The slim, middle-aged hockey goalie played two games in a row, not an unusual occurrence for someone who plays the one position without which there is no game. Say what you will about the five players on the other team, unless they best him they cannot win. Goalies are few.
Goalies are also different. They are a curious blend of masochist, exhibitionist, loner and love sponge. Oh, and don’t forget superhero. If you have never played the game, look around your house for something hard and round, with sharp edges, say, the base of a lamp. Now imagine someone sling shooting that at you at speeds of 60 to 80 miles an hour. Goalies actually like to get in the way of them, just for sport, even as a bunch of other men are pushing and shoving in their line of sight.
Under these conditions, even the best of goalies gives up two to three goals a game. After each one, the play stops and he has to fish the puck out of the net while the guys on the other side yell “yeah,” as if to say “we beat the ##@@#.” Meanwhile, members of his own team look at him like disappointed children.
But the glory is theirs, too. Acrobatic saves, legs going this way and that, the glove snatching sure goals from frustrated foes. Again, no one does what he does. Without his heroics, his team loses. He is the lead in the play, the winner on Dancing with the Stars. He is, indeed, the center of attention. Win or lose, his teammates rally around him like bees to the queen. And when they win, the buzz and the honey are all the more sweet, as teammates pat his head, hug him, bonk helmet to helmet and shower verbal praise on the indispensible ONE.
He is, however, the only one who does what he does. This is also why on any given night he might be helping another team whose goalie is hurt or late. They are a special lot.
Two days after Christmas, Mike, our slim, middle-aged net minder, came off the rink after his second game. The details about what happened next are sketchy, but some are known. “My left arm is numb,” he told a teammate; and my chest hurts.” The teammate replied that he should get to a doctor. Mike, who had asthma and kept a puffer on the bench, responded that he thought it was his asthma acting up and he would see how he felt after he showered.
“Oh no, oh no,” Mike cried out. Then he collapsed.
Mike remains mostly comatose in a New Jersey hospital. There is some confusion over when the ambulance came, and what resuscitation efforts were made. That can wait for another day. But I feel compelled to say something on Mike’s behalf, that of his heroic family and the scores of hockey players who wish that there was something they could do.
I played against Mike for several years, and I add with chagrined warmth, not very successfully. He is the goalie on my over-50 tournament team which goes to Las Vegas each year. It is, I can confirm, better to have him on my side. Plus, he shares his asthma puffer when I leave mine in the hotel room. That is how I know him.
What I also know is that as he lay there fighting for conscious life, he has a little piece of all us hockey players with him. He is one of us, and each of us knows that, as the expression goes, “there but for the grace of God.” It might sound silly to those who have never enjoyed the camaraderie of a team, but we share a great love for this little boy sport of hockey; and we accept the risks of cuts, sprains, twisted knees and even broken bones. When these rarities do occur, it is our families who take care of us, and who, therefore, are drawn into our avocation.
Mike’s wife, Sue, and their children have shown a strength and courage that is a model for any family. So far as I know, Sue has not expressed any resentment toward hockey or the many players who have visited, written or inquired. Rather, she has welcomed their intrusion into her life, and to be part of his recovery if one is to be had. She emails us with updates almost daily, and has accepted the heavy responsibility of deciding what, and to what extent, efforts will be made to try and bring Mike back. Her strength and resolve to give him every chance that he would want are humbling.
It is impossible for me to think about Mike and his family and not recall some essential lines from Don Henley’s hit, In a New York Minute. “And in these days when darkness falls early, and people rush home to the ones they love, you better take a fool’s advice, and take care of your own. One day their here; the next day their gone.”
Indeed, everything can change in a New York minute. I speak for many who are hoping and praying that—for Mike and his family—things will change for the best.