To the greatest hockey fans on the planet:
Every once in a while, my cell phone will buzz with a notification from the NHL app, reminding me about some young star lighting up the league.
It's at times like this I feel lucky I don't have to try and keep up with these darn kids anymore. I am not sure when it happened, but the kids got really good at hockey and really hard to chase around.
It's at times like these, I feel happy I'll be chasing my own kids around.
Growing up I'd race home from school on cold winter days to my home in White Bear Lake, grab my skates and play until dinner. It's weird to think about, but I was a first generation hockey player. No one on either side of my family had ever played and I had no business playing the game.
My parents didn't know it at the time, but they bought me a winning lottery ticket when they chose the home they did.
I grew up in a neighborhood with families and friends that knew and played hockey. Those people put up rinks and spent countless hours flooding, painting, installing lights, and clearing the snow so their kids and I could play.
And play we did.
I sometimes wonder what life would be like if my folks didn't pick that home. Without that rink, that spot and those people, I never would have played. And I never would have played in front of you.
In the mid-1990s, White Bear Lake had a strong youth program and a plethora of good coaches. Many of these coaches didn't have sons on my team, they just loved hockey.
As everyone in Minnesota knows, hockey around here isn't just something to kill time in the winter ... it's a passion. For so many, it's a labor of love.
At 18 years old, I remember being bummed the Gophers didn't want me. So many of my memories growing up involved me wearing a maroon and gold jersey.
I didn't know it at the time, but it ended up being one of the best things to ever happen to me because Minnesota State did want me. The coaches in Mankato were the best I have played for. My teammates there were also some of the best I have played with.
I often think about the day I choose to leave school, a day that came following my sophomore year in college. I recall being nervous.
First world problems, right? I get it ... who would't want to leave the "burden" of school behind and play a kids' game?
But I had great teammates and coaches, I was in Minnesota and most importantly, I was close to home. I had everything a kid could ask for and it was hard to simply walk away from it. And for what? To uproot myself and move to a foreign place? In the end, I took a leap of faith.
My first year in pro hockey was an eye opener. I was constantly shuttling between the AHL and the NHL.
I got hit harder.
I got beat up more.
But when it was all over I had my name inscribed on a cup made of sterling silver. I didn't really even know what it meant at the time. Guys on that team had played nearly 20 years trying get what I got in my first year.
Now that it's over, I understand.
The next handful of years flew by. I was just trying to stay and survive in the NHL. It wasn't easy, but I managed to survive for almost a decade in the best hockey league in the world.
I couldn't have done it without the dozens of people who influenced me, coached me, supported me and loved me. So many of these people had nothing to gain from it, other than the fact they were just good and caring people.
It is because of these people that I am forever lucky.