What I’m about to relate is all true but very hard to believe. My brother Steve was shocked when I reminded him of a story plot our father had imagined back in the eighties, and like me, Steve came to realize that a very big part of that plot happened in real life, to the very man who had imagined it all.
My father and I had always been writing short stories and articles for local newspapers. Novels were a natural evolution, but painfully elusive with boxes of failed attempts still cluttering the attic, as jobs and family obligations took center stage. Nevertheless, we were always discussing books, movies, and story ideas.
“Guy robs a bank,” my father said one night. “He decides to lay low at a Boston Bruins hockey game while police are scrambling about trying to lock things down. Suddenly a slap shot careens off the goal post and shoots into the crowd, knocking this bank robber out cold. His money bag goes flying and stolen bills are everywhere. It would be a great ending to a crime story.”
Fast forward to 2007 in Tampa, Florida.
My dad, a former hockey player for Boston University and youth coach for years in Minnesota, is watching a Tampa Lightening practice session at the Saint Petersburg Times Forum (now known as Amelie Arena).
He knew Tampa coach John Tortorella from when we had lived in Sudbury, Massachusetts, during the seventies. John had been a standout hockey player from the neighboring town of Concord when I was playing in Sudbury. Dad was now retired and living near Tampa at the time of this practice, and had become an avid Lightening fan.
He was talking to a friend when NHL all-star Vincent Lecavalier let a slap shot rip.
It careened off the goal post and shot into the stands . . . knocking my dad out cold.
He came to his senses looking up at a group of concerned people, including the team doctor and coach John Tortorella.
Fortunately there was no bag of stolen money floating down, but dad’s forehead sported a bleeding gash.
They insisted on rushing him to the hospital, but my old-school father dismissed it with a laugh.
“Stitch me up,” he said. “I’m a hockey player.”
Now it could be argued that my father – who was about eighty when this happened – had not strapped on a pair of skates since senior league days in his fifties, but hockey players never get old, they just kill penalties like . . . forever.
The team doctor stitched dad up and sent him on his way.
The amazing coincidence between his imagined plot and what really happened must be pushing astronomical odds. The fact that my eighty-year-old dad got nailed in the head by an NHL superstar is bizarre enough (and a point of great pride among this family), but to momentarily live through the eyes of his fictional character? Whoa. It’s like Jeff Bridges having a bunch of violent Nihilists throw a live ferret into his bathtub for real, just like during his fictional role as The Big Lebowski.
But that’s not the end of it.
My younger brother Steve has a hockey stick signed by every member of that Tampa team. They called dad shortly after the incident and presented it to him in the locker room. In an era of ambulance chasing and lawsuits over hot coffee burns, it must have been both refreshing and a sigh of relief to the Lightening organization for my dad to simply keep things real.
“I’m a hockey player,” he had simply told them. “Stitch me up.”
Dad passed away in the early morning hours of February 9th this year, and since he preferred to be cremated without a traditional funeral, there will be a celebration of his life on June 5th, with military honors.
He was a WWII Navy veteran, hockey player, and most of all, a loving husband and father who I miss every single day. I like to think that somewhere there is a heavenly ice rink, and that perhaps he gets to play with some of the best hockey players ever to strap on a pair of skates.
I’m guessing Saint Peter has goal tending responsibilities.