BostonBruins.com - Three friends, hockey players and loyal Bruins fans enjoyed Tuesday night's 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was a carefree night, with family and friends.
Armando LaRouco had a chance to see his kids' smiles after the big win, and to see them light up again when Patrice Bergeron visited with them, signed autographs and took photos following the game.
The night will be in their memories for a while.
And the truth that was very near and dear was that he may not have been there to enjoy those moments.
In late October, off-duty Scituate Firefighter-Paramedics Geoffrey Downing and Chris Collins were playing a pick-up hockey game in Pembroke, Mass. with LaRouco, when he collapsed and suffered a heart attack on the ice. Downing and Collins sprang into action.
"It's unbelievable, you know, to think that the lights went out literally and figuratively, and just to be here with these guys who have brought me back," said LaRouco, proudly clad in Bruins hooded sweatshirt with the Spoked-B on the front.
"To be able to be here with my family and see them grow up, it's a gift that I can never repay to these two guys."
Downing, Collins and LaRouco were all recognized during the second intermission of Tuesday's game as the Bruins and the American Heart Association teamed up for Heart Health Night, presented by Tufts Medical Center. It marked the ninth straight year that the Black and Gold hosted such a night.
Those affected by heart disease were invited to the game to take part in various fan experiences throughout the game, and all in-game fundraising, including the 50/50 raffle, benefited the American Heart Association. B's staff members were decked out in red attire and wearing heart health pins to support the cause.
"It was great. It's unbelievable. It's surreal," said Collins, trying to find the words. "It's just unbelievable. I'm happy we were there that night for Armando and it's just - unbelievable. I had a lot of fun."
While Downing and Collins have years of experience as Firefighter-Paramedics, it can't be understated how much everyone at the rink that day lent a hand in saving LaRouco's life.
"And there were other guys who were out on the ice with us, we've got to remember them," LaRouco made sure to note. "They ran out and got the AED [Automated External Defibrillator] and everything, but these guys were the ones doing the heavy lifting, so we're all forever grateful. I could never repay them, that's for sure."
It takes a full support cast in these situations.
"It does, it does. And it's a great group of guys," said LaRouco.
I can't help but think about former Bruins Rich Peverley's near-death experience last season when he collapsed on the Dallas Stars' bench during a game. The speed with which the training and medical staff jumped into action was heralded.
These heroic acts and genuine moments often happen without anyone knowing. I was privileged to witness the gratefulness among these three friends, and it made a lasting impression.
In their jobs, Downing and Collins encounter challenges every day.
Bergeron showed his gratitude for what they do on a daily basis, and for what they were able to do jumping into action during the pick-up game.
But no one in the room was more grateful than LaRouco.
"I am forever indebted to them," he said, gesturing to Downing and Collins standing right beside him.
The American Heart Association uses a tag line - "Life is Why" - to help promote heart health and efforts to reduce death caused by heart disease and stroke. The Association not only provides resources for healthy living and emergency care like CPR and First Aid training, but also for patients and loved ones recovering from the aftermath of heart disease or a stroke.
"We both knew CPR and were able to defibrillate him and he's here [at this game] and able to have this holiday season with his family, and also coach them as hockey players," said Downing. "And that's a connection we'll always share."
Because of their training, and the support cast of bystanders who were well-informed and able to jump quickly into action, LaRouco could share this night at a Bruins game with his family - and Bergeron.
"Keep working on those faceoffs," Bergeron smiled to LaRouco's son, before heading out of the room.
His son, clad in a No. 33 Zdeno Chara jersey (newly minted with Bergeron's autograph), looked up and smiled back. His daughter, rocking the No. 37 jersey, smiled. His other son, wearing Cam Neely's No. 8, smiled. Their mother smiled, too. And so did their father.
To learn more about the American Heart Association and the resources that they offer, visit www.heart.org.