I love my family.
I love my friends.
I love hockey.
Sometimes numbers two and three on this list are in a good, old-fashioned tie. (Sorry, amigos, but you have hefty competition come playoff time. It's not your fault and, honestly, you don't stand much of a chance.)
Hockey and family, for me, have always had a tight connection. I fell in love with the Islanders largely because of stories of the glory days told to me by someone that was there - my father, a former season ticket holder. Dad's the type of Isles fan that once pledged his loyalty to the Rangers prior to the Islanders arrival in 1972. That's forgivable. There are plenty of members of that old guard. My mother, on the other hand, has always considered herself a Rangers fan - a passive Rangers fan - but a Rangers fan nonetheless. That, painful as it may be, is also forgivable. (Hey! She's my Mom!) And she'll still root for the Isles when the Rangers aren't playoff contenders. (We'd be fine either way, Mom, but we appreciate the support, we suppose.) Unfortunately, to this day, once the Islanders have been eliminated, my Dad does the unthinkable ... he pulls for the Rangers.
My early education in hockey and the Islanders consisted largely of tales of Arbour, Potvin, Bossy, Trottier, Gillies, Nystrom, and Smith. While the contemporary names I was following (folks like Bowness, Vaske, McInnis, Wood, McLlwaine, Kruse, and Fichaud) never quite inspired like the ones on the banners in the Nassau Coliseum rafters, they were what we had at the time and it gave Dad and I something to build on (at the very, very least.) We, together, are Islanders. Nothing changes that. (Unless, of course, the winds of fortune blow in favor of the Blueshirts. For my Dad, anyway.)
Those of my father's ilk, from what I understand, are not nearly as populous as they once might have been. The hatred for the Rangers over the years, thankfully, has consistently grown and destroyed any lingering loyalties for most ex-Ranger fans. But, folks, these types do still exist and, sadly, my old man is one of them. Try as I may to sift through it all, I just cannot understand it for the life of me. There's simply too much animosity. I can't stand anything about that team from the City.
My Dad, his wavering allegiances aside, is as pro-Isles and anti-Ranjerks as can be during the regular season and while the Islanders are alive in the playoffs. His Brooklyn-ese shines through at the most opportune moments and leaves me inspired with post-Isles/Rangers game quotes like, "I hate dem bass-tids!" After gems like that, I'm left beaming with pride to be one with my (temporarily) Ranger-hating Dad. It's almost as though I forget about the demoniacal, Ranger apologist side of him that can and will rear its ugly head, given the opportunity, in late April or early May.
Still, Dad and I still have plenty of Islander-dominated moments:
When my wife and I bought our first house last year, I was nearly brought to tears when my Dad's housewarming gift to me was the four Stanley Cup beer steins he collected, as the Isles did Cups, from 1980-83. Nobody's had a sip from them since Dad did after each championship season, and no one will again until Dad and I double-fist 'em after the next Isles Cup.
Father and son battled together, literally, at a game in Tampa in 2000, when a group of overzealous (read: drunken) Lightning fans took their anti-Islander sentiments a bit too far. I was 20, Dad 50. "You did good, kid," I was told after the game. (Now there's a story that both mine and my Dad's pals never get enough of.)
Isles aside, perhaps most importantly of all, my Dad was always my biggest fan when I played. The image of my father banging on the glass, grinning ear-to-ear after a goal will never, ever leave my mind. That's amazing stuff right there.
But the Ranger-rooting thing ... ... ... ugh ...
It's happening again, actually, right now as I write this. Last night, I spoke with my Dad on the phone and, before we hung up, he mentioned that he was watching the Sabres/Rangers game. As if I was subconsciously trying to block it out, I didn't dare ask who he was pulling for - though, truly, I probably already knew. And then, he blasted me with it. "I'm pulling for the Rangers," he says.
Ouch. Again. Ouch ...
When I decided to write this article, initially, I thought I'd blast my Dad and all flip-flopping fans like him. And then, as I thought about the history that he and I have with hockey, something dawned on me ...
Maybe a little part of him thinks of his Dad.
Maybe, long before the Isles were around, my Dad got stories of Ranger legends that lured him to our wonderful sport.
Maybe his Dad banged on the glass for him too.
If so, dammit, I suppose that has to be considered forgivable. It's actually pretty special, come to think of it, even if it does mean rooting for them.
But I just can't do it. I'll never be able to. Not in a million years ...
I love my family.
I love my friends.
And I love hockey.
... but I hate "dem bass-tids!"