I've been going to New York Rangers games with the same buddies for the past 13 years. This year is different. Sometimes life throws you a curve ball. One of those buddies moved away. The other one has Cancer. This year, Opening Night at Madison Square Garden was a date marked on my calendar for all the wrong reasons. Hockey has always been a distraction for us. Through the good times and the bad. This year it was hard to predict who would even be at the game with me. Year after year, we would meet at the seats. The start of each new season brought a sense of hope. That's the beauty of sports. With each new year, comes a fresh start. With one of my friends hundreds of miles away and the other one battling for his life, Hockey season hardly seemed a priority.
Then I realized that Opening Night was actually more important this year than it has ever been. I spoke to my friend who is sick, during the week leading up to the game. I told him that I'd keep the ticket available for him until the last minute. I knew he'd been feeling awful as of late and it would be tough for him to commit.
"Dude. If you feel up to it, just call me that day. I'd love to see you there on Opening Night."
He said he can't make any promises but he'd try his best to make it.
"I want to be there bro. I just don't know how I'm gonna feel."
The night before the game, I thought to myself that if my buddy was gonna make it out, then I needed to let him know how important it was to me to have him there. I wanted him to know that it was more than a game.
Adam Graves is a former New York Ranger. He happens to be one of the greatest Blueshirts to ever don the sweater. Adam is still a prominent figure in the organization and is known for his selfless commitment to local philanthropies, as well as, being a stellar human being. I took a chance and sent him an email in the hope that my buddy would indeed make it to the game.
This is what I wrote:
I've been a Rangers fan my whole life and a season subscriber for 13 years. I'll be at opening night tomorrow and for many reasons, it will be an emotional night for me. For the past 13 years, myself and two of my best friends have been going to the games together. Lot's of great times. This year one moved away with his family, so he won't be going to the games with us. Then a few months ago, the other one found out that he has Cancer. He's been pretty sick. He had to stop working and he's lost about 30 lbs. It's in his stomach, liver and lungs. We've known each other since we were 12 and reconnected after years apart in 1994 at MSG of all places during the cup run. We've been going to the games together ever since. Obviously because of his health, it's impossible for him to commit to the games this year. This leaves me with an empty seat on most nights. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of my buddy and the battle he's having right now. We both have little kids and stuff like this really hits you in the heart. His health is obviously bigger than any game but The Blueshirts have always bonded us through the years. I spoke to him yesterday and he said he's going to do whatever he can to get to opening night tomorrow. I'm hoping he feels up to it. I know it's last minute but I was hoping that if he made it to the game with me, there might be some way you could arrange to have some sort of meet and greet or special experience, no matter how simple, for him before or after the game. I'm not sure how many of these he'll get to see in the coming months and something tells me that if I can, I should try and make it a special night for him. I understand if you're too busy. I know you probably get 100's of these a week. I just thought I'd give it a shot.
The morning of the game, I received a call on my cell phone. It was Adam Graves. He asked how my friend was feeling and if I thought he'd make it to Opening Night. I told him that as of yesterday, he planned on coming. Adam said he would send someone to our seats to get us during the game. He said that he reserved a private sky box for us to watch a period with him. Just the three of us. I was blown away by his kindness. I had goosebumps.
My buddy made it out that night and we saw our beloved Rangers beat the Ottawa Senators 5-2. We also spent about 40 minutes shooting the shit with one of our heroes. My buddy cried when he realized that Adam and I arranged the whole night for him. I cried too. Everyone always asks me why Hockey is so important to me. Everyone always wants to know why I get so crazy over a Rangers win or a loss.
The answer couldn't be clearer. Hockey heals. Sometimes heroes really make a difference.
On Opening Night 2009, I was not Out-Numbered. I was overwhelmed...
If you or anyone you know or love has a child that has been affected by Cancer or any other crisis, please consider supporting The Garden of Dreams Foundation. Garden of Dreams is a non-profit charity that works closely with all areas of Madison Square Garden, “to make dreams come true for kids in crisis”. In the two years since its inception, Garden of Dreams has worked tirelessly to fulfill its mission by creating unique and unforgettable events and activities -often involving unprecedented access to Madison Square Garden celebrities, events and venues -that have brightened the lives of thousands and thousands of special children and their families.