I was not always a hockey fan. I grew up in the South when there were only six NHL teams thus I had no understanding of this great sport. My dad took me to my first game at age 8 or 9. It was in Chicago when we visited the city in February of one year. I thought, as only a little boy, “This is a rough and fast game.” I was right. It is the fastest thing on ice.
Since I’ve never had a huge love affair with Chicago teams I saw a few Blackhawks games over my 41-plus years in Chicago. But I never got into the team or the sport that much. Then I met a Christian brother in the mid-1990s in Vancouver while doing a weekend conference in a church. Later that brother (Paolo, at the far right in the photo with me, my daughter Stacy, and my son Matthew, on Easter Sunday afternoon this week) became a good friend through an Internet relationship that then turned into a close face-to-face friendship. I was stunned when I found out that my friend was one of three brothers who owned the Vancouver Canucks. (I had not known this at all when we were getting acquainted. Paolo is not proud nor does he act like a “big time owner” of a major sports franchise. He is a deeply serious Christian but enjoys life, is very creative, and cares about people.) We then spent some time together in our home in May, 2009, and I was invited to see my first Canucks game an evening later. I was hooked on the sport and the team immediately. I have a signed jersey from 2009, with a photo of me and Paolo inside the box frame, mounted on a special "sports" wall in my home. Over the last two years I’ve followed the Canucks with a growing passion. I saw them play at the Rogers Arena in November 2009. I’ve seen them play the Blackhawks six times over the last three post-seasons in Chicago. (My record is 3-3.) I saw Game Three and Game Six this year. Last night was the decisive Game Seven. My friend had to be away from home all day on Easter Sunday (there was a game in Chicago) so took the train from the city to Carol Stream and worshiped with us on Easter and came to our son’s home for our family lunch. We again enjoyed the sweetest of Christian friendship together.
So, with all this in mind you might now realize why I was rooting, I mean really rooting, for the Canucks to win last night. Just near midnight Chicago time Stacy and I almost went into fits of delirium when the Canucks star Alex Burrows scored the overtime winning goal to eliminate Chicago, their playoff nemesis. (Anita was in dreamland!) It was really sweet. In fact, it was one of my happier moments in my long interest in sports. Why? I have a real personal interest in a team that I have come to know a great deal about and in a person who I count as my friend, a friend who is deeply related to his city and their beloved hockey team. Vancouver will be a happy place today. I wish it to them. They hosted the Olympics and won the Gold Medal. Now if they can win the Stanley Cup it will be true delight for so many.
So if you heard a huge sigh of relief last night, and a big yell that rocked a house, it likely came from our home in Carol Stream when the Canucks won 2-1 in sudden death overtime in one of the more thrilling hockey games I’ve ever seen. Chicago has every reason to be proud of their champions. Now I hope my team wins the coveted Stanley Cup this year. It would be Vancouver’s first in their 40-year history as a franchise in the NHL. There are three more series to go so it is a big hill to climb but I will be rooting seriously for a team that I actually know a lot about from a very unique and wonderful perspective: “Friendship.”