Celebrate, It’s Spring

There are still patches of snow scattered across your front lawn looking like random ice bergs in a sea of green, but they’re now melting away. The dark and cold Winter some of us may have experienced is beginning to fade, and the Sun now knows it’s time to start hanging around longer into the night.

I wake up to hear the sound of various types of birds chirping round-the-clock during the morning hours. Even if it’s still feeling like Winter outside they know it’s time to make their ambitious presence known to mother nature. The Sun and the birds are working together as a team to push their old friend Winter aside from his already elongated stay…To keep him away for at least another seven months.

I check my phone and see that it’s March 1st. I nod my head slowly, and like the birds and the Sun, I too know it’s time….Time to celebrate; time for Spring.

I’ve already confessed my love for Fall being my favorite season, but sorry October and November I also make room for March, April, and gorgeous May too.

Knowing it’s finally Spring is a time to celebrate for a few reasons.

When I see that it’s March 1st and hear those birds singing harmoniously to the neighborhood – they’re just preaching to the choir and letting me know my birthday and Spring are only 19 days away. March 20th, other than celebrating my birthday that day, mean’s that it’s time to celebrate because it’s “officially” Spring.

Spring arrives and brings something unique to the air. Flowers and trees begin to blossom with beautiful yellow and shades of pink colors, which create smiles all around; people suddenly change as Spring put a spell on them, and they become more friendly than usual…Well at least for us here in the Northeast. The neighborhood streets become more crowded as people begin to start walking and jogging. Funnily enough, that neighbor who never smiled or waved at you – now does, because they’ve even gotten a dose of Spring fever.

It’s not so much the case nor scene anymore with the younger guys in town, thanks to Apple and Verizon, but growing up we’d all start playing sports and taking full advantage of the weather that was given to us; wiffle ball and basketball tournaments took place everyday after school, and all day on Saturday’s that were full of sunshine, competitiveness, and laughter.

Speaking of basketball tournaments – what’s honestly better than the NCAA March Madness Tournament? It literally is “Madness” but a marvelous time for sports. Brackets are carefully being filled out and submitted to tourney pools all over with the hope that maybe this year you may just look like an actual “bracketologist” when the “Big Dance” finally ends.

When March 20th appears on your calendars – the celebration is in its prime. St. Patrick’s day just took place days before, and the Jameson shot’s may have just added to your liver problems, but it was all worth it right? Then, celebrating a birthday days after the holiday with Irish family and friends and not a care in the world – you can’t pass up, Slainte!

The end of March brings the popping sound of baseball bats that can be heard on TV’s or the park down the road from your place. It’s that time for Opening Day in the MLB, which has team’s cathedral-like stadiums erupt with crowd noise and fans toasting beers high in the air. Yes, even Met fans have something to cheer about on that day – a new beginning and season awaits, ha.

As April begins and sails by faster than ever, so do the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and NBA playoffs. Whether, you’re a fan or not of either sport – watch the playoffs or actually go to a game in person and I promise your perspective will change.

The NHL playoffs are true commitment and passion at its finest. Professional athletes – full grown men, skating full speed banging bodies into the boards, sliding on the ice blocking 100mph shots, and playing games that could last up to all hours of the night.

A playoff hero and memorable story is born when the guy who played on a team’s third line all year scores a double-overtime game winner, and can be seen smiling with missing teeth. His face is hidden behind a “Playoff beard” that has had people mistaken these unique athletes for cavemen at times.

Sure, the NBA is not my cup of tea, but seeing a guy hit a jump shot at the buzzer to force a game into overtime is simply classic. And, who knows….maybe this Spring Cleveland can finally celebrate with an actual purpose and see Lebron James, the prodigal son, bring a title to the “cursed” die-hard sports city.

Gorgeous May makes her appearance, and sets the tone as “the closer” for Spring. Beach fanatics can officially rejoice as their precious time in the Sun with their toes in the sand is right around the corner.

The boardwalks become more crowded than ever, and even with people who’ve never tried exercising before in their life – yeah they’re even outside at the boardwalk; while they may have a Strollo’s Italian ice in their hands they’re still out at the beach admiring May’s beauty, and the end of what Spring had to graciously offer us.

I may call Fall “Home,” but Spring is simply a party, and a time to celebrate.

Lights: Relationships

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It’s a never ending space with an abundance of lights…stars.

Some are brighter than others, and a few tend to catch your eye for some unexplained reason.

Most, but not all, of those lights we see in this never ending space burn out over time. They come and go – just like people in our lives.

With some of these bright burning lights we can connect the dots, and build constellations – lasting friendships.

Over time these constellations make imprints, and leave their blueprints for observers to see. They create not only visual maps, but physical directions and connections as well. They create a bond.

Sometimes, the stars you used to be able to look at, and connect the dots with…are no longer a constellation it seems, but now just an image in a history book.

Stars can burn out – some burn out for good. Others burn out slowly and slower than others.

But, if you keep searching some may find that there is hope.

Luckily, it seems that some stars and constellations can last forever.

Camaraderie

“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.

Camaraderie.

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.”


Pregame

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.

