Apologies in advance, as I am probably going to ramble this morning. It’s been a long week, with some good, some bad, and plenty of anger, hope and frustration mixed in. As a result, my emotions are all over the place.
I do want to spend a few moments on yesterday, however. After our successful outing to the Devils game Saturday, we followed through on our plan to attend their last home game of the season last night. We did this despite some warning signs that it might not be the best idea. Consider:
- It was a school night. All year, Ryan refused to consider any games on school nights because he worries too much about not getting enough sleep.
- The start time was pushed back a half-hour, to 7:30 p.m., to accommodate television.
- Ryan was basically on “tilt” all day. He had a meltdown in the morning over which shoes to wear to school. He got off the school bus screaming about some sort of delay, ran home and slammed doors so hard that pictures fell off the walls.
And yet, at 7:00 p.m., as I was having a beer and a hot dog on the outdoor plaza next to the arena, celebrating the end of a stressful work day, up strolled Veronica and both kids to meet me.
Just as they had in last year’s playoffs, the Devils set up the plaza with street hockey and hair-painting for the kids and a band and beer garden for the adults. Ryan jumped right into a street hockey game, while Riley got in line to have her hair spray-painted red.
All that was missing was the celebratory atmosphere. With the Devils eliminated from playoff contention, nobody felt much like celebrating. Still, we did our best, and entered the arena with hopes of being entertained one last time.
When the Devils fell behind 2-0, interest turned more to the out-of-town scoreboard. If the arch-rival Rangers lost to Carolina, New Jersey would have the chance to knock New York out of the playoffs in the last game of the season.
Alas, it was not to be. The Rangers tied the game with less than three minutes to play and won in overtime. Even though the Devils tied up their game, it was too much for poor Riley. She burst into tears and refused to be comforted, so upset was she that the Rangers were going to the playoffs and the Devils weren’t.
Only New Jersey’s game-winning goal late in the third period snapped her out of her funk. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, we stood as a family and cheered the Devils off the ice. In one of hockey’s many wonderful traditions, the team thanked the crowd with a stick salute.
As it does every year, the season’s end left me in a reflective mood. It certainly was a different feeling than when we left the arena as a family for the final time last year, having just witnessed the Devils capture a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
Just as there was difficulty for New Jersey on the ice, so too were there issues for us. The NHL lockout kept us away from the arena for three months. Ryan’s OCD kept us away for another. It nearly sent us home early last night, after New Jersey had a flurry of shots in the first few minutes. Ryan’s anxiety over how late we were out made the postgame ride home extremely difficult, and reminders that he attended weekday-night playoff games last year that started later and went to overtime were of little consolation.
Still, I have to take solace in the good things I saw. The smiles and enthusiastic “Hey! You suck!” chants. The fact that we even made it back to a game, and were able to coax Ryan into coming to this one, late on a school night.
As for Riley, my daughter might just be, pound-for-pound, the biggest Devils fan in the world. I am so proud of her. The girl who declared her love for this team and its goalie, Martin Brodeur, at age three and refused to budge. Who, through the sheer force of her passion, brought us all along for the ride, bonding our family tighter than ever. The one who stayed home from school with a broken heart after a particularly bad playoff loss. Who stayed up past midnight sweating out double-OT playoff games. Who could barely function while waiting to learn if Brodeur would return this season. Who wears #30 on her soccer uniform in his honor. Who charmed Devils employees with her knowledge of the team while awaiting her Zamboni ride.
Hockey is primarily Ryan’s “thing,” but I never want to forget that it was Riley who first latched on to this sport and carried the torch for my life-long passion. As we tucked her into bed last night, the reminders were everywhere. She has three posters in her room: one of Taylor Swift and two of Brodeur. And on her bed, she snuggled under her Devils quilt, an absolute work of art stitched together out of love — and dozens of rally towels that were handed out during last season’s playoff run — by her incredible aunt, the frequent commenter here, “Aunt Mary.”
For her, for Ryan, for us, I am sad to see the season end. I am hopeful that we will remain a “hockey family” and can return to this place in the fall, leaving the issues and the concerns in the past, and get to work on recapturing some of the magic we felt here last year.