The following post is the uncut version of my piece about how I recently came to love hockey and how it helped us through a tough time. The edited version appeared on page 21A of the Saturday, March 24 Dallas Morning News.
I dithered over my husband’s Christmas gift until it was almost too late, then I remembered reading an article entitled “Best Gifts for Men” that recommended tickets to a sporting event. Perfect, that addressed my aversion to gifts that become clutter, but what sport, basketball or hockey? My husband, Todd, was born in the industrial northeast, so maybe hockey, in honor of his heritage? I went online and was intrigued that reasonably priced seats close to the action could be had for the Dallas Stars v. Tampa Bay Lightning game on January 20. Sold! I printed the two tickets and wrapped them in a folder. I assumed he would take one of his friends, but I would be willing to tag along if he wanted. Oh, sports fans, I would never have predicted the consequences of this simple purchase.
Christmas morning came and the gifts and debris were strewn across the floor. The kids were playing with their new cardboard boxes, but there was one small, flat gift left with Dad’s name on it. I joked that I had packaged up the calendar from our insurance company, then watched as he tore away the paper. I’ll never forget his reaction; first, it was stunned silence as he realized he was really looking at Stars tickets, then, a million-watt grin at my out-of-character Christmas twist. I knew I had scored when he insisted that I accompany him. He would later say it was the best present he ever got.
As January 20 approached, I thought I should probably read up on the rules, but life interfered and I showed up at American Airlines Center not knowing how many players are on the ice at a time, or even how many periods are in a game. I was born and raised in dusty West Texas. I had never intentionally watched hockey on TV, not even in 1980 when the U.S. miraculously won the Olympic gold medal, though I had seen plenty of snippets in passing.
I was still admiring the pretty eagle flying around the display in the arena after the Star Spangled Banner when the game started. The puck was in my end of the rink before I understood that it had dropped. I became immediately riveted by the velocity of the puck across the ice, transfixed by the effortless skating skill of the players, and was left breathless by the relentless speed of the game. What I thought I had seen on TV was hardly hockey at all compared to what I was seeing at this human scale. This was something dramatically different.
The Stars lost 2-1 that night, but they gained a fascinated new follower. The game of hockey had slammed me against the boards and captured my attention. I had rolled my eyes at sports nuts for years, but now I fervently study the players, the standings, and the strategies. Todd’s dormant devotion to hockey reawakened with a vengeance, and I’m right behind him. It is such fun to have a new topic of conversation after 21 years of marriage.
Hockey barreled into our lives in time to be the perfect therapy. My beloved father-in-law, Bill, had been ill and went into the hospital for the last time on February 6. For the next three weeks, my husband kept a watch at his bedside as his condition steadily worsened. During that vigil, free tickets to the game against Vancouver on a Sunday afternoon fell into our laps through our subscription to this newspaper. When that game came around, Bill was still gravely ill, his status unchanged. Todd left his older sister to watch over Bill, and we took the kids to the game. The thrill of that crucial overtime victory provided a happy respite in a profoundly sad time for our family. Bill was a man’s man who expected everyone to bring their best effort. He would have approved of the Stars’ performance and rejoiced in their victory. He passed away the next day, at peace at last. We have mourned him deeply, but hockey continues to serve as a compelling diversion.
As of this writing, our Stars are on a tear and may make the playoffs after a long dry spell. If you decide to go, there are three twenty-minute periods, and, unless someone’s in the penalty box, six men on the ice per team. When you sing the National Anthem, be sure to yell “Stars!”