Every young hockey player dreams of two things: playing on NHL (National Hockey League) ice and lifting the Stanley Cup. On Monday, March 13, 2017, I checked off one of those boxes.
Thanks to Good Night, Good Hockey’s own Dylan Coyle, I got my chance to skate on the same ice as the Philadelphia Flyers. Dylan not only ran this event last year, but he decided to expand the idea by including a second photographer as well as a videographer. All the pictures can be seen right here as well as the video of the event right here. The whole experience is one I and the rest of the people attending will never forget.
Counting Down the Days…
If I told you that I was waiting patiently for the day to arrive, I would have a liar’s nose longer than Pinocchio’s. Once the event was announced, I began checking off the days on my calendar. One by one, the days fell, and with each passing mark my excitement grew.
After signing up and making the payment for my spot, a sudden realization hit: I was actually going to play on the same ice as a professional hockey team. I was giddier than a teen girl at a Justin Bieber concert. I annoyed my wife with a running joke of, “What are you doing March 13th? Well, I’m playing hockey at the Wells Fargo Center!” Man, did I beat that into the ground, but a smile came to my face every time I thought about it.
It was still a few months away, and I thought I should probably dig out my equipment and make sure everything fit. Thankfully, everything was good but needed some airing out.
Then, turning the calendar to March I saw the date I had circled. It was two weeks away. That’s when the nerves started. What if I get hurt before the event? What if my car breaks down on the way there? So many different possibilities, but ultimately I knew everything would be fine.
Closer to the day, mother nature made a big threat; a blizzard was moving into the area and posed a real danger to the Wells Fargo Center Takeover. All the local news channels were predicting at least a foot of snow for the area. My wife checked the weather app constantly, giving me almost daily updates leading up to the event. Mother nature wasn’t going to win this battle, as nothing was going to stop me from playing on that ice.
The night before the event was filled with the same thoughts and dreams as a little kid waiting for Santa on Christmas day. I didn’t get too much sleep that night, maybe four hours at best. That didn’t matter though as the day was finally here!
I made sure to set all my gear and everything I needed in the living room the night before. All I needed to do was check the weather report; it was going to snow. Thankfully, it wasn’t going to start until 10pm. That was plenty of time to enjoy playing at the Wells Fargo Center then watch the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Columbus Blue Jackets later that night. I loaded up the car and started the journey to fulfill something that’s been on my hockey bucket list for a long time.
The sun was shining and the crisp winter air swirled about the arena. It wasn’t terribly cold; it was the perfect weather for hockey. There were 150 people attending the event. Everyone, whether they were playing or just spectating, was anxious to get inside and start living the dream. A few people I spoke to who were at the event last year were just as excited to get another round on the ice. At this point, my excitement was through the roof. Time flew by as the seconds ticked away. Then, at 1pm, we were allowed to enter the arena to begin the process of getting ready. We were escorted downstairs to the locker rooms where we put down our bags and began putting on our equipment and talking with glee about our upcoming dream moment.
We were told that the faster we got ready, the faster we would get on the ice. Well, we got ready fast. Too fast, in fact, as once we lined up at the door we were instructed that it would be at least another 15 minutes before we would walk down the tunnel. The nerves and excitement kicked into overdrive. I began a fourth or fifth mental check of my gear. Had I forgotten anything? Did my skates feel tight enough? Was the GoPro on my helmet?
Then, our event manager said what I waited to hear all day: “Who’s ready to go play hockey?”
A cheer rushed down the hallway and into the lockers where some attendees were putting on their finishing touches. Then we got to take the walk I waited 31 years to take (sorry for the weird helicopter sound. My GoPro had a weird audio recording bug). It was surreal; at first, I wasn’t sure if this was actually happening. I couldn’t feel my feet hitting the mats. I had to check a few times and refocus to make sure I stayed on course.
