A priceless gift at the hockey rink

The Rangers' win after a shootout was almost as thrilling as what happened next.

J. Pat Carter/AP
Slap shot: New York Rangers' Brandon Dubinsky (17) celebrates after scoring against the Florida Panthers in November.

The other night as I was leaving my son's room, I noticed a hockey puck sitting on his desk. It reminded me not only of an exciting hockey game he and I had attended several years ago, but of a life lesson he had learned as well.

During spring vacation from school, a friend had given us two tickets to a New York Rangers hockey game at Madison Square Garden. He had season tickets, but could not use them on that particular night and he generously offered them to us. My son was very excited because he is an avid Rangers fan and we had only been able to attend a game in person twice before.

The seats were spectacular, as near to the rink as we had ever been. When the players came up against the boards, we could see them as closely as we could when we watch the game on television.

The roar of the crowd was incredible right from the moment the puck was dropped. When the Rangers scored first, the crowd chanted the word "go-al" as if it had more than one syllable. My son got caught up in the moment and enthusiastically joined in the serenade. When the Rangers scored a second time, it seemed as if the building would explode from the noise. Three young men sitting in the row in front of us, probably in their early 20s, caught my eye as my son sang along with the crowd. They smiled at us. We were all one happy and excited hockey family.

But then, the unexpected happened. The other team scored four goals in rapid succession, and all of a sudden our beloved Rangers were losing 4 to 2. The crowd that had been so crazed with enthusiasm for the home team fell silent. Despite more than 17,000 people in the arena, it was quiet enough to hear yourself think, as well as the mutterings of many unhappy and disgruntled fans.

What makes sporting events so interesting and exciting is that anything can happen in any given game. This night was no exception. The Rangers made a furious comeback in the third period, eventually tying the game at four goals apiece shortly before the end. Following an overtime period with no scoring, the teams then went into a shootout, a tie-breaking procedure in which each team takes turns sending out a player to go one-on-one against the other team's goalie in front of the net. And on this magical night, the Rangers did not disappoint, capturing the victory as one of their leading goal scorers sent the puck flying past the opposing goalie's outstretched arms for the win.

For my son, the victory was exhilarating. But that is not what he remembers about that night, at least that's not his primary recollection. After the winning goal had been scored, the losing team's goalie picked the hockey puck out of the net behind him, and tossed it into the crowd. One of the three young men sitting in front of us caught the puck and, as if in one motion after catching it, tossed it back to my son.

My son looked at the puck as if he had been given a golden treasure. He remarked on how cold the puck was, how he could feel the ice from the rink in its ridges. He placed the puck gently in his parka and we headed out of the arena.

As we emerged onto the sidewalk and took a breath of the cold Manhattan air outside the Garden, my son started to cry. I asked him if he was all right, and then, obviously moved, he asked in a trembling voice: "Why did that man give me the puck?"

I explained to my son that the man had given him the puck because he knew how happy it would make him to have a souvenir from the game, and not just any souvenir, but the puck that had been the winning goal in a shootout. It was obvious that he knew it would mean more to my son than it would to him.

Still in disbelief, my son commented: "He should have kept it for himself. Why would he give it away? I really want to thank him. I wonder if there is a way I could get his address so I could write him."

I told my son that there was probably no way he would be able to track the man down so that he could write to him. But I did say that there was something he could do – that when he was a grown-up attending a hockey game, he could look around for a boy or girl about his age now, and make sure that if he caught a puck coming off the rink, he would pass it along to them. My son nodded, and I knew he understood.

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