Grief and Hockey

I've taken a bit of a blogging break over these past three months. Is it just me, or does time seem to fly by faster the older you get? My last post was about my dad, who passed away in March. Since then, I've been immersed in everything from helping my mom get settled, extensive recording, home improvement projects, and even a recent trip back to Rhode Island. So it seems appropriate that my re-entry into the practice of blogging would also be about Dad, who while always there with me in my thoughts, was even more so recently due to the Stanley Cup Finals, which featured his beloved Boston Bruins (who ended up on the losing side of that seven game extravaganza).

If I get to come back for another life, I think I want to be a hockey player the next time around. Something about the game captivates me. I recall as a kid going to pro, college, and high school games (often with Dad), where the excitement and energy was usually as apparent as the chill in the air and the smell of the rink. Dad was a huge hockey fan from way back, and this interest was instilled in me from a young age. I never played the real thing, but no other activity with friends growing up or in gym class was as fun for me as street hockey was. One of my many memories with my dad is as a kid on the back patio or driveway guarding the net, while he took shots and gave me goaltending tips, doubtlessly gleaned from the thousands of games he had witnessed, as he had likewise never played the sport. 

Growing up in New York City, Dad had been a devoted Rangers fan, but his summers in Narragansett had also familiarized him with Boston Bruin territory. Upon moving to Rhode Island in the 1960s, his allegiances shifted, and I'm sure he greatly celebrated Bobby Orr's spectacular 1970 aerial overtime game and Stanley Cup winner known simply as "The Goal." They won again in 1972, but as the years went on, season after season ended in disappointment for Dad and all Bruins fans. As the post-2000 Patriots and Red Sox found glory, I hoped and even prayed that Dad would get to see the Bruins do it one more time before he left us on his spirit's next adventure. 

In 2011, after a seven game bruiser against the Vancouver Canucks, Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and company delivered the long-awaited prize to Boston hockey fans. When time ran out in game seven, I was in a Providence club waiting to do my regular Wednesday night gig. As I toasted the Bruins victory with the bartender and some regular patrons, I thought of Dad, who I was certain was raising the roof at home. Two years later, I was watching with him on the more sombre occasion when the Chicago Blackhawks ended the Bruins quest for another championship.

Even during his illness, he faithfully watched every Bruin game. Since he and my mom had moved out to Louisville to be closer to us, he had gotten the games from a cable TV hockey package. As he grew more tired and went to bed earlier, he could safely record and finish them the next day, knowing he wasn't likely to hear any hockey spoilers on the Kentucky sports broadcasts. On the afternoon of his passing, he was in the middle of watching a recorded contest between the Bruins and the New Jersey Devils. The Bruins had been showing some promise, but had also struggled during the regular season. I don't think Dad or anyone would have anticipated them going to the Stanley Cup Finals this season. But that's exactly what they ended up doing.

I thought how perfect it would be for the Bruins to win the cup this year. Sure, I knew they had won six in their history and the St. Louis Blues hadn't won any in their entire franchise existence. And somewhere in St. Louis, maybe there was someone with a story like mine, just hoping for the thrill of a Blues Stanley Cup. But I went in strong for Boston, and for Dad. The series went seven games, and in the end the Blues came out on top.

The funny thing is, while I'm pretty familiar with current sporting news, I've never quite understood diehard sports fans. Outside of people who may have family members or friends who play for a particular team, I never really comprehended how people could get so passionate about teams in any sport who are comprised of players who mostly aren't even from the city their franchise represents. Sure, I always loved to see the Boston teams win, but you'd never catch me in sub-zero temperatures with my face painted Patriot red and blue at Gillette Stadium. Even as much as I love hockey, life always went on as usual whether the Bruins won or lost.

My dad actually was also very much into baseball. I never really related to that. While America's pastime is loved by millions the world over, it's never been a personal favorite of mine. Maybe it's different if you play the sport, or perhaps it's a refined taste that one develops early on. For me, it was always hockey, with football (the American version) coming in second.

My more cynical thought patterns have also often wondered how much of the outcomes of sporting events are rigged. Given the amounts of money gambled on major sporting events, it's not as far-fetched of a possibility as one may think. Some sports are probably easier to pull this off in than others. A boxer taking a fall might be more attainable than an entire team throwing a game. But who knows? Get to the refs or to some key players, and anything's possible.

Whatever the case may be, for the rest of my life, I won't be able to watch a single Boston Bruins game highlight (or anything to do with hockey) without thinking of my dad. Sure, we had other things we discussed, and he had a ton of stories from his ninety-two years that were about topics other than hockey. But I'll always see him in front of the TV, glued to every second of the action, cheering, shouting, and clapping as if he were in the middle of TD Garden. And while it seems grief comes in waves, and likewise while the wave has been a pretty big one lately, something about that image brings peace, a smile, and a journey to a happy time that will live forever. 

Maybe that's what diehard sports fandom is about - something that actually transcends the sport itself. Whatever that "something" is may be different for everyone. To me, that something takes me to an electrified arena (or maybe a living room posing as an electrified arena), and mostly, a few minutes with a guy I miss tremendously.


2 comments

  • Alice McCall

    Alice McCall St. Bernard

    Barry, I have to admit I’m not into blogs (my problem, ha). This one caught my eye. Very well done and you do have a gift, beside musician, of writing. I’m sure there are many more hidden gifts. I’m walking, especially my kids, with you in this journey of grief. I’ve learned so much lately about this thing grief. I’ve lost many loved ones over my 81 years, but this one is different. Losing my husband of 57 years, and, watching my 5 kids grieve has been quite a journey and continues to be a little over a year later. I’m so much more attuned to my fellow widows, including your mom. I’m thinking, I know what you’re going through. However, I really don’t, because each of us mourn in our own individual ways.

    Barry, I have to admit I’m not into blogs (my problem, ha). This one caught my eye. Very well done and you do have a gift, beside musician, of writing. I’m sure there are many more hidden gifts. I’m walking, especially my kids, with you in this journey of grief. I’ve learned so much lately about this thing grief. I’ve lost many loved ones over my 81 years, but this one is different. Losing my husband of 57 years, and, watching my 5 kids grieve has been quite a journey and continues to be a little over a year later. I’m so much more attuned to my fellow widows, including your mom. I’m thinking, I know what you’re going through. However, I really don’t, because each of us mourn in our own individual ways.

  • bPatrick

    bPatrick

    Alice, Thanks for sharing your own experience. You're right, so many people are walking this road, yet each in their own way. Prayers and best wishes as you navigate the waters of your journey!

    Alice,
    Thanks for sharing your own experience. You're right, so many people are walking this road, yet each in their own way. Prayers and best wishes as you navigate the waters of your journey!

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