My oldest of two beautiful daughters, Alex took me to a hockey game.
Not just any game.
A Florida Panther vs. NY Ranger game. When Alex was born I was winning championships and had been a practice keeper with the Islanders. I had played with and against NHLers and was lucky enough to have played until I was 40. But my kids were way too young to remember any of it. Alex says she remembers me taking her on the ice after a game. I remember that night......I was so happy then.
A lot has taken place since then. No, it's not all bad but it's fair to say we've had a tough run. My body hurts from all the pounding I subjected it to. I'm often asked if it was worth it.
Yes. It was worth it.
So on Saturday, November 2nd Alex and I went to Sunrise to see my adopted team the Panthers take on my the one team I am still a fan of......the NY Rangers. Since I'm now a single dad, money is an issue. I wanted to go, we always go to a few games each year and sharing something I'm so passionate about with one of my kids is a special thing. To her credit, Alex knew it would cheer me up. She offered to buy the tickets. (I did give her some cash).
What a treat.
Both teams have not had a great start this season and I have not paid attention to the NHL for a while now. Yet, there's something to be said for a live hockey game. Sadly, there were many empty seats and the NY fan base outnumbered the Cat fans as usual. It was kind of strange to see all the empty seats as NYers fill the place usually. During the first period the building was oddly quiet. We could actually hear Steve "Goldie" Goldstein calling the play by play behind us.
However, the excitement picked up as the game went on and Alex had predicted overtime......and she was right. The Rangers won 5-4 in the 3 on 3 OT. But I noticed a few things I want to share.
The Cats struggle to assemble a following here. True, they haven't had many winning seasons and their last serious Cup run was in 1996 with Beezer standing on his head. You can't tell me it's impossible to get a fan base as Tampa Bay has done it. It CAN be done but the right management team has yet to assemble the right people to do it. (That means they have yet to hire me)
The Panthers are a fun team to watch......frustrating but fun. This season they have yet another new head coach but this guy has his players playing with a bit more grit than in years past. That in itself is fun. Bob Boughner was a gritty defenseman in his playing days and won some championships as a coach in the minors. Perhaps he's the guy who can build a winning team here. That will help build the fanbase that has eluded the Panther organization over the years. (That and hiring me) there will be no Cup for Florida this year......at least not in Sunrise but they look to be headed in a good direction.
The Rangers are a different story.
It became quite evident that star keeper Henrik Lundqvist can't see the puck. Allow me to explain.
Hank became a star in the NHL because he anticipated where the puck would be as well as any keeper I'd ever seen. His puck handling aside....Lundqvist has this ability to be in the right spot because he instinctively knows where the puck is going. It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't played goal but there's a HUGE difference between guessing and anticipating. On several shots it was clear that Lundqvist didn't see the shot.....it hit him and he didn't know where it went. This did allow several goals against.
Hank has had slow starts before but he's not a kid anymore. We will not see him get better......we just may have to watch as his skills erode. But It's alarming to see one of the best ever not be able to track the puck. One has to wonder if he's dealing with something like an injury or worse.....some form of distraction. His confidence is part of it, or lack thereof.
Both teams are on my list of not winning a Cup this year. As the Lundqvist window closes on the Rangers I wonder if something I wrote a few years ago will come true. Will he be the best keeper never to win a Cup? Sadly, it sure looks that way.
All that aside, I was reminded of just how much I love this game, how much I miss playing and how hard it's been for Panther fans and management to keep the team here. All in all, I owe my daughter for the few hours of happiness that night.