Thursday, January 08, 2009

From AO to Z, hockey is full of heroes and the world full of villians

Excuse me while I rant about sports for a moment. Actually, this is about much more than sports, it is an open inquiry into honor, heart, ethics, crime and of course, hockey.

I will begin with a story I heard about Alex Ovechkin this morning.

There is a man, aged forty some years, who is a tremendous hockey fan. He lives in Buffalo and for the most part is a Sabres fan, but Alex O is his top dog. This man used to be an avid player himself, but a degenerative disease, I believe MS, keeps him from that passion now. He fills his time playing fantasy hockey, and Alex is his star recruit.

This man decides to write Ovie, and tells him his life story and how much Ovie inspires him. At the end he asks pleasantly and simply enough for an autographed picture. Time passes; nothing is heard back, and then one day the phone rings. A man from the Sabres has called with the message that Alex Ovechkin has left a package for this guy with the Sabres and has instructed them to give it to him ASAP. AO himself will check back in to be sure he gets it. Well sure enough, the man and his mother travel to the arena and receive said package. Inside is a note from Ovie, in which he recalls how much this story meant to him and how touched he is that this man is such a big fan. AO does not have any pictures of himself to give, but hopes this other gift will make up for it.

Alex has given the guy a game worn, autographed, All-Star game jersey. This is not just a jersey he grabs one night and plays in. Not a jersey that is a replica of his All-Star game one, but THE jersey he wore that night. I think they wear like one per period. Some have to go to the Hall of Fame, some other places, and probably one or two the player keeps for himself. Well Ovie gave his up for a man he has never met. That is heart, that is love for the game and the fans, and that is what makes our sport so special.

Let us turn to what makes the world a horrible, but yet magical place for children, and really all of us.

Winter Classic this year, a young fan is given a game used stick by Henrik Zetterberg of the Red Wings. Cha ching, what a great souvenir for a young fan. Now the kid has gotten this at the end of the game, and I guess he and his dad were walking around still taking it all in. Well a man dressed to look “like a guard” tells them he can’t walk around with this on the premises, and they will have to give it over for safe keeping. They can collect it from security when they leave. So they give it over and come back later to get it. Surprise, surprise, it is not there and no one has even heard of this. While the policy exists, it would not have mattered because the game was over. And now we have a devastated young child.

Word gets back to the Red Wings, and the story ends happily enough with a new stick being sent to the child soon. But come on people; steal a stick from a kid? You are the worst kind of human in the world. You are the person who asks for an autograph for your “son” and then sells the damn thing on EBay. You are scum.

The people who will give this child a new stick? Alex Ovechkin and his gift? The hundreds of other great hockey players who do fantastic things that largely go un-told? You are all true ambassadors for our sport and the correct way to be a role model. With stories about Pacman Jones setting up a hit on someone and Vincent Jackson drunk driving all over the news this morning, thank god hockey has heroes like these and sad the world has criminals like the one previously described.

There are other great stories about corruption and mistrust of some of these great players. Steve Yzerman is at the center of an elaborate scheme in which a man faked his son having a terminal disease. Stevie said when it was all over, that nor will anything else not keep him from contributing time and efforts to those less fortunate.

Food for thought. Not much more to add to that today.