Today is American Thanksgiving and for the first time this season, all 30 arenas in the NHL are dark. If you’re not in a playoff spot by now, chances are you won’t be when the NHL schedule wraps up in 134 days. But it’s also a day to reflect on your blessings regardless of what side of the 49th parallel you occupy.
Here are some of mine when it comes to hockey:
* I’m thankful for having grown up across the street from Rosemarie Playground in Sudbury. And I’m thankful to all the volunteers, the late Andy Mihaychuk in particular, for putting boards up, watering the rink and painting the lines on the ice in the dead of winter in northern Ontario. I’m also thankful to my mother for giving me hot chocolate and toast with brown sugar on it every time I came in from playing hockey outside.
* I’m thankful to my older brother, Jim, who gave me a book called Hockey Annual for Christmas in 1973, a compilation of hockey stories by Brian McFarlane. I was an 11-year-old kid who was known as a “reluctant reader,” but that book kick-started a love of reading and set me on the path to the living I’m making now as a hockey writer.
* I’m thankful for having a father who introduced me to hockey and the Montreal Canadiens and let me stay up late to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final between the Canadiens and the Chicago Black Hawks in 1971.
* I’m thankful for the NHL Center Ice Package.
* I’m thankful for the Sudbury Arena and the Sudbury Wolves, who helped plant the seed for the love of the game by allowing me to see a high level of hockey live.
* I’m thankful for the fact that I was moved out of the news department and into sports at the Timmins Daily Press in 1985, setting me on a career of writing about the world of fun and games.
* I’m thankful I still get to coach my son’s house league midget team.
* I’m thankful for getting the opportunity to know some of the brightest minds in hockey, people who also happen to be some of the best men in the game, people such as Ken Holland, David Conte, Ken Hitchcock, David Poile, Dean Lombardi, David Branch, Chris Pronger and Jim Nill.
* I’m thankful that I get to see the understated brilliance of Jonathan Toews on a regular basis.
* I’m thankful that fighting is organically weeding itself out of the NHL game.
* I’m thankful for the times I got to talk hockey with the late Pat Quinn and that I got to cover Mats Sundin for eight years.
* I’m thankful that NHL players, for the most part, are the friendliest, most accommodating, most articulate and most down-to-earth athletes in the world and I’m honored that some of them have shared their stories with me.
* I’m thankful for Sweden.
* I’m thankful for the people who disagree with my opinions.
* I’m thankful that I’ve had the privilege to work at nine World Junior Championships, 10 Stanley Cup finals, two Olympics and one World Championship and counting. I’m thankful my work has taken me all over North America and to Russia, Finland and the Czech Republic.
* I’m thankful analytics and advanced stats. My appreciation for what they add to the understanding of the game is growing daily.
* I’m thankful for the late Matthew Wuest, the founder and driving force behind Capgeek.com. He was one of the game’s true pioneers.
* I’m thankful for the T-shirt I bought at the 1995 WJC in Red Deer. It has been relegated strictly to bed wear, but it has given me many years of great service.
* I’m thankful that O-Pee-Chee made hockey cards in the 1970s. When you only got one or two games a week on television, there were players you never knew existed. I only knew about guys such as Nick Libbett, Duane Rupp and Juha Widing because I collected hockey cards.
* I’m thankful that I refereed hockey when I was in high school and have nothing by admiration for the job these people do in minor hockey.
* I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to watch Wayne Gretzky play live.
* I’m thankful for NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who always answers emails and shows an inordinate amount of patience in explaining the legal and business side of the game.
* I’m thankful that I can participate in hockey pools every year. It means I have the extreme luxury of disposable income.
* I’m thankful for every kid that I’ve had the opportunity to coach over the years. I’ve enjoyed the ride as much, or more, than they have. And I’m thankful for the lifetime friendships I’ve forged with some of their parents. I’m also thankful when I kid I haven’t coached in two years comes up to me at the rink and says, “Hi, Coach.”
* I’m thankful that The Hockey News gives me a platform and allows me to continue to work at the best job in the history of the world.