It's the time of year when you take a minute and reflect upon your life and the things in it that you are thankful for. If you haven't done that already...make sure you do before this holiday is over.
With me...first and foremost...it's my family...and the fact that we are all healthy. You can't really enjoy the other things in life the way you should, without that. It's something that I am thankful for, in the truest sense, every day.
Obviously other things fall in line after that...having a job...making decent money...having good friends...
Not too far down the list for me...after the "most important items"...is hockey.
Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 70's and 80's, I was obviously a football fan (and player - through high school and briefly in college).
Even before the Steelers became a great team in the 70's, this region of the country was football crazy. Of course...it still is. You can't escape it if you try.
As a kid, we played all the time. It seemed like every day we gathered up the neighborhood kids and played a game of tackle football or "kill the man" (never wear a "hoodie" when you play tackle football...unless you want to be strangled by it...and get into a fist fight after that)
Even so, in the late 70's (mostly through USA network and WOR) I started to watch hockey on TV. The Penguins were pretty bad back then and few, if any, games were televised…but the Islanders were awesome. I would tune in to as many games as I could. I was getting hooked.
Of course in 1980, like most of the nation, I became captivated by the Olympics and the eventual gold medal team from the US. It was then that I really started to wish that hockey was a bigger part of my life.
I was 13 at that time and had never learned how to skate. There really weren’t very many options around here for playing ice hockey...and since my school was small and football ruled the day, I couldn’t really do much except play the occasional street game. At least, back then, that’s how I saw it.
Mario Lemieux arrived in town just as I was finishing high school (he was about to start his NHL career and had been playing ice hockey since he could walk…just to give you a sense of how far behind I was in my hockey career…we are about the same age).
Lemieux’s arrival was the final nudge in the back for me…like so many other people around here at the time…it pushed hockey more to the forefront in our lives.
The Penguins started to improve as a team in the late 80’s and as I graduated from college and entered the “real world” I needed an activity outside of work to blow off a little steam. We started a “dek” hockey team in 1990 and I decided at that time I was finally, come hell, high water or broken bones, going to learn how to skate.
The Pens won a couple of cups and hockey was very popular around here by the early 90’s. By that time I was 25 and I was ready to join an adult ice hockey league.
Since then I have played in over 1000 adult league games on various different teams and hockey has been a part of my life on a daily basis. We play year round and in the past few years I was on as many as 3 teams at once (you would think with all that time spent on the ice, I would be better at this game!!!).
Now, it’s hard for me to imagine my life without hockey.
At 42 (turning 43 early next year), I can already see some of my (marginal to start with) skills eroding. I stay in pretty good shape, resistance training and playing games (of course) but father time does catch up with us all…eventually. The little aches and pains last longer than they used to…and the broken bones (all in the feet from shots…2 toes and a couple of metatarsils) are harder to recover from.
Even so, I don’t plan on hanging up my skates any time soon. I figure I will continue to play as long as I enjoy it and am healthy enough to play at a competitive level. Another 20 years at least…
Outside of that, I am a fan of the game…not just a Penguin’s fan, but of all the NHL teams and players.
I participate in a fantasy hockey league, which I started in 1996 and ran until last year. I watch as much hockey as my family and this STUPID Direct TV will let me (please figure this VERSUS crap out already!!!).
I love to “hate” Ovechkin. He’s got tremendous drive, tenaciousness and desire to score.
I wish I had Jarome Iginla’s ability to knock a guy flat…win a fight and then score on a 90 mph slapshot.
I think Patrick Kane (when he is avoiding rides in taxi cabs) and a whole bunch of other young players not named Crosby, have puckhandling skills the likes of which the NHL has never seen before. (Of course Crosby has great skills too…just trying to hammer home my point about not being a homer)
I feel fortunate to live in this city…at this time…and to be a hockey fan.
On this Thanksgiving I am truly thankful that hockey is such a big part of my life.