I spoke to the rest of the Good Night, Good Hockey crew in the days leading up to the event about this walkout. I told them that I was probably going to tear up. Well, my eyes stayed dry as we reached the final bend before stepping foot on to the ice surface. I could feel myself shaking as I approached the last step. My heart was racing, and I was already breathing heavy.
This was the moment.
This is what I waited 31 years to do.
One small step over the yellow border and BAM! I was gliding ever so softly across the ice surface. It felt better than I had imagined; it was so silky and smooth. It was like gliding on a cloud. I almost forgot to push to keep my momentum. Even though the stadium wasn’t packed, to me, it didn’t matter. We had fans in the stands, and they were all here to see us play.
I skated over to our bench put down my extra stick and went for a few laps around our zone. The warmups had begun, and nothing was stopping us now. We were four minutes away from puck drop and the realization of a dream. After a minute or so, my daze faded away.
I needed to really warmup.
I told myself before this event started that I would practice and go to a few open skates or open hockey games to get the feel back. Life got in the way of all that, and I was going in cold. It all came flooding back to me as a grabbed a puck and skated around. I played mostly defense, so I was knew I wasn’t going to shoot much. I grabbed another puck from the net and made another lap. I decided to move towards the goal. I felt super stiff, as if my body didn’t know what to do.
It felt so good to watch the puck go in the net. I know it was just warmups, but hell, I scored a goal on NHL ice. A few more shots later, and the buzzer sounded; it was game time.
Who’s ready for some HOCKEY!
I decided not to start the game and took a spot on the bench. The puck was dropped, and we were underway. The sights and sounds of the game bounced off the boards. The sticks and skates making their music filled my ears. We didn’t have set positions; when one player came off the ice, another took their place. There were all sorts of skill levels, from beer league players to first-time skaters. I waited anxiously for my first shift. Too be honest, it felt like an eternity. Then I watched as two players made their way to the bench.
Stepping out felt amazing. I actually had to rewatch the clip to remember it fully. My first thought was to conserve energy. I knew I was going to get tired quickly. After a quick loop into our zone,
the play moved towards the opposition. I was already short of breath. Not from exhaustion, but excitement. 45 seconds later, the puck was in the net, and we were up 1-0. We agreed on short shifts to maximize ice time, so we all skated back to the bench so someone else could take a shift.
Holding back a tear, I turned to Dylan with a smile going from ear to ear. I finally acknowledged what was happening.
Life wasn’t gonna get much better than this. I was living the dream.
I was so overcome with emotion the entire time. I was nervous and overjoyed at the same time. I felt so stiff and became super conscious of how I was moving. You know how sometimes you become hyperaware of how you’re walking and you think you are walking weird? That’s how I felt for about half of the event. I probably looked fine, and it was all in my head, but to me, I felt weird. Eventually, I loosened up and it was pure fun from there on out. Every skate push felt better than the last. I was starting to flow with the motion of the game. My legs were no longer heavy, and I could feel my feet again. Every second from here on out was pure amazement. Even sitting on the bench calling for shift changes felt great. Laughs and giggles between players could be heard over the sounds of the game.
It’s all smiles from there on out. While I never got a shot on net, it was still an incredible experience. It was great meeting everyone from the r/Flyers subreddit community and the people who came with them. After the game was over, we took our group photo. I made sure that I took off my helmet and gave one final look around the stadium. I was taking in everything that happened during that short time. Smiling as I stared at the seats, then the rafters. It was all over so fast.
This moment will always be deeply etched into my memory. Bolted down and guarded to ensure that it doesn’t drift away. I can’t express enough how thankful I am to Dylan for setting up the event. I know it was a lot of tough work, and there were a few little hiccups along the way. But in the end, even if it had only been a few fleeting moments, I held on with both hands and didn’t let go. This was such a fantastic experience, and I know it wasn’t for an actual NHL team, but for those 40 minutes, it was as close as I was ever gonna get.
Jim McBride is the “Beyond the Ice” writer for Good Night, Good Hockey. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.