Columnists, Hockey, Ice Hockey, Sports

5-Minute Major: The best gift you can give is a goalie stick

I was recently hospitalized for four days, confined to watching the Super Bowl on a grainy hospital TV screen and hockey games on my iPad.

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

As soon as I got out, I went to an NHL game in person.

I’d had this game circled on my calendar for months. My favorite team, the Seattle Kraken, was coming to Boston. I would’ve snuck out of the hospital with my IV drip in tow to make that game if I had to.

Instead, I was discharged just in time.

And I was going to use my hospital stay to my advantage.

I wrote a sign that said “JUST DISCHARGED FROM THE HOSPITAL COULD I PLEASE GET A STICK (DOCTOR’S ORDERS!)” in different colors and covered it in red Sharpie hearts to soften the mildly depressing message I was broadcasting. I forgot the question mark in my attempt to make the word “stick” as big as possible. 

The request needed to be as clear as possible.

It was my first time bringing a sign to any sort of sporting event. 

It had always felt too conspicuous because anyone could read them and judge my sign. I’ve gotten autographs before just by standing in the right place at the right time, mostly at baseball games, with a ball and a pen. 

I don’t even yell at the players because it feels too much like harassment. The sign felt worse because it felt more desperate. 

It was begging for attention — and everyone could see it.

Part of me was guilty for milking my experience, but I had just come out of the worst week of my life, and I wanted whatever drop of joy I could get my hands on. 

My mom and I picked out really good seats, and I brought my friend along.

I squeezed myself into a spot on the glass during warmups, wearing a striped Winter Classic Kraken jersey and blue eyeliner. 

I pressed my sign against the glass — I felt seen. 

As players started to disappear off the ice and into the tunnel leading to their locker room, my hope, which I had been working on so hard to manage, was beginning to die.

Then I saw Kraken goalie Philipp Grubauer skating toward me, asking me if I wanted his stick.

My mom caught it with one hand, and as soon as it was in my arms, I started to cry.

Looking back at the video the Seattle Kraken social media team captured, much to both my delight and my embarrassment, his empathy was so clear. He cared that the stick ended up in my hands instead of those of anyone else.

Hockey players have so much power in their hands when it comes to fans. One small interaction or one small act of generosity will leave a fan with a memory that they will keep forever. 

Especially in the case of a puck — or if you’re lucky enough, a stick — that will serve as a physical reminder of that joy. It becomes something they can look at every day and relive the moment they received it, how they caught it, how the player looked at them before tossing it over the glass.

These acts can be so inconsequential for the athlete that they won’t remember the reaction they got the next day. A lot of them know that, too, so they make a point to give out whatever they can. 

That’s how you grow the sport.

There’s nothing quite like giving away a goalie stick, though.

I don’t even want to think about how much money it costs. 

Grubauer is probably given goalie sticks for free by Bauer, fortunately, but the price is a thought that’s hard to avoid. 

It was taped in his own distinct style and has obvious markings of being used, like a smudge where the handle turns into the paddle that’s a likely puck mark. There are little Sharpie symbols on the tape at the top of the stick. It’s labeled with Grubauer’s name, too.

Goalies don’t break their sticks nearly as often as skaters do, and their sticks are distinctly different from their teammates’. They’re wider and taped differently. 

Because they’re different — and there are fewer goalies to give away their sticks than there are skaters — goalie sticks seem even more precious.

They stand out when you’re walking back to your seat, crying and smiling while you’re gripping the goalie stick like it’s the last thing tethering you to happiness.

I got countless envious looks from Bruins fans, but what was even better was that I got a memory I can look at for the rest of my life. 

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