Everyone knows that I love football. Especially Notre Dame football. But what you may not know is that I love hockey as well. As the first round of the NHL playoffs are in full swing I have been reflecting on how my love of hockey began.
Growing up in Los Angeles, I was not a huge hockey fan. Dodger baseball, yes. Hockey, not so much. I became exposed to hockey through my friend Leslie, as her parents had season tickets to the L.A. Kings, and I learned a lot from her. Including, but not limited to: DO NOT turn around and talk to Gretzky’s wife DURING the game … as when she was doing that she got hit in the back of the head with a puck and had to be rushed to the ER for stitches!
So when I got to Notre Dame for my freshman year, I already had some knowledge of hockey, and then I met Mike Russo. He was one of the goalies for the ND Hockey team, and had played hockey in high school in St. Louis at Christian Brothers College high school. He always wore his high school letterman jacket around campus, and maybe that’s what caught my eye, that purple jacket, but I soon rearranged my walking paths so that I would run into him on my way to and from class. We chatted a lot, running into each other like that, freshman year, but I never did get up the nerve to ask him out. During my freshman year my friends and I really didn’t go to many hockey games. It was enough of a challenge just getting used to being so far away from home, and trying to master classes, not a whole lot of extracurricular activities happened freshman year!
At the end of the summer after freshman year in college, my parents told me that we were moving to St. Louis. St. Louis?? What?? I was crushed. I had four days to say goodbye to my friends before I headed back to college and I could not believe that my parents were doing this to me!! (Typical 18 year old reaction, right?)
And then everything gets put into perspective.
When I got back to campus that first day of sophomore year, I picked up a copy of the first “Observer” of the school year … the student paper. And there it was on the front page. Freshman, Mike Russo dies.
I think all of the blood rushed out of my face. My friends had tried to get to me before I got a paper, but they didn’t make it. Boy, didn’t I feel stupid that I never asked him out … that I was too shy to take the first step. Talk about missed opportunities. I was so upset, I could not even go to the memorial that the school had for him. I was absolutely crushed. I really had no intention of EVER going to a hockey game ever again. All it did was remind me of him.
But then, life has a way of taking care of things. Flash forward to Junior year. My roommate got engaged in November and decided to move off campus with her fiance, and left me needing a roommate. The rector of our dorm gave me a list of all of the girls from our dorm who were in London for the fall semester and asked me if I knew any of them. I did recognize this one girl (Cara), and I knew we had a friend in common … Carl, who was (you guessed it) a hockey player … so I figured she would be okay. And so I picked Cara!
I ran into Carl at the dining hall and told him that Cara and I were going to be roommates the next semester, and his reaction was less than positive. He said … “Uh, Cara? Really? Oh my.” And I said … “What do you mean??” He replied … “Well, you are the eternally HAPPY person, and she is the eternally CRABBY person!”
And thus started a wonderful friendship between Cara and I! For the record, she and I were perfect roommates. We were the perfect mix of happy and crabby, and we had a wonderful time that semester! In fact, to this day, we are still the best of friends, she was in my wedding, she is Offspring #2’s God Mother and we are running a 10K next month! Okay … back to the story!
Living with Cara that semester … she and Carl got me back into going to hockey games again. And then, during my senior year, my Dad let me bring his VERY nice camera, with a telephoto lens, to school with me and I started taking pictures at sporting events. First at football games … and then at hockey games. I started making copies and enlarging some of good pictures to give to the players, and word got back to the hockey coach of how good my photos were, and I got invited to ride on the team bus with the team and be the team photographer!!
Well, shy me passed on that offer … but I did road trip to as many games as I could and took TONS of pictures.
Watching the game through my camera further developed my love for the game, and I have loved it ever since. That, and getting to know quite a few of the guys through my pictures, and getting to know the “characters” that hockey players are … it was a good thing!
After I graduated from Notre Dame, I got a job doing sales for a local professional soccer team in St. Louis. The best part of that job was two-fold. First … the soccer team played in The Arena, where the St. Louis Blues played, and our offices opened out onto the top row of the arena … so I cannot tell you how many hockey games we got to watch from up there!! (shhhh!) And secondly, from hanging out with the soccer players at the drinking establishments near The Arena, we got to meet and get to know a ton of the Blues players … Hull, Shanahan, CuJo, Jeff Brown … the list goes on. It was truly a great opportunity (the job that is) and a very fun time in my life!
I’ve been blogging since 2009 and for a very long time I thought no one was reading my writing. The following moment changed my mind. I received a comment on a story that I wrote about Mike Russo, and the comment was from the husband of Mike’s sister. He thanked me for the beautiful story about Mike, and for still holding his memory so dear. I was blown away. Every day, the world seems to become smaller and smaller.
And then two weeks ago, it got smaller again. One of Mike’s teammates, and a classmate of mine, reconnected with me on twitter. We started reminiscing about Mike and he connected me with one of Mike’s best friends from Notre Dame. Again, they were both blown away by my story about Mike and once again I am humbled at the reach my words have had on others.
I still think of Mike every time I go to a hockey game. I probably always will. And though I don’t have as much time as I used to, to attend or even watch hockey games … I still thoroughly enjoy it every chance I get.
Last night, I took a break from editing my upcoming book (Echoes From the End Zone: The Men We Became) and watched the Blues and King play, and am reminded how much the game of hockey is embedded in my life.
Notre Dame Our Mother … tender, strong and true.