For a few weeks now, ever since I wrote my open letter to the San Jose Sharks, the NHL season has been hurtling towards a chaotic conclusion. Ryan and I have nervously eyed the NHL standings each night as both of our favorite teams — Sharks for him, Washington Capitals for me — bounced in and out of playoff position on an almost nightly basis.
There have been too many big games to count. We have run out of good luck routines — so we invented new ones. “Sharks prayers” have been whispered nightly. At times when things looked grim, Ryan feigned a completely unconvincing indifference towards his favorite team. At other times, he lashed out when they faltered. He asked us to paint his room a different color.
I have been a zombie, stumbling to bed in the middle of the night having tried unsuccessfully to stay up and watch the Sharks play late games out West. Having learned the final score, I’d disturb Veronica just enough for her to ask the result, which was either met with a muttered “yes!” or “stupid Sharks!” We both feared what would happen if they didn’t make the postseason. About the only saving grace was Ryan was long since in bed and didn’t have to actually suffer with the team. He did agree to watch the occasional game on DVR in the morning — without knowing the result — leaving us in the dicey position of trying to encourage this practice only when the Sharks had won, but without tipping him off.
The season — for both our teams — boiled down to this: two games remaining, with destiny in their own hands. They would each play Thursday and Saturday. The family gathered on the couch last night — good luck charms in hand — to watch Washington in the early game. Things were looking good by the time the kids went to bed, with the Capitals up 3-1. I tucked Ryan in, made sure he had his Sharks pajamas and his Sharks Pillow Pet, in his bed with the NHL sheets and NHL quilt, in his Sharks-colored room.
He had agreed to watch the game on DVR, today being the first day of spring break. We had one final discussion about the standings and the various possibilities over San Jose’s final two games. Ryan broke into an impromptu song, to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” called “Oh Please Won’t You Clinch.” (He does this a lot.) With that, we said good night. I returned to the couch — borrowing Ryan’s Capitals Pillow Pet for luck — to watch Washington sweat out a 4-2 win that guaranteed its playoff spot.
Meanwhile, Ryan was having a hard time falling asleep, most likely because of anxiety over the Sharks-Kings game that was yet to start. He finally settled down, and I sat back to watch and see if San Jose could Do The Right Thing.
The game was crazy, and intense, with the stakes so high for both teams. After a couple of fights and other general nastiness, the first period ended 1-1. But the good news came from elsewhere. The teams chasing San Jose for the final playoff spot had both lost, allowing the Sharks to clinch before the second period started. Postseason secured, I quickly fell asleep and missed one of the wildest games of the year as San Jose would ultimately prevail, 6-5, in a shootout. If the Sharks win their final game Saturday night, they’ll finish all the way up in third place.
I stumbled to bed long after the game had ended, thrilled at how the evening had turned out. I told Veronica what had happened. Just as I was falling back asleep, Ryan got up to use the bathroom and asked us to “tuck him up.” This used to happen multiple times a night but has been greatly reduced ever since we got Ryan a weighted blanket (thanks Jess) and I actually miss it.
Ryan’s mind is always on hockey. As I tucked him
in up, he admonished me “don’t tell me the scores!” which he does every time this happens — even though I of course never have revealed the evening’s results. This time he had an added request. “Dad, what was the last thing you watched before you came to bed?”
It may seem like an odd question but I knew exactly where he was going. He wanted to make sure I hadn’t left the TV on NHL Network, which has a scrolling scoreboard that would threaten to spoil the result of the game for him when he turned it on the morning. Having already thought of this, I assured him I had turned to a non-hockey channel and fell back asleep.
Ryan didn’t. He was out of bed at 6 to watch the game. This was a prearranged special treat, but his anxiety over the game had kept him up the rest of the night. When I got up a while later I found him on the couch, surrounded by his lucky Pillow Pets, watching the second period of the game. He had already learned of the Sharks’ clinch and was beaming.
Veronica and I felt relief. I was happy for my Capitals but I was thrilled for the Sharks, because I know how much it means to Ryan. I also know that with both our teams in, it means at least two more weeks of having meaningful games to share. It means a few more glorious three-hour weekend blocks in which we will sit and watch games together, discussing everything that happens in minute detail. And that, really, is the best part.
To the Sharks, I called you out, and you delivered. I know my “letter” actually made it to the highest levels of the organization and to those at the Sharks and elsewhere that took the time to read it and think of my son, I want to say thank you, and to assure you that we’ll be watching and rooting our hearts out. I can be a zombie for two more weeks.