Through his sorrow, a father explains how his love for hockey comes from what it gave to his children
By Perry Grosser
Someone brought up the subject of hockey to me this past week. They said that they recall that both Andrew and I loved hockey and it was a common bond we shared. It held us together and we enjoyed it together. Yes, we both loved hockey—but for very different reasons. The same is true for Nicole—she loves hockey as much as Andrew and I, but for a different reason.
Andrew loved the sport of hockey. He loved the feeling of skating, the freedom of being on skates and gliding along, the feel of the stick and playing the puck. He loved to check, take the puck away, take a shot, and fight in front of the crease. He was immensely into just playing the game, but there was something deeper for him: He just lived to be on the team. He went around with the team, went out to meals and hung out at school with them, and constantly reiterated and lived what his coaches taught him: the team is your family, and always will be.
It was Andrew’s teammates and coaches who called and emailed us right after we lost him. Those who could not make the funeral sent their parents. The team sent food and condolences for weeks afterwards. To this day, I email and Facebook-message several of his teammates. They want to make sure we are doing okay, and they share what is going on in their lives and how Andrew is so missed by them.
Hockey to Andrew was part of his life. He did not identify himself solely through hockey, but he did know that hockey and his hockey family were a large part of his life.
Nicole is slightly different. She enjoys being on a team and most of her friends, if not all of them, are related to hockey. She spent summers at hockey camps and every weekend with her hockey friends, and texts them constantly. But she is drawn to hockey because of her competitive nature. She enjoys being the goalie. She thrives on the pressure of being in the net, game after game. Her teammates and coaches rely on her and she knows that—and that is her love of the game.
She was at a tournament a few years ago and another team’s goalies could not play due to illness. Their coach asked Nicole if she could play for their team (through her coach, of course). Even though this team was a competitor to her team and her team would play them later on, Nicole was thrilled to be in the net for another game. It didn’t really matter who she played for, only that she was in the net and that these strangers were relying on her to play her heart out. And she did: they won 3–1.
Another time when she was younger, probably in ninth grade, a well-known prep school had two sick goalies, both out with SARS for a couple of weeks. After some finagling and approval by her school and the prep school league, Nicole was asked to fill in for this team as well. She was already playing for her school team that weekend as well as for her travel team, but we managed to fit in two more games and an hour travel time each way—for two consecutive weekends. It was a very hectic time for us, but Nicole thrived. She played and played and played, but it was what she loves to do.
They both love the game but as you can see, for very different reasons. Andrew loved being on a team, being part of a family, hugging his teammates after a goal, and being known as a Mariner or a Titan. Nicole loves the competition. She loves to make the stops, to stifle the competition, to play for any team that needs an advantage in the net. She loves to be known as the goalie—behind any jersey, just to be in the net.
And then you may ask, why do I love the game? Is it for the competition? Is it for being a Rink Rat for years? Or is it for the 10-plus years I coached and helped kids grow into great players? None of these, really, although I loved them all.
I love the game for what it gave to my children. I love the game for the thousands of hours—yes, thousands—of quality time with Andrew and Nicole that it afforded me. Driving with them to and from over a thousand games, dozens and dozens of tournaments all over the northeast, or to the hundreds and hundreds of hours of practices where I had the chance to share the ice with them as their coach and mentor.
I can’t recall how many trophies or medals we won as a team with either of them. But I remember the amazing feeling that I had while hugging Nicole right on the ice, after the state championship game where she delivered a shutout. Or the feeling I had when she won the Christopher Reeve Sportsmanship Trophy and I was standing next to her when she received it. Or the feeling when Andrew’s team beat amazing odds and defeated teams that they were not supposed to beat just because they were a family, and the others were not. Or when Andrew’s teammates voted him captain of the team and I was in the locker room to see his reaction. You can see in the pictures my smile—not for winning a piece of plastic, or for winning a medal, but for the joy and happiness the sport brought to my most precious children.
We have gone to tons of New York Rangers and New York Islanders games. We have sat in sky boxes, press boxes, the owner’s box, and by the glass. Andrew had conversations with [retired national anthem singer] John Amirante before he sang; Nicole had lunches with [former Islanders owner] Charles Wang, and has been to closed Islanders practices. They have both ridden the Zamboni, and have been to team parties. They have experienced so much happiness and thrills, smiles and excitement, and have learned so much thanks to their involvement with hockey. And again, we have spent so much good, quality, happy family time together as a result of our family’s ties to hockey.
That is why I love hockey. Not for what I took from the game, but for what the sport gave to my children.
Perry Grosser, MBA, MS, is the owner of Panda Technology Group, a Westchester County, NY-based computer and technology consulting service and an ACT! Certified Consultant. He has coached his son and daughter and played on the NY Rink Rats, a local rec hockey team. His blog, Never Forget Andrew–An On-Going, Long-Term Project, is dedicated to keeping the memory of his son alive.