Hockey is a game that bonds fans unlike any other sport. It can build, mend and even end relationships simply because of the passion that fans have surrounding the game.
Though not as big as its counterpart’s celebration up north, Hockey Day in America, the ending to Hockey Weekend Across America, has grown since its inception by the NHL and NBC in 2008. It’s a day in which NBC showcases six teams with three nationally televised games. Two on NBC and one on the NBC Sports Network.
The premise? Grow the game of hockey among sports fans in the USA.
While it may not matter to many in America, to some, like myself, having a weekend to celebrate the game we love is something that makes us feel like the game is growing among the populous in this country.
It also gives people who love the game a reason to reflect, and talk, about its meaning to them.
While I never played ice hockey, — InLine is a lot cheaper — the game has been a part of my life since I was about five/six years old. Hockey was the first thing that my father and I really had in common.
We would watch Sabres games together, despite both being Maple Leafs fans (It’s a long story that I’m not going to explain right now), in the living room with the family. It was a nightly thing from October to May, never June because the Sabres always disappoint, and one of the few things I fully remember from my young childhood.
Just being able to have a common bond with my Dad at such a young age really allowed us to become closer as the years went on.
Fast forward 15 years later to 2009. My Father was in Madison, Wisconsin awaiting a lung transplant due to pulmonary fibrosis, which he did get and was just given a clean bill of health at his 6 1/2 year check up a few weeks ago.
Back to early 2009. It was Winter time, which meant Sabres hockey was going on. But because of his being in Madison, we couldn’t watch the games together like we used to. However, it didn’t stop us from talking about the team. Every day after a Sabres game, we would talk on the phone about the team. Most of the conversation was about how bad the team was, but it was a conversation about the game we found common ground on 15 years prior nonetheless.
I’ll be honest, I cherished every Sabres, or general hockey conversation, we had during that time because I really didn’t think he’d ever get his surgery. I really thought we were just on our last months of being able to talk.
It made me thinking, if I was going to lose him, I wanted to give him something I know he had wanted for a long time. I knew he wanted this item because he constantly dropped hints about it for a couple years.
The item you ask? A Mike Foligno Buffalo Sabres jersey.
When my dad was younger, Foligno was his favorite player, but he never was able to get his own jersey. So, what better gift to give him than that jersey?
I had ordered it in March, and gave it to him when I went to visit him in June. He had just received his new lung the day before I made it to Madison — a trip that consisted of my truck breaking down twice on the 12, turned 17, hour drive from Buffalo. However, despite the fact he was heavily medicated after the surgery, he was still able to recognize the gift I had for him. I had to open the gift myself for him since he didn’t have the strength, but the effect was just the same.
It brought upon my Father a giant smile, and, though he wouldn’t admit it, a tear or two. Just the fact that I brought joy to my father with that gift gave me the assurance that the bond through hockey was still there.
Today, he only pulls the jersey out for big games, and wears it with pride.
One of those games will be today when the Sabres take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening game of Hockey Day in America at 12:30 est on NBC. And though I will be sitting up in press row, as usual, I know my father will be sitting in his chair, wearing the Foligno jersey, and rooting on the Sabres.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.