Driving in on the New Jersey Turnpike this morning I couldn't help but notice that the cloudless blue skies and bright sunshine were identical to the conditions five years ago on that fateful September 11.
As you head off Exit 14 toward the "Bayonne Extension" that takes you to the Holland Tunnel, the lower portion of Manhattan unfurls before you. For tourists visiting New York City for the first time, the panorama gives folks from smaller towns a hint of the sheer size and scale of Manhattan as they travel in from Newark Airport.
With those two Twin Towers missing like Bobby Clarke's old gap-toothed grin, the skyline appears to still be aching from the destruction of our famous buildings. There's no doubt the pain lingers for New Yorkers, Americans and the folks here at the National Hockey League.
As many of you recall, we will always remember Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis, a pair of Los Angeles Kings scouts who were on their way to training camp when their hijacked plane was used to ram one of the towers.
I think of them often, just about every time a plane flies overhead on an approach to LaGuardia Airport or a takeoff pattern from Newark. How many times have I gotten on an early morning cross-country flight and just sacked out, not paying to attention to my surroundings?
I imagine that happening to them, but I stop when I consider the terror, horror and confusion they must've felt. Were they told to remain calm, that they would be merely hostages? Did that prevent them from taking the plane? Surely, as hockey people, I find it hard to believe that they would not immediately assume a leadership role and try to get something done as the folks on United 93 would later do successfully.
A day later, as we all tried to put the "six degrees" together to ensure that all our friends and acquaintances were okay, I received a call from my college roommate who informed me that one of our former teammates, Mike Tamuccio, was killed in one of the towers.
Hockey at Fordham University was played strictly for the love of the game. No one there was ever going to make it to the pros. But we had a close-knit team and had already lost two teammates. One teammate, Mark Tobin, was killed on the Pan-Am plane that crashed in Lockerbie, Scotland, and another died of Hodgkins Disease at the age of 27.
The chances of the two teammates being killed by two separate terrorist acts? Pretty long, I think. And, not to digress, my cousin, Neil Panariello who passed away suddenly in March, worked as a carpenter at the Trade Center and suffered a broken back in the first bombing attempt in 1993. He received a medal of honor for helping people that day, but the medal couldn't heal his back injuries or the pain of losing many of his friends on 9/11. Neil was never the same after 9/11. For him, like us, there was a void that couldn't be filled.
My point? Hockey is a team game. You are taught that success cannot happen without total commitment from the collective. Sacrifices must be made, egos put aside, hard work completed. So, if something happens to my teammates, even if I haven't seen them in years, it stings. It's family, same as my cousin. The times you shared together are priceless.
And that leads me to the aftermath, five years after 9/11.
This country was united as a team for a few months after the attacks and then it began to lose focus. Elections and politics took over and we, as an American team, lost our cohesion.
As I think about 9/11 and the hockey people who were lost, my teammates and, by extension of '93, a family member, I hope that we can re-focus on becoming a united nation -- a team -- again so that we can win what is turning out to be one high-stakes game.
We owe that to the folks who died and we owe it to our way of life. I hope it doesn't take another tragedy of this magnitude to bring us together again.