Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Summer of Sadness. . .

In light of too many deaths in our hockey community in the last few months, what are we, as hockey fans, supposed to take out of these tragedies?

- For make no mistake, they are, indeed, all tragedies. All the more tragic each time we are given a reminder of one of them. All the more tragic when we think of all those that have been touched by them.

What do we make of it? What sense can possibly be made of things that are, let's be honest - seemingly without sense.

We can mourn. And we should. We can think. And we should. And can learn. And that we most definitely should.

Derek Boogaard died of a drug overdose, after battling demons of addictions. He is certainly not the first and he sadly, will probably not certainly be the last. What happened was tragic and I feel badly how easily and quickly something like that can happen. I want to remember him as the gentle giant his teammates spoke of him as, a charitable man with a big heart, who happened to find his role in the NHL as a fighter and protector. I wish we all would have had the chance to see him play more in New York. I don't know everything about hockey, or anything, for that matter, but I know I will look at those things as commendable. Being a good person, a good teammate. I will remember Derek Boogaard that way. The way his family, friends, and teammates would have wanted him to be remembered.

Rick Rypien died, and circumstances are still unsure surrounding his death. It was speculated it may have been suicide, although details are still not entirely clear. Regardless, it seemed to have been a case of a hockey player - a person, as hockey players are all people first and foremost - who struggled with a battle of depression. These things aren't easy, and it's easy to dismiss that we don't understand. I didn't know Rick Rypien very well as a hockey player, so instead, I will speak to the person that everyone spoke so well of, a respected teammate and player. I will remember Rick Rypien that way. The way his family, friends, and teammates would have wanted him to be remembered.

Wade Belak died, after committing suicide, another person suffering a battle with depression. This one grabbed me a little more, because to me, after years of following the Maple Leafs, Belak was the most well known name of the three, until obviously this last year in New York when Boogaard became a Ranger. Belak retired and seemed poised to start a broadcast career, as well as do Battle of the Blades, on the CBC. It raises questions, as does so much of life, and there are sometimes simply no answers. Another enforcer, he was spoken highly of, as a teammate and friend. The quotes I read from long time Leaf teammate Tie Domi, were especially poignant. I will remember Wade Belak that way. The way his family, friends, and teammates would have wanted him to be remembered.

Last week a plane carrying an entire KHL team - Lokomotiv Yaroslavl - crashed, taking with it the lives of 44 people, most hockey players, coaches, and staff, many of which were former NHL players. There are no answers, just lots of sadness from former teammates, friends, and family, countries and an entire hockey community. Three former Rangers - Jan Marek, Karel Rachunek, and 1994 Stanley Cup Champion Alexander Karpovtsev - were on that plane. Players like Ruslan Salei and Pavol Demitra were household hockey names to fans of the game. Countries were affected. An entire team is gone. The hockey community mourns, and rightfully so. I can't speak to all of them individually, but each loss is tragic. And each loss comes without warning or preparation. All we are left with is memories. Of them as players who have worn our jerseys, and the jerseys of their countries. They were hockey players. I will remember them that way. The way their families, friends, and teammates would have wanted them to be remembered.

So what sense can we make of these tragedies - all tragedies in their own right. It seems not much, but we owe it to each and every one of them to try.

On one level:
Don't assume you ever know the whole story.
Reach out to your friends. See how they are doing and let them know you are there.
Let people you love know how much you love them.
Assure them that they are not alone.
It may not prevent a tragedy, but you never know what a smile or a kind word can do for someone.
Be there.
Be kind.
Be a good person.
Try to let go and be a bigger person. A happier person. A more forgiving person.

On a second level:
Be thankful for today.
Don't put things off you want to do.
Live in the moment.
Try not to worry.
Tell people you love them.
Embrace life.
Embrace the good and the bad and all in-between.
Embrace everything.

We may never be able to make sense of what happened this summer to our teammates, our friends - our players. But we can make the most of their memories by honoring them as their families, friends, and teammates would want them to be honored. By showing respect. By being good people. And by living our lives to the fullest we possibly can.

Not every day we get a constant reminder in our daily routine that life is short.

This summer, we as hockey fans, as part of hockey's family - well we got simply too many.

Bless our players.
Bless our sport.
Hockey forever, in heart and in mind.

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