After taking a few weeks off, consider this my "What did I did during my summer vacation" piece. Not that the NHL world ever shuts down now -- the draft, free agency, prospect camps and various coaching and management maneuverings fill the off-season docket -- but everyone escapes to some degree while they can before training camps start up in September.
For me, that has always meant some non-hockey related reading, which this year had me flipping through Kurt Vonnegut's Man Without a Country in a couple of days before tackling Taylor Caldwell's classic tome from 1972, Captains and the Kings. Yet, even as my mind took a brief hiatus from thoughts like salary cap considerations and the ever-increasing specter of salary floor issues, I continuously found myself in places that connected me to the game of hockey.
A trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame was ostensibly for the pleasure of my 10-year old son Mitch, but I'm not sure who enjoyed it more. It was his first visit and my first sojourn to the house of hockey history in several years. We had our photo taken with the Stanley Cup, and I explained to Mitch the taboo of not having the right to touch the Cup unless you've won it. The story made it hard to rationalize the thin white gloves given to all as they entered so as to avoid leaving infinite finger prints on said chalice, but thankfully his attention was on the history of not only the Cup, but also the Calder and Memorial cups.
So, let's just say that there's nothing like a 10-year old's wide-eyed inquisitive reverence to fill a dad's heart. Without knowing or setting out to do so, making heartfelt connections to hockey became my summer's saga. On the trip back from Toronto, we stopped by Central Arena in Burlington, Ontario to watch a friend's son play lacrosse. Burlington just happened to be the town where I began playing youth hockey, and Central Arena was the site of many of my earliest games. It is still a nice facility and, for the sake of my nostalgia, virtually unchanged.
From the old to the new, the travelogue continued as my wife Meredith and I drove up to Elmira, Ontario, to visit Graham and Luann Snyder, parents of the late Dan Snyder. The fifth and final memorial golf outing had been completed a couple of weeks earlier and the monies raised have gone into the brand new Community Center in Elmira. In all, the town of fewer than 10,000 raised $5.6 million for what has grown into a $21 million venture. We walked the construction site. The double rinks -- one named to honor the memory of Dan, the Atlanta Thrashers forward who killed in a tragic 2003 car crash -- with an indoor walking track, senior facility and indoor pool complex are slated to open in the fall of 2009. All I can say is that the sense of family, grace and goodwill exhibited by the Snyders is as uplifting and palpable as ever.
Upon returning home, I had the honor of attending and speaking at a retirement luncheon honoring USA Hockey's SE District Coach-in-Chief, Bob McCaig. I've had to the good fortune of getting to know Bob over the past eight years and have learned so much from him regarding youth hockey. The outpouring of emotional thanks by so many in the room only served as a small sampling of the impact Bob has had on lives too many to count in the hockey world in both the US and Canada. After all the accolades, consider a person giving 50 years of volunteerism to the game of hockey. Staggering. And what does Bob respond with? "It has been a privilege to serve. Everything we do is for the little ones. Remember, it's just a game."
Sometimes in the midst of a hectic NHL schedule, it's too easy to forget the powerful bond the game of hockey provides. There is an energy and passion all its own. Walk into any rink and you'll feel the unique atmosphere. Arena aura, if you will.
Summertime unexpectedly provided a reinvigorating reminder.