September 30, 2016

Much More Than Hockey

As anyone who has read more than a few entries of this blog knows, I write as much about the community of hockey, a family of a kind, as anything else. When I came back to hockey I never considered that the greatest part of it was going to be the friendships I gained. I thought it was all about being back on the ice and how I might fare in net.

A few weeks ago I turned 50. My wife Amy demanded I put on a clean shirt and pushed me out the door on our way to a birthday surprise. As we turned into one of our local rinks she told me we were going have a beer with some our friends and I couldn't think of a better way than that to start a birthday outing. Moments later I was in a locker room suiting up for a game. A very special game.

Dozens of the wonderful people I've got to know through hockey had turned up to play in a game for my birthday. Split into two teams, they wore custom jerseys with my face on the front and welcomed me onto the ice. I was in a daze as I skated around and trying to greet everyone. I was overwhelmed with the entire spectacle. Amy and my best friend Paul had pulled off the greatest surprise in the history of birthday surprises by somehow getting all of these folks to show up for an organized game without spilling the beans. I looked around the ice and saw so many of the friends who I've played with and against these past years and even more in the stands. They all had grins on their faces almost as big as mine. But the surprise wasn't over quite yet.

Someone announced a very special guest was about to join us for the game and I was at a loss to imagine who it could be as he came down the tunnel and onto the ice. Seconds later I recognized him as my brother who had flown down to Texas from Canada to join the party. I didn't hold my emotions in check. I didn't care. I was among friends and family as I embraced my brother and hugged him tight. You see, there are more than a few years between us in age and my brother had quit hockey many years before I picked it back up. We had never been on the ice together and it was something I always regretted as the years went by. Today we were together. Hockey.

Another great friend of ours flew 2,000 miles to surprise everyone and drop the puck at center ice and be part of the event. The game was a mix of hijinx and laughter. I scored goals (they let me), there were faux fights that ended in grins and even some cheating (mostly by me) that concluded with a handshake line that was more hugging than anything else.

The after party was as glorious as the game. Friends who couldn't attend sent greetings and videos. There was beer, food and gifts and my daughters at my side. Writing this now, weeks after, has me choked up again at the outpouring of well wishes.

After hearing many of the stories surrounding the planning and coordination of my birthday surprise, I have so many people to thank. I have tried to speak to each of you and make you understand how much it all meant. I'm not sure I was really able to tell you but I think you know.

A funny thing happened when I came back to hockey. I've found out it isn't the hockey. It's the friends.

If you want to see all the photos of the 'Al Star' game click here.

I have to make special mention of the wonderful photos of the day provided by Amy Holland. A local Dallas photographer, I hope you will keep her in mind for your events.

Extra thanks go to Amy, Paul, Paul, Amy, Mac, Caryn, Bonnie, Gail, Fred, Logan, Kasey, & John for making the greatest day for me.