Cathy Pouliot had conflicted feelings as she sat in the stands at Ashburn Ice Arena next to her in-laws, Doris and Roland Pouliot, last Friday. With her knees held tightly together, she carefully watched a hockey game.
Her son, Shayne, plays for Loudoun County/Loudoun Valley/Heritage and was facing off against Stone Bridge, whose assistant coach is her husband, Gary. To root for one, she had to cheer against the other.
"I know my wife was rooting for my son," Gary Pouliot said, "and I think my parents were, too."
Despite the lack of familial support, father's team defeated son's, 5-1, in a Northern Virginia Scholastic Hockey League game. Shayne, a Loudoun Valley sophomore who was tied for the team lead in points with three goals and six assists, played a spirited game against his dad's team but was held scoreless.
"It was pretty weird," Shayne Pouliot said. "It's never happened before. I wanted to beat him really bad, but it didn't work out."
Father and son had shared hockey experiences before their first encounter as opponents. For two seasons, Shayne played for the Frederick Fury, a hockey travel team in Maryland, and Gary was a coach for one of those seasons. He coached Shayne's roller hockey team, the Tour Mad Dogs, which won national championships in 2001 and 2002, playing tournaments in Georgia and Illinois.
A defender for the Mad Dogs, Shayne has grown accustomed to hearing his dad's voice while playing and even thought he was receiving fatherly instruction on Friday.
"One time, I did think he was yelling at me," Shayne said. "I turned to look, but it was at someone else."
Gary Pouliot's voice was familiar to nearly every other player on the ice on Friday. Several Loudoun County/Loudoun Valley/Heritage players skated to greet him before the game, and he had warm words for them during the postgame handshake. Despite his affection for the opposition, Gary was quite vocal from his position on Stone Bridge's bench.
"As a coach, I owe it to these guys to try the best that I can, so I really put it out of my mind," Gary said. "We tried to win, and Shayne would be upset if I didn't try to win."
So firm were his loyalties that he did not budge when Shayne slid facedown across the ice, complaining to referees about a slash to the throat. Gary also did not notice later in the game that Shayne was throwing up behind the bench after the injury.
"Actually, when they're playing, you really don't see it that much," Gary said. "You just coach your team and don't worry about it too much. If something happens, you really don't recognize him out there."
Gary has been an assistant for Stone Bridge Coach John Lynch for three seasons. The two have coached together for nine years, including the roller hockey seasons, and have never had a disagreement, according to Lynch.
"He's always been involved with hockey," Lynch said. "He's a helluva guy and probably one of the best coaches in the area. He is just an incredibly talented guy."
The hockey community showed its support of the Pouliots last year soon after Stone Bridge won the NVSHL title. Due to an electrical fire, the Pouliots' house burned down, and the family lost everything, including its golden retriever, Oakley.
"Losing our dog was the worst part," Shayne said. "But a lot of people really were helpful. A lot of Stone Bridge people brought by clothes and stuff to us, and it really helped out."
The remains of the house were demolished, and a new one was built in its place. After the game and a conciliatory dinner, the Pouliots retreated there, and just as he had after other games, father offered son advice.
But Shayne was left to lament that his dad had bragging rights, at least until their next faceoff.
"I kind of wished it was a little closer," Shayne said. "Everyone knew we were the underdog going in, but I just wish we would've made it more of a game."