I want to tell you a little bit about my dad.
His name was Michael, he played hockey when I was a kid, and he was the one who got me into this sport.
He worked at Angelica's Restaurant in Middleton, Massachusetts. Even though he worked a lot of hours, he still took me to practice whenever he could and tried hard to never miss one of my youth hockey games.
It was hard for him to work in the restaurant business and still be a hockey dad, so he started his own furniture repair company so that he would have more time to spend with me.
That's when he started coaching my games.
Not every kid gets their dad to coach them, but I did and I was lucky. He told me and all of my teammates that if we wanted to make it to the NHL, we had to put in the work. He was all about hard work, and that's why I'm here today.
My dad never saw me play an NHL regular-season game in person. He couldn't make it for my first games with the Washington Capitals, and then I got traded to the Blues and played a handful of games at the end of the year in St. Louis. He was so proud of me, though, and to hear him talk about me, you'd think he was playing in the NHL, too. From what my family tells me, he told everyone who would listen that his son had made it to the NHL.
I dislocated my shoulder on the first day of training camp last year, so I wasn't playing when we took the dads on a road trip with us last season. Just his luck - again he couldn't watch one of my NHL games. I still got to bring him with me on the trip, though, and he was loving it. Of course, all the dads love that trip because they get to fly on our plane, watch us practice from the bench, meet the coaches and come to the locker room. As a hockey player himself, he was like a little kid meeting his favorite players for the first time.
My dad helped me get through that shoulder injury, too. Every day of that rehab sucked, and there were times I wanted to give up. But he was always there encouraging me, saying "You'll be back, don't worry about it. This is just part of the grind."
Hearing that from your dad is a lot different than hearing it from anyone else, so that motivated me. I didn't want to let him down.
When I was finally healthy enough to play, the Blues sent me to San Antonio to get some conditioning. My dad made it there to watch me play, and I think that made him really proud. It wasn't the NHL, but it was still pro hockey, so that was a really proud moment for both of us.
A little over a month ago - the day after our first preseason game - I woke up to about 10 missed calls from my sister, Melanie. When I called her back, she told me that dad had a heart attack in his sleep and was in the hospital. He wasn't doing very well, and he wasn't awake where I could talk to him. I wasn't sure whether I should go home right away or stay in St. Louis - if my dad had the choice, he would have told me not to come home at all. He knows how much I love hockey and love being here, and that I had work to do if I was going to make this team.
But my dad was always there for me, so after talking with my teammates and coaches, I decided to go home to be there for him. Before I could leave, my mom, Cindy, called after practice to tell me that dad had passed away. I didn't get to see him before he died, so I never got to say goodbye. But when I traveled home for the funeral, I thought about our last phone conversation.
It was just before our first preseason game in Dallas. Most of our conversations were pretty similar: How you doing? What's new? What are you up to? And then came the typical dad pregame speech: Keep the feet moving and play hard. He was always coaching me, even until the very end. He may not have known the most about hockey - he never coached in the pros or anything - but he knew about hard work and how important that was in anything you do, whether it was selling newspapers, performing surgery or playing hockey. He said you had to go 100 percent all the time. That was probably one of the last things he told me.
Just go hard. Do your thing.
So that's what I'm trying to do.
You know how it's always hard to remember your dreams? I never remember any of mine, but the day after my dad died, I had a dream that I remember very well. It was just me and dad, driving in his car listening to his old rock 'n roll music. Nothing major, but it was just him and me, and he was happy. It was almost like he was telling me that he's resting easy and he's happy where he is now.
I don't think it's by accident that I'm having probably the best stretch of hockey I've ever had. I mean, part of the credit goes to my linemates Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron - they're such good players. But I think my dad is definitely watching over and helping out a little bit, and I think he will continue to stay right there and keep watching over. He's probably beside himself up there, seeing that I'm playing and having fun and loving every minute of it. For my dad, the success, as far as goals and points go, was always just a bonus.
Before I wrap up, let me tell you one more thing.
My dad was always a sentimental guy. He kept all of my skates from when I was a kid, and once I turned pro, he was always asking me for jerseys, shirts, sticks and gloves to keep as mementos from my career. I even signed a game-used stick for him. I wrote: Dad, thanks for all you do. I wouldn't be where I am now without you. Love, Zach.
We buried my dad with that stick, and that means a lot to me, knowing that part of me will always be with him.
So again, thanks for everything dad. I miss you, and I wouldn't be here without you.
I just wanted to make sure you knew.