So, the Wild are down 3-0 to the Ducks, and their fate is in the envelope, as it were.
They have played pretty much as well as they could have been expected to play. In some ways this just hurts that much more, and in some ways it's a salve for my burns.
Yet today is the happiest day of the whole season for me.
I have two little girls. The eldest, Ella, is coming up on 2.5 years old. The youngest, Annie, is but four months old.
All the things you hear about your world changing when you hold your newborn in your arms is true in my case. It was made doubly and then triply true in my case because I was adopted. So my daughters are the first and second blood relatives I've ever known.
Ella is a handful. She walked at 10 months. Talked not long after, was speaking in SENTENCES before she was a year-and-a-half, and is equal parts precocious joy and testy little monster. True to my Minnesotan heritage I had her on double runners at the start of this, her third winter. She actually graduated to real (read: single bladed) skates by the end of the season, and would go skating with me anytime I asked her. We skate in our matching white Itech helmets and our matching Wild white jerseys. It's a hoot.
Ella has been to one pro hockey game (Bridgeport Sound Tigers, during the lockout) but she was 3 months old. The Wild didn't play the Devils, Rangers or Islanders, and we were unable to make it to their games in Boston or Buffalo this season. She also doesn't watch much TV. And especially nothing that isn't at least partially animated (and Mick McGeough doesn't count!)
But she has a memory like a steel trap, and an insatiable appetite for information.
About a week ago I was carrying her upstairs to go to bed and she asked me "Who are DOSE guys?"
"That's Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier," I responded, describing one of my most prized posessions: a poster size photo of Gretz and Mess sitting on the Rangers bench watching the play in front of them, autographed by BOTH of them (trust me, it's pretty sweet). "Can YOU say WAAAAYYYYNE GRETZ-KEEE?"
"Very good buddy!"
I'm one of the legion of hockey fans for whom Wayne Gretzky is the end all and be all. I've felt that way since I was a youth growing up in Minny. I have vivid memories of coming down to the kitchen before school to the sounds and smells of breakfast being made, and my old man in his bathrobe. He'd see it was me, and then nonchalantly sip his coffee and pass me the sports section of the paper. I'd grab some chow and sit down to peruse. He'd be watching me askance, and when I finished, he'd say "See what Gretzky did last night?" I'd beam with pride at being able to uphold my end of this little tradition, and say "Four goals, two assists, #1 star!" For which I'd be rewarded with a wink - the kind that is all a son needs from a father on most occasions.
I think he appreciated the fact that Wayne played with dignity, honor and respect as much as he played with skill, guile and brilliance. I certainly didn't appreciate it then, but I now know that, as a parent of a hockey fan/player, he was probably afraid I'd grow up wanting to be like Shane Churla instead of a guy like Gretzky.
So I'm a Gretzky fan. Hardly the only, probably not the last.
Then this afternoon, my wife and I are shocked and saddened by the horrible events at Virginia Tech. Amid the disturbing scenes on TV, I go upstairs to put the baby down for a nap. I come back down and my wife, with a twinkle in her eye, says, "You just missed your greatest moment as Ella's daddy."
"What do you mean?"
"Ella...come in here and tell your daddy what you were just talking about."
Ella runs in, looks up at me with her big, trusting, loving, two-year old's eyes and says, loudly: "Wayne GRETZ-KEEE!"
Then she says the three best words I could ever imagine. Perfect in their meaning, their clarity, and for the fact that my wife didn't prompt her:
"He's my BOY!"
So, when the Ducks complete their sweep of the Wild tomorrow night I won't care so much anymore. Sure I'll want to analyze, lambaste, predict and play GM. But, in the grander scheme of things, it's nothing compared to hearing your daughter describe YOUR hero as:
"He's my BOY!"