“Do you miss playing at all?” Mr. Weltner asked me as we caught up with each other at the Prudential Center two months ago during a New Jersey Devils game.
I paused and zoned out before I answered him, and a million memories and feelings ran through my head; “Eh, it’s kinda’ hard to explain…”
He then stole the words right out of my mouth that I couldn’t seem to put together…
“Or do you just miss the camaraderie?” He asked again.
It was just the word I was looking for, and it sparked in my head right away.
“You know what you’re exactly right. I honestly don’t necessarily miss playing…I miss the camaraderie and just being around the guys, and hanging out in the locker room and what not, the laughs…” I said as I nodded my head and sipped my drought beer.
I named several reasons to why I don’t miss “the playing part” of the game to him. (That I’ll explain in detail another time) As those millions of emotions quickly ran through my head, and an old familiar adrenaline rush ran through my body, I toasted my beer towards “Mr. Weltz” and said, “I was very lucky to have played with a great group of guys.”
Something was recently brought to my attention that not only made me miss the camaraderie even more that I had with the guys, but also ignited a little flame back into my hockey instinct, was an old pregame note of Coach Derek’s.
After reading this old speech I couldn’t help but think of the conversation I had with Mr. Weltz, and how it refreshed so many unforgettable memories from being with the guys. Especially the passion and intensity Coach Derek and Kanaly used to give us before we hit the ice together.
I was sitting down in a beautiful and warm temperature Florida environment when I saw this old note, and had just worn “The Lucky Jersey” the night before, that has Derek’s last night name on the back of it, at a Tampa Bay Lightning-Chicago Blackhawks game.
Suddenly, I zoned out. I felt like I was 18 years old again, felt the coldness of being inside the rink at Winding River, the focused zone I would get into five minutes before a game had started, and I could hear the locker room chatter and laughs I used to experience with my teammates.
There I was again, listening to Coach Derek’s voice, motivating us like no one other before a game. I could see him slowly pacing around the room in his black CCM warmup suit, red flex-fit Blackhawks hat, and his brown curly flow coming out from underneath it.
He would make eye contact with all of us as he looked around as we sat circled around in full uniform. He would nod his head assuring us with confidence we would do exactly what he addressed to us, as you see in the note.
He spoke to us like a true leader, as the adrenaline rush would flow through our cold veins. I would always start to shake my left leg, and pound my gloves together, and see other guys doing the same and nodding their heads as they were inspired and more than pumped to take the ice.
I heard him get louder and more enthusiastic, as he always did at the end of his pregame pep talk, “Let’s fucking go, buckets on gentlemen! Capp, get your boys up and bring ‘em in!” As he addressed either Captain Alex Guimaraes, or myself in my final year season with the guys.
You could feel the energy and intensity in the room as we put on our helmets, heard the simultaneously clicking sounds of our buckles from our helmet straps, and all stood up in uproar.
Coach Derek and Kanaly would walk out with their heads down, and leave the last two minutes of the pregame to just us. I was lucky to have played with good players and leaders like, “Philly,” Tom Phillips. Philly would have some words to get us charged up. He would walk around in the middle of the huddled circle and look at all his teammates, head-butt helmets with us, and shout “Let’s go Mick! Get us going!”
It would be my turn to speak up, “Alright fellas, let’s take care of the little things out there, and shoot to score…give me ‘Pride’ on three.”
All 21 of us would be squished tightly together, and would throw our hands up and yell, “Pride,” as loud as we could.
It didn’t matter if our record was 10-0, or 2-8 at the time. Our coaches brought the same intensity to the locker for us every game, night in and night out.
It didn’t matter if I was in Florida, New Jersey, or anywhere else in the country when I read that note – I was brought back to “our” locker room, the pregame, where “the little things” became bigger things.
I say I miss the camaraderie, but then I come to the realization that unlike playing hockey…the camaraderie that was cultured amongst us… can never fade.
We played with “heart and the desire to win…”