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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.

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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…”

#TeamDerekPercy

The Majestic: Stadium Series, Rangers-Devils

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View from luxury suite

 

Yankee Stadium, known for being the home of the 28-time World Series Champions, the New York Yankees.

During the months of April through October, typically the Stadium is being used as a baseball venue with the white and blue Yankee pinstriped uniforms filling up the seats surrounding its baseball diamond.

The sound of the “Bleacher Creatures” chants, “Der-ek Je-ter!” clap-clap-clap-clap-clap! – Can be heard from the outfield. The popping “Crack,” of a wooden bat making contact with a 90mph fastball thrown by a pitcher is heard throughout the stadiums seats and main concourses.

One of the Yankees’ biggest sponsors, Majestic Athletic, has a huge sign seen above the outfield seats, and most would say a Yankees game at Yankee Stadium in general is a “majestic” feeling and sight.

On January 26th 2014, Yankee Stadium was majestic for other reasons; crisp and frozen reasons that is.

On that day last year Yankee Stadium was host to the NHL’s Stadium Series matchup (professional outdoor hockey game) between crosstown rivals the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.

On that day, the sounds heard from the stadium were no longer about Derek Jeter, or a baseball bat cranking a ball out of the park.

On that day, the sounds heard were hockey fans jeering at each other, and chants for their hockey teams, “Let’s go Devils! Let’s go Rangers!”

No baseball chants.

The sounds of pucks ringing off steel iron posts plus them drilling into the side boards, and player’s skate’s cutting into the solid outdoor ice making continuous swishing noises.

Yankee Stadium had officially been transformed into a winter wonderland.

As a Devils fan, even though they had lost the game, it was the little things that had made the day so majestic.

My family and I, plus our family friend Uncle Jules, had gotten tickets to the game about seven months in advance – A classic group – Dad, Mom, Aunt Karen, and the infamous Uncle Jules – who had originally gotten me into hockey at a young age.

As we arrived to the Stadium it was nothing short of a classic scene. The temperature was in the 20’s, thousands of fans walking around in either blue or red jerseys and heavy jackets, and the three banners hung high outside the Stadium for the Devils, Islanders, and Rangers.

We entered the Stadium on the earlier side to check things out and see what the outdoor rink setup looked like on Yankee Stadium’s field.

The rink stretched across from the third baseline to the first baseline, so it was parallel to the center field fence.

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Everything was perfect. The atmosphere with the mix of the rowdy Rangers fans and the Devils diehard fans – yet both sides still appreciated what was taking place – a once and a lifetime experience.

As we walked outside to our seats, which were 20 rows up on down first baseline towards the right field corner; to the left behind Martin Brodeur’s net. I felt like I was in the world largest and most beautiful cathedral.

I could see my breath every time I spoke or laughed, like I just exhaled out a ton of smoke. The freezing cold weather – I had no animosity towards even with my toes and face going numb I loved it; it made the experience bitter sweet.

There I was – looking at this outdoor rink in Yankee Stadium at the age of 22 standing next to the guy who had gotten me into the sport of hockey at the age of five…laughing and hugging each other in acknowledgement to how cool the sight truly was in the freezing cold.

In that moment it seemed like yesterday I was in Uncle Jules’s driveway just learning how to skate and hold a hockey stick, learning the history of the Devils franchise, and energetically asking him to watch me make a move and shoot while I threw my arms up in the air like I was Patrick Elias.

We stood next to each other laughing while sipping on Jameson and toasting beers together, appreciating the sport and taking in everything else the moment had to offer.

What made it even better was the fact that yes – it began to snow once the game began. It was a picture perfect script to an outdoor hockey game in New York.

The Devils scored the first goal of the game, and who better than Patrick Elias to be the guy.

After he scored he threw his arms up in the air just like I did in Uncle Jules’s driveway back in the day, like a kid again.

At the same time the five of us all celebrated like the New York Giants had just scored the first touchdown in the Super Bowl; joyous hugs and smiles, and of course Jules and I took a swig of Jameson for good luck.

That game will always be one of my favorite events I’ve ever been to…

The fact that it was outside at Yankee Stadium…to the cold weather and snow coming down on the players, and fans that stood up from their seats for the entire game…

The Jameson and beers that kept us a little warmer after each sip…

The Rangers wearing their new pure white “chrome-logoed” Stadium Series jerseys, and the devils wearing their vintage red and green jerseys from the 1980’s…

The outdoors in the freezing cold was where hockey all began. It’s where most hockey players first started skating, on the pond outside.

Rangers – Devils at Yankee Stadium was a majestic sight and experience.

Jonathan Toews: Make a Wish Foundation

Last Season, Chicago Blackhawks’ all-star captain Jonathan Toews made one young fan’s dream come true during the Stadium Series which took place at Soldier field, Chicago.

I admire the way Toews plays and carries himself both on and off the ice. He is a true role model for not only hockey, but all professional athletes.

It’s the little things that Toews does on and off the ice where he earned his captaincy with the Blackhawks, and respect from just about everyone from around the league.

I refer to him as, “The Captain.”

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