As a young boy in Western New York, I signed up to play baseball. It didn't do much for me. So I signed up for football. I didn't like it much. That winter my parents took me skating.
I loved it and I asked my dad to play hockey.
From the age of 7 on, it was hockey. Every day. All year long. I still remember the practices, the drills, the games, and I will always remember that first, and only goal, in season one, when Allen Shubbuck tried to do it all himself while I stood alone in front of the net calling for a pass that never came. Allen swung in front of the net and tried to go around the sprawling netminder but couldn't get past the outstretched glove.
The puck squirted right to me and I slapped the puck into the net so hard you'd have thought it was a dump in from center ice. The elation that comes with that first goal is unspeakable and indescribable. I felt like I had just won my own personal Stanley Cup.
I continued to play for many years, and growing up in Western New York you have to be a Sabres fan, especially when your parents are. The French Connection, Jerry Korab and Jim Schoenfeld, Tony McKegney, Bob Sauve.
And then the fatal mistake.
When my father took me to the Memorial Auditorium to see the Sabres play the Flyers, I found a new team, one I could call my own. Needless to say, my family was horrified.
Years have flown by since those long ago days but my passion for the sport of hockey is undying. It is as strong as ever. Perhaps stronger.
Now, I watch my 4-year-old son put on his own games in the driveway, complete with sponsors and penalties and commercials. He comes with me to Wild games every other game while his sister gets to come to the others. He wears his Wild jersey to the games, he cheers for the Wild, he does the claps, he yells at the players and the refs.
This winter he learned to skate. His second day on the ice, he refused any help from me. He did it all on his own, from skating to getting up after falling. My son has found that same joy that I once found, embraced, and called my own. It is a moment I will always remember, both for him and for me, and I encourage his growing excitement and passion, even when he says he's rooting for the Dallas Stars.
Ultimately, hockey is about the sport, the game, not the logo, and he is already learning that.
We love our Wild, though.
And this afternoon we will don our matching reds, make the quick drive to St. Paul, and together we will bask in the glory of playoff hockey. Win or lose, we will share our time, we will laugh and we will cheer and we will grow ever more fond of the great sport of hockey.