Growing up in Minnesota there is no question whether or not you will learn to skate it's a matter of when. Not speaking of 1 or 2 years old but 6 months? 7 months?
We learn to skate before we talk. We learn to put on pads, and helmets by age 1. We learn what hockey sticks are for and that nets are just necessary to keep from having to chase the puck at backside of pond.
We learn to make ice in our yards after Nov 1, we learn... and some of us go onto Hall of Fame. Obviously, I'm not that person but friends of mine are.
Several years ago, Minnesota moved the North Stars to Dallas. Norm Greed(n) was being sued for sexual harassment and he threatened to leave if the lawsuit(s) didn't stop. They didn't, he moved the team.
I quit really caring that much about the NHL because for the State of Hockey to not have a team would be like the Florida Gators dismantling their football program.
Fast forward, the Wild were built in Minnesota, I moved to FL 4.5 years ago.
I'd catch hockey games here and there; loved the Rangers and the NJ Devils. Specifically, certain players on those teams whom I either know or players that I have an utmost respect for.
Last spring when things were so bad for my son and I, when we didn't know when we'd eat, or if; when we didn't know how to make the rent payment or when / where we'd live, someone offered up tickets for a playoff game to a friend of mine. She couldn't go and offered them to me. Thinking we'd be sitting in the nosebleed seats, we weren't.
Section 117, against the suite. We cheered... and for 3 hours we got to forget about the drama unfolding in our lives.
Jobs offered and then rescinded because the client was bought by a Chinese company and all contracts were thrown out. Jobs offered and because vendor IDs for agency couldn't be used, I didn't get that either. Money dwindling, time running out, I got a 3 hour reprieve.
Then more tickets came. The same individual kept sending my son and I to games. Again, the seats were unbelievable and the Lightning, quickly became "my" team.
Sure, I'd watched the playoffs for the past few years but now, like I was a Vikings fan until 1998, I was fully converted to Bolt Fan For Life.
Coincidentally, one of my favorite players from the Rangers noted above, now plays for the Bolts.
He's the quiet, unsung hero of this team. Quietly going about his job, gutting out bad situations, enforcing ... "better behavior" on the part of other teams (Detroit's Abdel... for one); he's funny, he's solid, and to boot, he's a great husband and father. How could one not support that player?
The year started off with a bang. Our team was back together. Stammer, Heddy, Kuch signed for less to stay put; Bish was healthy, Vasy signed for 3 years, Nesty signed for 1... essentially our entire team was back... to put Lord Stanley in Tampa (again - something Minnesota has NEVER had).
Then... Strals got hurt, Stammer went down and out for 4 months; Cally was still recovering for labrum surgery over the summer and still out, Drouin took a nasty hit to the head (the opposing player should have been suspended, by the way). Boyle went down... Bish lost his front 2 teeth when his goalie mask nailed backwards and into his face (he never left the ice). Palat got hurt, Paquette got hurt; JT got suspended... it was bad.
But as I have seen my entire life and anyone who's followed or read this blog knows:
When crap goes bad, really bad, you have two choices:
I've always chosen to rise. I tweeted that to the certain player for the Bolts - LEAD, I told him. YOUR time, your team... step up, lead and rise...
We were 8 losses in 9 games at that point; Stanley Cup expectancy to bottom dwellers (yes, without 1/2 our team). We were sinking. You could see it in the guys' faces during interviews, you could feel it in their postures and faces pre-game and during games.
I believe, however.
And that player, well, he rose. He leads that team. He normally plays center or wing. However, with our defense sounding like a drain being emptied of water, he also got put back against the goalie to help on D. And there was that one play...
Goalie out of net, wide open net and there was that player, sliding on his knees into the net at an angle to cut off a large part of the shooting area.
He's a dog (defense, offense, goalie).
I tweeted all of that. Multiple times to the Lightning, sports writers, NHL, and fans.
They put the "A" on his jersey :)
I might have forgotten, I do dumb signs for the pregame warmups. "Kitties B Bish Slapped" was one, "COD? Call Of Daughter" for JT and his wife Lexi.
Always one of the first to stand for goals (generally, I'm already on my feet)... and if #11 scores, I'm already proudly wearing the player's jerseys (no matter the jersey color night - they alternate in Tampa).
100+ tweets to the guys, to our team, to our sports writers and truthfully, I never know if they see them or care.
Last night, I found out.
#11 was awarded 2 stars for his play in the game meaning he gets a game puck to sign and finds a fan to give it to.
My seats are directly across from the bench on the blue line, about 5 rows up from the ice.
As he came out on the ice, he waved it up for fans to cheer and then beelined.
Down the blue line, looking.
Gently tossing it up for me (there is no doubt in anyone's mind it was meant for me; everyone knows how much I appreciate the player as a player and as a citizen of this town), the guy in front of me snatched it up (then asked me who it was).
For me, last night, meant the world. As much as I acknowledge their play, their leadership; as much as I love this team, these Bolts...
Apparently, they must sort of like the support they get from the fans. And me.
I didn't get the signed puck, I got something greater. Acknowledgement of what I do as little as it is.
No one can take that from me. As this year closes out (thank God), I'm so thankful for the individual who bought those tickets for me, supported me through the dark times in more ways than one, and this town.
Tampa is a hockey town. #11 just showed yet another reason why we are Bolt Fans 4 Life - we all are.