This Is What Happiness Looks Like, Redux

NHL Winter Classic at Nationals Park
The 2015 NHL Winter Classic, from my vantage point.

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, a lot happened over the holiday break. For Ryan, the highlight was undoubtedly New Year’s Day, when he attended the NHL Winter Classic in Washington, D.C.

Ryan has been to a Winter Classic before, three years ago in Philadelphia, but that was as a sort of participant, not a fan. That was an experience so magical it inspired me to start a blog. Ryan’s picture even ended up in Sports Illustrated as a part of journalist Richard Deitsch’s “best moment of your life” Twitter meme. But for Ryan, as great as that day was, something was missing. He didn’t get to experience the game as a fan.

As much as I would have loved having Ryan with me at last year’s Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium, that simply wasn’t in the cards.

But Washington? A four-hour drive away? And with the added bonus of Veronica’s sister living nearby? We could make that work. I was working the event, but was able to procure two tickets. Riley wasn’t really interested in going to the game. She doesn’t care about either team, the Capitals and the Chicago Blackhawks, and wasn’t crazy about the idea of sitting outside for four hours in the potential freezing cold. Instead she spent the day at the Smithsonian with her aunt, while Veronica took Ryan to the game.

Just as they were three years ago, logistics were a major concern. Playing a hockey game — one that counts in the standings — outdoors is a tricky thing. The weather needs to coöperate. Ryan might have gone to the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh if not for a seven-hour rain delay. This year the concern was sun glare. Veronica needed to get Ryan to Nationals Park in plenty of time to make sure he didn’t miss anything, but that brought with it the risk of having to sit out a lengthy delay. We tracked the forecast and the news from the NHL closely. It looked like the game would start on time or close to it, so they set off.

They arrived in plenty of time to watch warmups and see the pregame musical act, Billy Idol. As I’ve mentioned before, Ryan is an old soul when it comes to music. He loves Billy Idol. Why? Because 80s arena rock is a staple at hockey games. He was thrilled.

Because I was working at the game and had to be there hours early, Veronica was left to navigate the logistics by herself. She was understandably nervous. A hundred things could go wrong to set a complex plan off course and ruin a potentially incredible day. The fact that nearly all of them were completely out of her control didn’t make it any easier.

Despite my reassurances, I was also worried. So it was with incredible relief that I received a text from Veronica — a photo of Ryan in the seats, dressed in his Winter Classic gear and ready to go in plenty of time for the game.

But it was what came next that absolutely made my day. Veronica sent another text, this one with a “selfie” of her and Ryan. I’m pretty sure it’s the first selfie I’ve ever received from my wife.

Veronica and Ryan at the NHL Winter Classic
Veronica and Ryan at the Winter Classic. This picture says it all.

That picture represented everything I hoped for the day to be for the two of them. Ryan’s smile is enormous. For a hockey fan, the Winter Classic is little like the Super Bowl. It’s a celebration of the entire sport, no matter which team you root for. Ryan was in heaven. His excitement oozes from every pore of his face. For Veronica to want to capture that and share it meant that my hopes for this day for her were also being realized. They were making a memory, one that would last a lifetime. And that is the greatest gift of all.

The game started on time, and came to a thrilling conclusion when the Capitals scored the game-winning goal with 13 seconds left. The logistics all worked. From Veronica’s account, Ryan spent the game texting with his jealous hockey friends, engaging with the fans around him (no word if he went in for some stranger high-fives), and taking in all the action.

If Veronica is like me in similar circumstances, she spent the entire game with a smile plastered to her face.

Ryan’s love of hockey was born in Washington, on a spur-of-the-moment trip in Feb., 2008. Logistics threatened to derail that one, too, but they didn’t. Instead, something magical also happened that day. A spark lit a smoldering brush fire. Much more than an interest, a passion was born.

In the seven years since, Ryan’s association with hockey has brought us more joy, indelible memories, stunning achievements and family togetherness than anything else in our lives.

I often joke that the sport of hockey is like the fifth member of our family. It has given me a career, my son a defining passion, and our family a glue that bonds us.

If so, that isn’t a selfie that Veroncia sent me. It’s a family portrait, with hockey, in all it’s beautiful, back-to-its-origins, outdoor glory, lurking to photobomb the shot in the background.

PS – Click here for the origin of this post’s title

PPS – Many thanks to Aunt Mary and my daughter Riley, who spent the day off making memories of them. Without their coöperation, Ryan’s day at the Winter Classic would not have been possible.

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