This Saturday, I plan on enjoying a "once in a lifetime" experience - for the fourth time in five years. The bags are packed and I am headed to New Jersey for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
As a child, I could not have imagined attending a Stanley Cup Final game. Today, for one reason of another, I can't keep myself away from them. It can be an expensive "habit" that I am sure one of these days, as priorities change, I will have to break. For now, I will simply appreciate the fact the opportunity has presented itself once again and enjoy the ride!
The thing is, when the Playoffs commence each April, I am never even thinking about the Finals in June or longing to be there. The television is on and I casually watch like millions of other North Americans as each series unfolds throughout April and early May. It is what I would consider fairly normal sports fan behavior. Then, around mid May, as the storylines unfold and the key players and teams emerge, everything changes. The lines of communication between family members and former teammates with a shared passion seem to inevitably open wider during those final few weeks of spring. Suddenly, it is almost like we are looking for reasons, some sort of justification, as to why we should probably all get together in early June for some Stanley Cup Finals action. It takes little persuasion. We just keep going - and the experiences continue to be amazing enough to bring us back.
In June of 2008, I was two months away from my wedding day with no plans or real desire for a traditional bachelor party. My brother, who served as my best man, lived in Dallas at the time. I called Atlanta home. He suggested we meet in the "middle" for a 48 hour male bonding trip....In Detroit. The Red Wings were my favorite team as a child and while Steve Yzerman and many of the players who helped me fall in love with the game had since moved on, we both understood how special this "once in a lifetime" trip could be. It was.
We took a break from the impulsive Cup trips and my family and I watched from our respective homes over the next two seasons as the Penguins and Blackhawks captured the Cup.
In January of 2011, I accepted a job with the Boston Bruins. The team had a number of key pieces, but sat tied for 6th in the Eastern Conference at that time. A cup run later that season would have been great, but it seemed like a bit of a long shot. It wasn't. By the end of the season the Bruins had won their division and claimed the thrid seed in the East. Excitement around the city, the office, and my household, grew. The B's beat Montreal in 7 games before making quick work of Philadelphia. By the time they reached the conference finals against Tampa Bay, the talks amongst family and friends regarding Finals tickets had resumed. After another hard fought 7 game series, the Bruins emerged victorious and were set to take on the heavily favored Vancouver Canucks. Sure I wasn't playing for the team and had nothing to do with their hockey operations department, but I was on the payroll. How could my family and I not check out a game? When would I ever work for another team with a chance to win a Cup? THIS was "once in a lifetime"! So my brother, my dad, and I, went....twice.
Which brings us to the spring of 2012. I was no longer working in hockey and I had already seen my favorite childhood team skate for a Cup on home ice. When these playoffs began almost two months ago there was not a doubt in my mind I would again be contently watching the Finals from my living room in Boston. Then, without warning, along came the Los Angeles Kings. The 8th seed who squeeked into the playoffs and didn't appear to have the firepower that many thought necessary to make a deep playoff run, got hot at the right time. I wasn't a Kings fan growing up. I have never actually even been to L.A.. However, back in high school, I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of years playing alongside Kings team captain, Dustin Brown. As the Kings magical run continued and Brown's game took off this spring, the buzz once again built. This time it was in the form of both family and friends, and the result will be a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to have the chance to see a former teammate and friend play for a Stanley Cup this Saturday night.
Sunday morning I will likely take some time to reflect on what is sure to be a memorable evening regardless of outcome. I will be grateful for having had the opportunity to enjoy another unique and incredible experience with family and friends, all because of the special bonds hockey has helped create. Then, in the spirit of fiscal responsibility and being a grown up, I will swear off attending another Stanley Cup Finals game for at least 10 years - and wonder what set of circumstances could possibly bring me back in June of 2013.