The NHL season has officially come to a close and what a season it was. For myself, it was one where I was
I saw great goals, great saves, great hits, great hockey and great hockey fans. There were highs and there were lows. I felt the Garden shake amid a deafening roar in the playoffs, I heard the players' chatter from the empty upper deck in Newark as the Devils took on the Stars.
In an odd bit of synchronicity, my second game this season began with song ...
... and my second-to-last game of the season ended with song.
Last summer Tiger Woods said that he doesn't "think anybody really watches hockey anymore" but he was most assuredly proven incorrect. Aside from the thousands of folks at every game I went to, plenty of people would come up to me (as I am often clad in something with a logo on it) and want to talk pucks - from the conductors on the LIRR to street vendors in Bern, Switzerland.
Some say that the game is a niche sport but it really transcends gender, age, race and physical borders. I was sitting on the Amtrak train at the US/Canada border coming back from Montreal and the all-too-serious-looking Homeland Security officer came through the car, asking everyone a battery of questions. Everyone was quite quiet - either nervous or annoyed - and there was an uneasy tension in the air. When he came to me, the officer asked the usual questions about where was I from, where am I going, what I was bringing into the country and what did I do in Canada. I answered the last question "I watched the Rangers beat up the Canadiens. And it was terrific." The entire car erupted with laughter, the officer smiled and went on his way.
That is what it is all about: the smiles, as corny a thing as that is to say. We take this kids game - played by men who, frankly, aren't us - all too seriously all too often. But for all the moments of sadness and frustration - seeing Wade Redden in a Ranger jersey, seeing Brooklyn Aces goaltender Eddie Neville lying prone on the ice fearing the worst, seeing Cindy raise the Cup - I have to take a step back and remember the smiles.
-Adam Graves' sly grin as a 'Potvin Sucks' chant filled the silence amid the emotional banner raising ceremony.
-Jason Spezza laughing at my "Please Sens, Take Redden Back" sign before a game against Ottawa.
-A Swiss man enjoying the spectacle that was me jumping up and down like an idiot as the Rangers came back to win the Victoria Cup.
-The smile on my buddy's four-year-old son's face as I handed him a Ranger game puck provided by a kindhearted MSG employee.
Finally, my own. Minutes before I left Pittsburgh after Game 3 of the Finals, the last game I went to, I stopped in the media workroom in the hotel to check my e-mail. As I walked out to go catch my ride to the airport, I caught a glimmer of light out of the corner of my eye. I stopped and looked over to see that in a mostly empty ballroom there was Stanley. There is just something about that trophy that draws a crowd and I stopped to take a picture. Walking out I was sad that the Rangers went another season without getting it but I had to smile to myself because the quest continues.
Through all of the games, all of the ups and downs, I can say that Badger Bob was right: it is a great day for hockey.