Dear Dad, Thanks for Introducing Me to Hockey
I have a whole list of reasons why I write about hockey. The most obvious reason is that at my core, I am a hockey fan. But it goes deeper than that.
I was born in Roanoke, Virginia, to a single mom. My birth father had split up with her months before I was born. There was an attempt at reconciliation, but that didn’t work out. My mother and I then moved to New York City when I was six years old, and my mother remarried a few years later.
This new guy became everything that my birth father couldn’t. And he is who I know as my true father.
He came into my life and introduced me to the sport I now love. He was a Rangers fan, but knew the sport in general very well. He told me stories of Gordie Howe and his elbows, Bobby Hull, and Gump Worsely, among others. He told me the story of Phil Esposito’s reaction when he learned that he was traded to the Rangers. He told me about Yvan Cournoyer speeding around with his flowing locks flying behind him. He told me of John Davidson’s playing days, and the Rangers’ GAG line. I learned the history of the sport at his knee. He even stopped me from being a Devils fan in seventh grade, a favor I will never be able to repay him for.
During junior high, my father’s alcoholism nearly got the best of our family. One thing I knew, and the only way I could spend time with him sober, was watching the Rangers in the late 80s. I watched Kelly Kisio, and a young defenseman named Brian Leetch. At this point I had discovered playing sports, learned how to ice skate, and play hockey and soccer. My jersey number was habitually 34, after then Rangers netminder John “Beezer” Vanbiesbrouck.
I learned of the Rangers 1940 curse. I learned to despise Isles fans (a feeling that has waned significantly). I watched Rangers teams get canned in the playoffs two years in a row by John Druce and the Caps. At that point I began to consume whatever hockey I could get, watching the Penguins cruise to two cups. And then my dad stopped drinking permanently.
My dad took me to my first hockey game, Rangers versus Devils on December 23rd, 1991, a 3-0 win. He took me to my first playoff game, Rangers at Devils Game 6 in 92, a 4-2 loss. We left that game early and missed Adam Graves cold clocking habitual turtle Claude Lemieux. That was a moment we never forgot, and always regretted.
The next year, my senior year in high school, our beloved blueshirts failed to make the playoffs, but I got to see the Great One play in the Stanley Cup finals. My father talked about watching Gretzky play in the WHA. He said that even then, he knew that he was going to be the one all other greats would be measured next to. And there he was, in the Cup finals, his team on the losing end.
At this point, O Captain My Captain Mark Messier was already on the Rangers, but somehow they just couldn’t get over the hump. Going into the 93-94 season, my dad was skeptical about Mike Keenan, but felt like they had a chance. I was away at college and couldn’t get much Rangers action. The options that we have now, with streaming audio of every game on NHL’s website, were just not available. I would get my updates from the paper, and weekly phone calls with my parents.
The playoffs came, and I spent the first two rounds trying to pass my finals, but never missing a phone call, or an update. By that time, some of the games were televised. When I got home, I never missed a game with my dad. Even when we went on a family vacation to the Poconos during the Finals, we never missed a moment. Without him, I would never have discovered this wonderful sport. We didn’t watch the Rangers win the Cup together, I was in Manhattan for that, but the first thing I did upon them winning was find the nearest pay phone (remember those) to call home.
What does this all have to do with my writing?
When I write, I do so by speaking. This is the second website I have written for, and here I have found a family of writers that I have grown to love very quickly. I write by speaking into a voice recorder. The person that I am actually speaking to is my father.
A lot of my opinions, my ability to predict personnel moves, my inability to predict playoff series’, as well as other things, come from imagined discussions that I have with my father. Nine years ago today, and on the tenth anniversary of the Rangers’ Stanley Cup, my father passed away from Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia. He was diagnosed in December of 1997, the same year Pat LaFontaine became a Ranger.
I have done multiple things in tribute to, or as a result of influence of, my dad. The one I believe that he would appreciate the most out of all of the things I’ve done because of him is my writing. There were many conversations in the seven years that he had cancer on the back porch of my parents’ home that involved what we thought about that game, or that trade, or what the Rangers need to do to get back into the playoffs. The conversations I most enjoyed were those about hockey history.
I miss him, and always will. But, here, in these words and pages, I get to talk to him every time I sit in front of this screen and put my fingers across the keyboard on this laptop. Thank you, dad, for giving me this mind for hockey, and the desire to follow it through whatever musings come to my head. You’re never far away, and I love you.
Thanks for reading – as always feel free to leave comments below and follow me on twitter @BigMick99.