Saturday, November 27, 2010

Islander Passion - A Family Affair

I wrote a story for the Isles Digital Game Day program for Friday's game against the Devils. I am reprinting it here:

One of the privileges that come along with being a father is the opportunity to share your passion for your favorite hockey team with your children. For the past decade, I’ve been lucky enough to share my passion for the Islanders with my 3 sons (13, 11, and 9 years old). Like most kids, my sons really had no choice in the matter; I was an Islander fan, and as such, they would be the same. We spent many evenings on the couch cheering on our team (even when there wasn’t much to cheer about). When they were old enough to truly appreciate the strategy, skill, and beauty of the game (and not just Sparky, popcorn, ice cream, and the t-shirt cannon), I made the investment of purchasing season tickets. Four years ago I set us up with 4 seats in section 318, row F. It was a special bonding experience for my boys and I to put on our Islander jerseys and race to the Coliseum to catch the games. There were few things we looked forward to more than being at the Coli watching our team.

Then last year our lives changed. We had a new person living in our house - his name was Jeremy and he was a 16 year-old exchange student from Germany. Jeremy lived with us from August to June of last year and despite the fact that he was from Germany, Jeremy knew nothing about hockey. He had never even held a hockey stick or seen a game. That didn’t matter; Jeremy was my son and in our house hockey ruled. So, I got us a 5th season ticket and off we went.

Opening night was a whole new experience for us last season – and not just because we got to watch the debut of John Tavares. While this was our 4th opening night, it was Jeremy’s first, and watching his reaction as we entered the Coliseum and climbed to our seats gave my sons and me a fresh perspective on the evening. The huge American flag waving at center ice, the music, the fireworks, and the singing of our national anthem. Jeremy was in awe. They do not do things that way at sporting events back in Germany. They don’t sing their anthem, they don’t wave their flag, and they don’t have the fanfare and pageantry that accompanies American sporting events.

As they game progressed, I listened to my sons explain off-sides, icing, and penalties, and watched them teach Jeremy the art of running to the bathroom and grabbing a pretzel during a TV time-out so as not to miss a single minute of action. Within a few short games Jeremy knew the rules, he knew most of the players and their numbers, and had even declared Rob Schremp to be his favorite. He also started playing hockey. We had converted him into a hockey nut in only a few short weeks. That Christmas, the first items on his wish list was a helmet, ice hockey skates, and a new stick.

We took Jeremy to about 25 games last season, and when we were couldn’t make it to the games, he sat on the couch with us and watched and cheered. Jeremy went back to Germany last June. On the morning he left, one of the last things he packed in his bulging suitcase to bring back home to Germany was his well-worn ice hockey skates. When he came out to the car for the ride to airport I noticed he was wearing his Rob Schremp jersey. We all cried as he left us and passed through security and trudged to the gate for his flight back to Germany. We stay in touch with Jeremy via email and occasionally we talk with him on Skype. He always asks how “his Isles” are doing and talks about how much he misses going to the games. I let him know how they are doing, and that I miss taking him. But, I remind him, we have something special to look forward to if he ever comes back to visit.

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