“Now, when I see my fellow hockey brothers like Tom Phillips, Connor Pizzulo, Andrew Nebus, Shane Kennedy, Alex Guimaraes, Eric Basilotto, Justin Woytanowski, Coach Kanaly, and etc. It’s the same tight grips and hugs I felt and experienced that day at Rich’s wake. Except there are some different feelings present.
Seeing my brothers starts with a big smile or a laugh, and a, “Yooo brotha!” Then, we don’t just shake hands; it’s always a big welcoming and warm hug. A hug similar to the ones I got from Rich’s parents that day. It’s a hug that starts with both of our right arms fully extending out, and ends with tightly gripping the other person’s right shoulder for seconds at a time, just like how I tightly gripped Rich’s suit jacket sleeve on that hot summer day.
It’s a tight grip and hug that’s out of pure appreciation and love for each other. It’s a mutual feeling and understanding that we’ll always have each other, and appreciate the little things. It’s a feeling of excitement and joy that we had something special, had special people in our lives, and still actually do have something unique and special, right now.
In some circumstances I’ve gone months or even a couple years without seeing some of my brothers. But, when we do see each other, it’s like I just saw them yesterday. It’s like I was just with them yesterday lacing up our skates before a practice or game; laughing our asses off about what we did the night before, like how drunk we got, or past memories we’ve had with each other.
Those same laughs and smiles appear when I see them now. Whether it is at a Devils game, crushing beers on a train ride up to Newark, a night out in Atlantic City, or even at a baseball game. Every single time we see each other there’s the same look in both our eyes. It’s a look of pride and emotion that we couldn’t be happier to see one another, or at least for me, ha.
I could be having the world’s shittiest day where everything that could possibly go wrong -is going wrong. But, when I see someone like Tom Phillips, Kennedy, Pizz, Neebs, Woytes, or Kanaly, everything changes. The world’s shittiest day magically disappears, and is immediately replaced with a high. It’s an adrenaline high I used to experience all the time back in our playing days with each other. We may have lost brothers, but nothing can ever take away the feelings, emotions, and unique friendships that were created years ago in Toms River, at Winding River.
Those tights grips and hugs I experience now sure are happy feelings, and almost a feeling of relief, different from Rich’s wake. But, even at Rich’s wake that same tight grip was all out of pure love and respect, just like the ones now.
It’s funny how now I continue to see my brothers more and more, especially after the passing of Derek, Weltz, and Rich. Seeing the guys only continues to inspire me and helps even more with writing our story. Most people have their College and High School buddies where they experience those “special” friendships and bonds. My “High School/College” buddies are my hockey brothers, and I am forever thankful for them.
I was recently telling an old teammate of mine how my travel hockey brothers are the guys I’ll be friends with forever, unlike certain people who may just be passing through. They’re the guys who will be present on my wedding day. They are the kind of friends that will always be there for each other.
They are the guys who I’ll be drinking beers with in the backyard at a BBQ, experiencing the same laughs from now and from back in the day. We’ll make similar toasts at all of our weddings, our children’s christenings , or that BBQ, and we’ll toast to what we have, to those we loved and have lost, and to those who taught us the little things and the lessons in not just hockey, but life.
Hockey is more than just a sport- It’s a life style….”