I am incredibly privileged to get to attend the NHL’s major events like the Stanley Cup Final, the Winter Classic, and the All-Star Game. And while I spend the majority of these events watching the games on television in a work area underneath the stands, I always try to make it out to the arena bowl for at least part of the game.
My favorite moments at these events are not during the actual games, but just before — right after the conclusion of the pregame festivities, when the crowd is at a fever pitch waiting for the action to start. If you could bottle and sell the energy in the building right at that moment, you’d be very wealthy.
Both the Devils and Kings have done an incredible job with their game presentations during the finals, but the is one aspect of the Kings player introductions that I particularly love. Beyond the lasers and the flashing light sticks and the inspirational music, the Kings begin their intros by flashing pictures on the scoreboard of their players as children. They are almost all hockey photos, sometimes next to proud parents or clutching a trophy. (And where they managed to find a photo of Slovenian Anze Kopitar wearing an L.A. Kings shirt as an approximately 12-year-old I will never know).
I watched this presentation before games 3 and 4 of this series and I will do so again tonight. And once again, it will make me think of my own kids, watching on television a continent away.
Because that’s what this whole hockey season/family experience has been about — making memories. Memories that I hope will last both kids a lifetime. If this improbable season ends tonight I will be sad for Ryan and Riley that it did not end with the Devils lifting the Stanley Cup, but I will mostly be sad just that it’s over. Because I’m greedy. I want to cram a few more memories into the barrel full that have already been created.
Moments like watching Ryan skate in front fo 47,000 people in Philadelphia and declaring it the “best day ever.” Moments like jumping up and down and hugging Riley in spontaneous joy after we witnessed the Devils eliminate the Rangers from the playoffs. Of seeing the look of terror turn to joy on Riley’s face as she stayed up after midnight to watch the Devils beat Florida in double-overtime in Game 7 of the first round. Moments like having my knees buckle when Ryan’s hockey coach presented him with a game puck in the locker room following his first assist, and how his teammates embraced him. Moments like spending 48 hours with Ryan on a road trip to Washington to see the Capitals beat the Rangers. Moments like having my Kings-fan friend spend Game 2 with us and have such incredibly nice things to say about our family. Moments like having Aunt Mary visit for Game 5 and have Ryan greet her at the door to teach her how to properly do the “Hey You Suck” cheer after a Devils goal.
As I watch those childhood pictures flash on the scoreboard I’ll think how much they look just like any kids. How the 11-year-old future Kings in their youth hockey uniforms look just like Ryan in his. How Ryan still believes he’s going to play in the NHL. How wonderful it is for that dream to not be spoiled for him. And I’ll think how much a shared love of this sport, and the bonus two months of these playoffs, have bonded father and son, mother and daughter, brother and sister, an entire family.
And I’ll think, again, how much I don’t want it to end.