Hockey and Heart

photo (13)During my son, J’s, Bar Mitzvah, a few weeks ago on May 17th, the rabbi mentioned that J had overcome many obstacles to get to where he was that day – up on the bimah*, having just perfectly chanted his Haftorah**. Then he added, “Just like J’s beloved New York Rangers, he has faced adversity and prevailed.” (Or something very similar.) Little did the rabbi know that just a few short hours later the Rangers would trounce Montreal 7-2 – best Bar Mitzvah gift ever.

I was actually pretty thrilled that the rabbi brought up the Rangers during such a solemn moment. You see, I’ve cultivated a love of hockey in my kids since they were old enough to – well, since they were born. I don’t really remember a time that I didn’t push my hockey agenda. I told my Boston born-and-bred husband that he could get our kids for all the other sports – baseball (Red Sox), basketball (Celtics) and football (Patriots), but I get them for hockey – the most glorious sport of all. Plus, I could never raise Bruins fans.

If you read Ice Dreams, you know about my lifelong love of the New York Rangers. But, it’s about more than hockey. The Rangers have made my life better in more ways than I could have imagined when I first became obsessed as a little girl decades ago. For one thing, I learned to skate. First I took up figure skating, but abandoned it for “power” skating when I was sixteen years old. It was faster, more exciting and being adept at it let me work as an intramural hockey referee in college. I still have my hockey skates somewhere, even though I had to give up skating twenty years ago, due to an autoimmune disorder – Raynaud’s Phenomenon and some circulation complications (it sounds worse than it is, but giving up skating was tough…).

Some of my best memories are of the many afternoons I spent at the rink in high school. I was a volunteer and taught little kids to skate. My payment was ice time on a wide open, empty, smooth rink – I still have dreams that I’m skating on that expanse of ice, my hair flying behind me. I skated at the rink where the Islanders practiced and I would wear my Rangers jersey just to make a point – they really could have flattened me. Instead, they jokingly teased me about my skate rags and sometimes pretended that they were going to check me – perhaps my ire was ill-placed. I wouldn’t have had any of those ice rink memories, including skating at 8:00 am at Amherst College with a hockey class there, even though I was a University of Massachusetts student. My intramural hockey boss was the teacher and let me join his class for some free ice time. Of course, without my love of hockey, I would never have been the only female referee – still probably one of the coolest jobs I ever held.

I wasn’t uncomfortable being the only girl referee, because of one other gift my love of hockey bestowed up me – as a teen and in college I always felt comfortable around guys, because I could talk hockey. I’m naturally shy (even if I talk a lot), but discussing my favorite team made me gregarious, without any of the awkward babbling I often fell prey to when I was nervous. I’ve always “known my stuff” and that let me feel comfortable talking hockey to anyone who wanted to listen. One of my favorite compliments I ever received was tossed out by a male friend while we were watching hockey at a bar, “You’re a guy with boobs,” he said, with more than a bit of admiration lacing his voice.

Along the same lines, hockey has been a bridge to new friendships – rabid Rangers fans automatically have a lot in common. It’s not that easy to make friends as an adult, especially when you don’t have little kids anymore, but I’ve made friends in the cyber world and even in the real world, thanks to a shared love of hockey. Nothing like watching a game together and suffering or celebrating to cement a new friendship. Or even commiserating online. I have a whole “Rangers family” on Twitter and I’ve become friends on Facebook with fellow Rangers fans from my town whom I never would have met if we didn’t discover our shared Rangers passion through social media. And, those of you who read The Power of Kindness know the remarkable effect Rangers sportscaster, John Giannone’s, friendship has had on my son and our whole family.

Hockey also taught me that in order to achieve greatness, you need to practice, work hard and sometimes endure more than your fair share of setbacks and defeat. This knowledge has served me well as I try to sell my first novel, Goddess of Suburbia. All writers receive rejections and I’m no exception, but I know that I’m lucky that just about every rejection has been positive. I’ve received page-long emails with positive comments and more often than not, it just wasn’t what the editor or agent was acquiring at that moment. Even so, it’s still easy to get down. But, watching hockey for decades has taught me that what’s in the past doesn’t matter – not one bit.

In hockey each game is a “clean slate,” even in the playoffs. At the beginning of this magical season – which didn’t seem so magical at first, hence proving the point that the past doesn’t matter – Alain Vigneault handed out t-shirts at training camp that read, “Clean Slate: Grab It.” That mentality and coaching philosophy has served that Rangers’ well during their spectacular Stanley Cup run. Up until two nights ago – Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final against Los Angeles – every single defeat was followed by a victory. (In my opinion, Game 2 should have been the Rangers – the lack of a whistle on the third goal when Lundqvist was clearly hampered by the bodies on top of him is reprehensible. Every single time I watch the replay, I feel physically sick – but, it’s like the proverbial train wreck, I feel like I have to look at it.) They need to bring that clean slate to tonight – they need to forget about the blown leads and the officiating injustices and just know that they have it in them to be champions.

And this, is why I was so happy that the Rabbi brought up J’s “beloved New York Rangers” and the lessons he can learn from them about overcoming obstacles. Lord knows my son has a lot of obstacles, but really – who doesn’t? Everyone has something and everyone is the underdog at some point in their lives. I for one would prefer to root for the underdog, which is exactly what the Rangers are in this series. Imagine the sheer joy if they overcome a 2-0 series deficit to win it all – something only five teams have done in the history of the Stanley Cup – on the part of both players and fans. It’s an incredible storyline. Starting in Game 5 against the Penguins, the Rangers’ improbable run couldn’t have been scripted any better. I read somewhere that it’s Disneyesque – that’s completely true. Martin St. Louis showed such courage and heart showing up to play a day after his mother passed away that it inspired the rest of the team. Dominic Moore, returning to hockey in September after taking a year off to grieve the death of his young wife, scored the game winner in Game 6 against Montreal. I tweeted that it seemed like they were skating on the wings of angels. It’s been incredibly inspiring to witness this team’s resiliency and fortitude through so many hardships. And, the way they rallied around Martin St. Louis speaks to the character and heart of this team.

Which, brings me back to my point – why am I so happy that the rabbi made the connection between the Rangers and my son’s struggles? How many other sports can kids watch – forget about sports, how many other teams can kids watch – and take away lessons in courage, heart, resiliency and never giving up? To me hockey is so much more than just a game – it’s a way to live your life. Let’s go Rangers!

salutenyr2

*”The platform from which services are conducted in the synagogue” – thefreedictionary.com

**”A short selection from the Prophets read every Sabbath in a Jewish synagogue following a reading from the Torah” – thefreedictionary.com

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