by side in the bleachers when their 11-year-old son is in his team jersey, chasing the puck on the ice. The couple, from Zimmerman, Minn., find it too nerve-racking to be next to each other during Chase’s summer hockey league games.
That’s why Lisa, 45, sat with her fellow hockey moms at a recent tournament, where she snapped photos and yelled encouragement to her son, who’s in his third year playing on the Easton Synergy AAA team. Chris, also 45, stood quietly at a distance, hands in pockets, pacing occasionally.
Togetherness for the Morrissettes comes before and after the games — in the family RV.
In the fiercely competitive world of league hockey, it’s not unusual for parents to pack the kids in the minivan and spend weekends crisscrossing the state for tournaments. However, a small but growing number of families with young athletes are forgoing hotels and opting for RVs instead.
By setting up makeshift campgrounds — often in parking lots right next to the rinks — parents say they’re saving money, relieving players’ boredom between games and strengthening their ice-based communities.
For a recent four-day invitational at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Chris Morrissette set up his camper and unloaded a sign reading “The Morrissettes’ Cabin on Wheels.” He positioned the fully loaded 2014 Keystone Cougar fifth-wheel trailer in the parking lot between a pair of RVs belonging to two other families who have players on his son’s team. When they’re not cheering on their sons, these families will spend the long weekend sleeping, eating and hanging out just steps from the ice.
“It saves on driving, and he can get a good rest instead of getting up early to get on the road,” Chris said. “And it’s the meeting place for all of us between games.”
After seeing other families camping rinkside, hockey dad Bill Rein decided to bring his 38-foot 2014 Shasta Flyte travel trailer to Blaine.
“It’s a new concept for us, but it’s a good way for us to keep busy when they’re not playing,” said Rein, whose 11-year-old son, Austin, is a goalie.
The 16 players on the Easton Synergy team are not schoolmates or neighborhood buddies. They come together — from hometowns that stretch across the north metro area — to play hockey. Their parents, who end up spending hours together at twice weekly practices and traveling to tournaments, develop their own relationships.
“This is my son’s first year on the team, and being here with the camper is a good way for us to meet the other boys and their parents,” said Rein, 44, of Brooklyn Center.
With just a game or two per day, weekend tournaments involve a lot more waiting than watching, with hours to chill between action on the ice. Instead of scattering, the parents while away the hours at the impromptu campsite, pulling lawn chairs in a circle and setting up portable grills for a camp potluck. The players and a few errant siblings kicked a soccer ball.
“When the boys come off the ice, the adrenaline is still up and they’re not in shape to go sit in a nice restaurant. We went to one that had a popcorn machine, and, of course, they had a popcorn fight,” said Lisa Morrissette, rolling her eyes at the memory. “Here, the coach can talk to them in a relaxed atmosphere and they can decompress together.”
Corey Moyer is a motor-home owner, hockey dad and volunteer coach for the Easton Synergy team, but his day job is as general manager at Quality RV in Monticello, Minn. He sees tournament camping catching on with parents whose kids are on youth traveling teams for soccer, softball, lacrosse and beyond.
“We’re so busy, and for families, everything revolves around our kids,” he said. “An RV has the amenities we’re accustomed to.”
He said he often meets prospective buyers whose offspring are athletes. While the price point (generally $12,000 to $30,000) may be a reach for many families, he thinks what RVs can offer is priceless.
“They create a tighter knit family,” he said, “and I don’t find many people who don’t like that idea.”
How much is too much?
But there is the possibility for too much hockey togetherness, especially for parents.
“With traveling teams, expanding the social circle for the whole family is the bright side. But it’s important for parents to step back and make sure they aren’t sacrificing their own social lives,” said John Tauer, men’s basketball head coach and psychology professor at the University of St. Thomas.
The author of “Why Less Is More for WOSPs (Well-Intentioned, Overinvolved Sports Parents),” Tauer, who studies sports and motivation, warns parents against building all their social connections through their children.
“Time is our most valuable resource, and we need to ask how we’re using it and be intentional about it,” he said. “Too many parents tell me, ‘All I do is work and go to my kid’s extracurriculars.’
“Our brains and our culture are not wired to be moderate, but I tell them, you don’t have to be there for every game. Go to half of them. The kids won’t be scarred — they probably won’t notice.”
The tournament in Blaine served as a trial run for the camping families of the Easton Synergy team. They are looking ahead to long-distance weekends this summer, with tournaments in Sioux Falls and Winnipeg. They may well find another, subtler benefit that comes with tournament camping: an increase in popularity.
With an RV that sleeps eight — 10, if you push it — the Morrissettes are used to some of their son’s teammates wheedling for a sleepover.
“All the guys are asking to stay,” said 11-year-old Chase Morrissette. “They’re all my bros right now.”
“You wake up with kids who aren’t yours,” admitted Lisa Morrissette, “ but that’s where the friendships and memories start.”
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.