The New Jersey Devils had a matinee game against the Carolina Hurricanes where I sat thirteen rows behind their goaltender Kevin Weekes. The Devils won an exciting game 4-1, and one of my favorite players of all time, Devils center Scott Gomez, had a two-point performance.
But, the game itself wasn’t what made that Valentine’s Day memorable for me.
A random act of kindness by Scott Gomez made a 12-year old fan’s dream come true.
I had been going to Devils games for almost ten years by then, and every once and awhile I would see a fan receive a player’s stick after being announced one of the three stars of the game while heading back into the players tunnel.
Fans would reach over the tunnel railing and get a fist pound from the players and shout out desperately asking for one of the player’s sticks they used during that game. So, being the fanatic that I am, it finally got to the point where I wanted to try and do the same.
I had gone to the game that day with my Aunt, parents, and a friend of mine. I was very animate the entire drive up and during the game that I had this feeling “I was going to get a stick” from one of the Devils.
As the end of the game drew near my friend and I planned out how we would sneak down into the section behind the Devils bench, so we could position ourselves right next to the player’s tunnel.
With about five minutes left in regulation we hustled over to the section. We were lucky enough by the time we got over there that it was a stoppage-of-play and convincingly ran past the usher like we owned the place.
We managed to somehow grab two empty seats directly next to the tunnel. As Arsena announced that it was the final minute of regulation, more fans began to head over to where we were located, and space suddenly got very tight.
But, at 12-years old I was determined, and was not going to let anyone push me out of the way. As all of the players headed off the ice three Devils were chosen as the three stars of the game, Patrick Elias, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez.
Elias was called to come back out to the ice first as the third star. Myself and a group of at least 15 others all squeezed in tightly together in the small section yelling, “Patty! Elias! Patty! Stick! Can we get a stick?”
He fist pounded us with his huge boxy looking gloves and disappeared underneath the tunnel. Gionta was called out as the second-star, where we witnessed the same outcome and response as Elias.
Next up was Gomez, or as some referred to him as, “Gomer.” I immediately turned my head to my left, leaned over the railing as far as I possibly could, as it gutted and pained my stomach. I yelled out as loud as I could as Gomez walked up out of the tunnel…
“Gomer! Stick! Can I have a stick! Gomer!” Gomez rolled past us, giving us fist pounds with that large, joyful smile he normally had on his face.
He smiled his way onto the ice, saluted the crowd, and circled back off onto the tunnel runway. My reach was now further than ever, and my little 12-year old voice somehow outweighed everyone else’s.
“Gomer! Can I please have a stick? Gomer!” I yelled one last time as he approached us.
Boom, there it was.
Everything went into slow motion for me as Gomez slyly slid his bright yellow TPS Response XN-10 into my small hand, blade first. A feeling like I had just won the lottery overcame me. I think I had even lost my breath for a moment and stopped breathing with my shocked wide-eyed face; and it wasn’t from leaning so hard over the railing guard either.
With my right hand and the help of my friend we pulled in the long yellow composite stick.
“Woo, we got it! We got one!” We cheered and laughed in celebration and utter disbelief. I had people around us slapping me on my back congratulating me left and right, as I could hear different reactions all around me…
“Wow! That’s awesome dude;” “Honey, did you see that? This kid here got a stick from Gomez;” Hey, congrats buddy!”
As people cleared out I finally had room to look over where my family had been sitting and lift the yellow stick up in the air with one arm, it felt like I had just scored a goal for the New Jersey Devils myself.
As I walked up the old cement stairs at Continental and out into the concourse I was once again mobbed my compliments and questions like, “Hey who’s is it? –Oh Gomez’s! That’s awesome kid!” “Hey you’re so lucky, that’s so cool!”
The reactions and statements out loud surrounded me like paparazzi around a celebrity on the red carpet. I felt like the “coolest kid in my class” as I headed back towards my parents. It was an overwhelming feeling of joy and sense of relief too, like I just finished my first ever marathon.
I wasn’t letting go of that thing for the rest of the night. I held and treated it like my newborn child, and first son.
It’s the little things in the sport of hockey and life, like Scott Gomez simply giving a young fan his game used stick after a win. He didn’t have to do that at all, but he gets it. As Randy McKay once told him, “…we’re still just a bunch of kids playing this game…”
It’s the little things, like I heard MSG broadcaster Deb Placey Kaufman once say how she thought young fans should look to having an “actual moment” or conversation with a professional athlete, rather than just getting an autograph – which I completely agree with, and inspires me.
It’s the little things that make guys playing in the NHL more than just a professional athlete, or a celebrity – but make them role models.