“We could have used you out there tonight,” the man said to my son, calmly and genuinely, grabbing his hands as he did so, to be sure he was capturing Ryan’s attention. “I think you might have gotten us that extra goal we needed.”
A smile crossed Ryan’s face.
“I think I would have,” Ryan answered.
“I like your confidence,” responded the speaker, who just happened to be San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson.
That brief conversation did a lot to ease Ryan’s disappointment over having crossed the country only to see the Sharks lose to Tampa Bay. It also served as another of the many reasons why “hockey people” are awesome.
The Sharks had just lost their fifth straight home game. They are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time in 11 years. And yet, perhaps 30 minutes after a difficult defeat, one in which Wilson had just told us they “did not play very well” and he still took the time to greet Ryan. It was more than that. He engaged with him.
It was the last act in an overwhelming weekend full of kind gestures — locker room tours and pregame fist bumps with the players included — and I stammered a thank you to Wilson as he greeted the rest of us before we headed out into the night air outside SAP Center. There was disappointment, sure, but as I told Ryan that night, it was a weekend he will remember forever, and over time, that the Sharks lost will become a smaller and smaller part of those memories.
I actually saw Wilson again a few days later when the Sharks hosted the Kings outdoors at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. I was there for work, having headed right back to the Bay Area a few days after returning home from our family trip. The crazy travel was a small price to pay for the gift of that weekend.
I saw Wilson in the press box between periods of the game, a critical one for the Sharks’ playoff chances that they would end up losing, 2-1. As if to prove the previous weekend was no fluke, when I thanked him for the time he spent with Ryan, his response was to ask how he was doing and offer how much he enjoyed meeting him.
Hockey people, man. Hockey people.
I’m not sure where we go from here, how we top the experience we just had. I know we’ll be back some day — I may or may not have promised Ryan to come back and see the Sharks win (sorry honey). But not even a victory on a later trip can top what we just experienced. Not for me, anyway. Ryan probably feels otherwise (the first draft of his thank you note to Wilson asked what he planned to do about getting the Sharks into the playoffs).
To see the look on Ryan’s face each time it dawned on him — again — where we were and why, was magical. He was in disbelief, and every pinch-yourself moment was a reminder that this trip was a gift from the hockey Gods. That we got to experience it together, as a family, made it that much better.