As most of you know by now, Thursday marked the start of training camps around the League. Wait, what did I just write? Is it really possible? I recently blogged about the season being just around the corner, but I wasn't serious! I was just trying to share some of the positive vibes I'd collected at a youth hockey camp that day. I didn't honestly believe what I was writing, that the season was rapidly approaching!
Yet, today our version of pitchers and catchers reporting was upon us. Sure, in hockey, everyone attends Day One; it isn't just the goalies or anything like that. But the first day is without the luster of on-ice events. It's a tease, in most respects. It's not like the results of the players' medicals are a click away on the team websites. And many sites don't even have their rosters updated yet, let alone today's photos uploaded.
On the first official day back, the players have a lot more fun than the fans do, as they play the roles of kids showing up for the first day of school. They get an idea of who is going to be in their class this year and share verbal essays about how they spent their summers. For some, there are jitters to be coped with, such as the guys who show up with hopes of making the team. For others, their positions a lock, it's a day to reconnect with old friends and dream.
The slate is clean. Last year's successes mean nothing at the start of a season; nor do past mistakes and disappointments. Everyone can talk about the Stanley Cup being in reach, because despite last year's records and what a team may look like on paper, that Cup is equidistant for all when there are no wins or losses yet tallied.
That's what makes this time of year so intoxicatingly exciting.
The only time I've ever attended the first official day of training camp was when I worked for the Islanders. I remember how enjoyable it was to see everyone after a long summer. My favorite part of the day, however, was helping to choose the headshots for the media guide and website.
Previously, I'd wondered why some of the photos I'd seen in various guides were so hideous. I'd viewed some good looking guys rendered horribly unattractive. I figured they just weren't terribly photogenic; either that or the photographer wasn't having a very good day. Working for a team, I learned that several shots are taken for each guy -- it's someone's job to select the "best" one. That's a lot of power to give to someone who doesn't necessarily deserve it. Lucky for those guys (most of whom I'm sure couldn't have cared less what their photo looked like), I was part of the committee. As much as I enjoyed laughing at the photos which didn't come out quite as well, I always voiced a strong opinion for the best one to go up and most of the time, it did.
I didn't get to attend the portion of the training camp that was held out of town, and I did my fair share of complaining about that -- until the day came when I was very grateful to be home with family and friends and not stuck out-of-town, watching the horrors of September 11th unfold on television.
I still vividly remember some of the conversations I had with the guys when they returned to Long Island. Although they were from different states and countries altogether, they were as shocked and devastated as we natives; and for that portion of their lives, they were indeed New Yorkers. It was odd how the tables turned at that time; instead of asking questions, I was answering them. Questions about my thankfully intact family, questions about people I'd known and lost, questions about how my brother was coping.
Naturally, he wasn't, between losses suffered as a member of the FDNY and the traumas associated with the recovery efforts. But hockey was a safe topic to bring up, and we could escape, just for a second here and a minute there, into the normalcy of training camp discussions.
Some of my first smiles came as a result of the team's return. I remember watching the drills and for moments, even forgetting what was happening off the ice. I vacillated between being grateful for the hope training camp provided and a sense that I should have been doing something more important with my time than writing about a sport, but looking back, I recognize I was exactly where I was meant to be.
Without the sounds of stick blades hitting the ice and hockey pucks slamming into the glass, without the positive energy those guys brought to my life at the time, I'm not sure how I would have made it through those early weeks and months. I felt like a caged member of an endangered species in the office, but the escape that came via watching what took place on the ice and in the locker room was just what I needed to retain my sanity.
Forever embedded in my memory is the image of the Islanders and Red Wings surrounding and holding up a huge American flag during a pre-game tribute. For those moments, there was no such thing as an opponent; there was only unity. And hope.
These are concepts we should all embrace as we embark upon the 2006-07 season, ideas that should be recalled when a player struggles on the ice, when a GM makes a move we don't like and when the person sitting next to us happens to be rooting for the "wrong" team.
There are some things in life that are actually more important than hockey. But thank the heavens we have hockey to get us through life.
Posted by Nancy @ 9:44 a.m.
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