I don’t have the same gift for seeing the tiny details that Ryan does. Sometimes I only notice them on a second or third examination.
When Ryan skated on the auxiliary rink at the NHL Winter Classic in Philadelphia in January I could hardly contain my excitement for him. I wanted to watch him enjoying the moment so badly that I almost forgot to capture it for posterity. Sure, I snapped plenty of pictures and shot a few videos on my phone, but nearly all of them were taken in the pre-game period, when the stadium was mostly empty.
I never thought to have someone take a picture of the two of us together with the full stadium in the background. I never took a picture of him skating between periods, with a full house of 47,000 people to give the picture proper perspective. Luckily, the Winter Classic was a well-chronicled event, and I’ve been able to gather a collection of those shots from others.
I mostly snapped away during the few minutes I was able to be on the field with him before the stands filled with little regard to what I was capturing. This approach to photography is a well practiced habit, as I learned long ago to just keep shooting rather than wait for the perfect pose or perfect smile. I’m sure more than a few of you are nodding as you picture your own family shots with everyone but one person smiling for the camera lens.
When I reviewed the photos — both my own and those I’d gotten from others — I noticed something in a number of them. In the shots where Ryan was on the bench waiting his turn to skate, he was often looking in a completely different direction from the rest of the kids, who were focused on the action in front of them.
This might easily be dismissed as Ryan losing focus or attention, or being distracted by something. But that was not the case. He had a purpose.
Ryan’s morning routine often involves watching the previous night’s NHL highlights on the NHL Network or studying them on NHL.com.
And so, on this day, one he would proclaim The Greatest of His Life, Ryan was attempting to stick to routine. The center field scoreboard at Citizens Bank Park was showing the NHL Network, so when Ryan was on the bench, he would angle his body to be able to watch.
Our kids are, after all, extreme creatures of habit, right?
At first glance I found it amusing, and chalked it up to Ryan just being Ryan. But the more I examined the photos, the more I saw. Ryan was completely unfazed by his surroundings. When he was on the ice, he was fully engaged in playing. When he retreated to the bench, he took a look around and realized he could watch his favorite television network despite being on an outdoor ice rink in a baseball stadium in January and thought nothing of turning to watch.
That’s Ryan in a nutshell. If he’s not playing hockey, he’s watching. To him, the greatest thing about participating in the Winter Classic was not being in front of all those people or meeting NHL players or being thisclose to the Rangers and Flyers as they took the ice.
To him, the best part was being able to play and watch hockey at the same time.