A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the sport of hockey has helped my son and I to bond and has aided us in the healing process of his year-old diagnosis of Aplastic Anemia, a life-threatening condition in which the bone marrow malfunctions. I’d like to follow that article up by highlighting some recent events which culminated in my son getting a chance to experience his first National Hockey League game with a few surprises mixed in for good measure.
For many months now, my son’s blood counts have been stable due to some life-saving therapeutic interventions that he received about this time last year. Prior to stability, it was not safe for him to be around other people or in public places for the fear of him catching something that his body could not fight off. As we received the results from his March visit to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one thing was abundantly clear to me: I could finally begin to let him spread his wings again. The first order of business? A Flyers game in South Philadelphia.
The date was set; it would be April 7th against the Metropolitan Division rival New York Islanders. I picked this game for two reasons:
- I already had tickets
- Despite being a HUGE Flyers fan, my son has an underground admiration for John Tavares (can’t blame him on that one)
The day before the game, I spoke with my ticket representative and inquired as to whether or not it would be possible to obtain a certificate signifying that it was his first game. She knows what he has been through and how big of a step this game would be. What she did next blew me away.
“Can you make it here by 5:45 for a 7pm start?” she asked. A bit of an unusual request I thought, but then she hit me with the reasoning: “We’d like for you and your son to sit on the Flyers bench for the pregame skate.” In awe, I let a few moments go by before vibrantly declaring that we would absolutely be there and how appreciative I was that they would do this for my son. My wife and I agreed to keep this as a surprise and I would only inform him moments before we were to go down to the bench.
On game day, my son could barely hold in his excitement. He had been to one American Hockey League game a few years back before his illness but had never seen the Flyers play in person. He was dressed and ready to go HOURS before it was time to make the journey to the Wells Fargo Center.
As we made our way to the rink, I quizzed him on the Flyers and Islanders and he passed with flying colors as usual. He named the captains, goaltenders and various other players from each team. This kid was ready for the action! We arrived before the doors opened to make absolutely sure that we were there on time. I checked us in and proceeded to tell my son that we would be watching the team skate from the bench before the game. Wide-eyed, he acted like a kid in a candy store. The excitement oozed from every pore on his body. Already excited myself, I became overjoyed with the idea that his first experience would include being about two feet away from all of the players that he so religiously follows on a daily basis. We were taken into the bowels of the building, past the Flyers locker room and out onto the bench.
For those not familiar with the challenges of Aplastic Anemia, know that it is important for those affected to NOT sustain serious head injuries due to the risk of bleeding. With that said, a logical concern would be what would happen if he were hit by a stray puck. My concerns were quickly alleviated.
Before long, the players hit the ice and my son was in hockey heaven. Heck, even I felt like a 12-year-old watching some of my favorite players fly by. Surprisingly, most players used some form of acknowledgement even though they were in preparation for what would be an intense 60 minutes of hockey. Zac Rinaldo skated by and gave my son a face wash while Nicklas Grossmann stopped by to stretch and give him a fist bump. Former Flyer-turned-analyst Chris Therien was also on the bench and went out of his way to say hello and mention how fantastic it was that he was at his first Flyers game.
His favorite Flyer, Claude Giroux, was down by the net working on one-timers but a few others managed to skate by so he could get an up close view.
As warmups came to and end, we made our way back to the concourse level where the team had a goodie bag prepared for him with t-shirts, key chains, bracelets, posters and other cool gifts. We ascended to our seats in the mezzanine level just in time to hear Lauren Hart, the best anthem singer in the NHL, perform the Star-Spangled Banner.
As the game got under way, my little man watched intently as if he were a scout that was tasked with following the play of 10 guys all at once.
He would get to experience two very cool aspects of a live hockey game for the first time.
2. GAME-WINNING GOAL
Other than my wedding day and the birth of my two children, this was one of the greatest days of my life. Hockey has been, and continues to be, such a big part of our lives and my son and I have become inseparable because of it. It has gotten us through the toughest of times and continues to get us by when the road gets a little bumpy every once in a while. I owe my happiness to this sport and this team as the combination has brought so much joy to my four-year-old who at a point in time was not able to really enjoy anything. The Flyers are not just a first-class organization; they are a world-class organization.
These moments spent with my son, my best friend, my mini-me are why I truly am healed by hockey.
Have a heartwarming hockey story? Please share in the comments below and/or chat with me on twitter @healedbyhockey