We made it.
That’s us — Ryan and me — inside Prudential Center for the Devils‘ game against the Florida Panthers Saturday. We have season tickets, but both kids had not attended a game together for over a month. And for a while there, I wasn’t sure we’d make it back before this season ends.
But we turned a corner last week, and things continue to improve a little each day. Ryan was willing to watch hockey on TV — at least for a while each night. Other signs of our normalcy: Ryan got out his Hockey Guys and pronounced the beginning of a new season. He stayed up a little later than usual the last two nights — perhaps the best sign of all that this crisis of OCD-driven anxiety is passing. Early bed times the last couple of weeks came because he was too frightened to stay awake once games started.
Despite all these promising signs, there was threshold we had yet to cross — returning to the arena to watch a live game.
Sure, if things went south, we could pull the rip cord and run for the exits. But with Veronica out of town, Ryan invited a friend, so making an early exist was going to be tricky.
Once we got to the game, it was like we never left. Ryan settled back into familiar routines. A few signs of the recent issue surfaced. He commented a couple of times on the pace of shots on goal of the Devils and Panthers being a concern, but quickly dismissed them. He asked to check the shots of another ongoing game on my phone, but after doing so once or twice quickly forgot and focused on the contest in front of him.
On the ice, things didn’t start well. The Devils, on the verge of being eliminated from the Playoffs just a year after reaching the Stanley Cup Final, quickly fell behind, 2-0. The game started to turn when New Jersey picked up a goal late in the first period. As soon as the puck hit the net, Ryan popped out of his seat, readying himself for his favorite part of the live-game experience: doing the “Hey! You Suck” chant along with the goal song. Call me a bad parent, but Ryan takes such joy in yelling along with the crowd that I can’t discourage him.
Then came the second period. The Devils scored four goals. After a month away from this place, a month when it felt like hockey had turned on us, a month when the Devils lost 10 straight games to fall out of the playoff race, it was cathartic. New Jersey may not make the playoffs (they were officially eliminated on Sunday) but at least we had these 20 minutes. The Devils were dominant, the goals were plenty, the worries were absent.
Ryan had a blast.
As New Jersey cruised to a 6-2 win, I floated to Ryan the possibility of attending the last home game of the year. It’s Fan Appreciation night, with lots of prizes and fun activities. There’s just one problem — it’s on a weekday night, and all year Ryan refused to entertain the thought of attending a game on a school night, because he worries about not getting enough sleep.
But here, too, a breakthrough. As the game wound down, he said to me, “Dad, I want to go on Thursday night.”
And just like that, I feel we have our hockey back. Once again, we are a hockey family, and the demons that butted into our favorite family bonding activity were pushed aside.
Playoffs or no, it’s a great way to cap the season.