Letter to the Editor: Hockey Healing
by Thomas LaSalle | published Feb. 1st, 2017
Loss. I’ve always been told that loss is just a part of life. It’s almost certainly not a part of life that is easy to handle, especially for those of us with anxiety and depression. For those of us who do, the loss of someone we are close with can be especially painful. Even if we only knew this person for a short while, the initial shock can most certainly lead straight into a depressive episode. Different people have different ways of coping with loss, ways that usually work for them. For somebody like me, somebody who suffers from anxiety and depression, it wasn’t easy to find that one thing to help me cope. I wish to share my story of loss, my depression, and how I found the ability to smile again.
February 22nd, 2015. It was in the wee hours of that day when my friend and housemate, Max, left our apartment without saying a word. Not one word about where he was headed, or when he’d be back. He left behind his house key and his cell phone, two things he never usually leaves without. As I was on a co-op assignment at the time, I was asleep when he left. When I woke up that morning for work, his bedroom door was closed. I thought nothing of it. I certainly didn’t think that the last time I would see him was the night before, sitting in our kitchen eating Oreos, as was routine for him nightly. Almost like a ritual. I can certainly understand, as I am so similar in that I must stick to a set routine to find comfort.
I found out later that evening, after Public Safety and the Monroe County Sherriff came knocking on my door. I assumed they were there to see him, which seemed out of the ordinary. It was after going to fetch him that I found out from my other housemate that he wasn’t there. He was gone. The officers questioned me about it, but I had no real answers for them. All of this had happened overnight in my sleep. I was later interviewed on television and on radio, but the majority of it remains a blur to me. All I knew was that my friend was missing, and he wasn’t coming home anytime soon. I had only known Max since the previous summer, but in living together, I had considered him a good friend and knew him as a good person.
I fell into a deep depression that week. It was incredibly difficult for me to want to do anything at all. And anything I did do, it was hard not to spontaneously burst into tears. I was worried and scared for Max’s wellbeing. All I wanted was for him to come home, and for some normalcy to return. I hoped for the best, but feared the worst. My depressed mind would often focus on the worst, more than it would focus on the best. It was emotionally unhealthy, and I felt like nothing could make me happy.
A couple of days prior to Max’s disappearance, I had purchased hockey tickets to the next Saturday’s game against Mercyhurst. The final regular season game, and my first in the club section. I had invited a friend to come with me as well. We had been to a few games prior, I had never been to a game at Ritter, he had. I was at maybe three games before then, all of which were either ties or losses. I’d not experienced a Tigers win before that point. During my depression, I had considered not going, and just locking myself up in my bedroom. I considered giving my friend my other ticket, but he convinced me to go. I am very glad he did.
The memory of the game itself has stuck with me ever since I went, and it was a thriller. I recall us hitting the scoreboard first on a Todd Skirving goal, with him actually slipping and falling into the boards. The crowd went into a frenzy, while my cheering was a bit more reserved. It seemed like we had scored again later on, but the goal was overturned on review. With the way things had ended, I almost felt like that was meant to be. Mercyhurst would come back and tie the game, and things began to get a bit tenser. I didn’t know if I could handle a loss in my depressed state.
I didn’t know if there were mysterious forces at work. I was never highly religious, but I almost feel like a higher power was at work. Someone knew the RIT community needed to smile, and someone knew that I DEFINITELY needed to smile. But once the game got to the later stages of overtime, in a 1-1 tie, something compelled the Mercyhurst coach to pull his goalie from the net. I didn’t realize anything special was going on until Myles Powell cleared that puck out of the zone. As it trickled down the ice, I turned and noticed the empty net, with the puck headed toward it. Slowly, the puck crossed the goal line, and the Gene Polisseni Center erupted. And so did I. I jumped out of my seat, screaming, clapping, cheering, and smiling. I was smiling. For the first time in a little over a week, I smiled, and felt excitement and jubilation. Gone were the depressed feelings, for that one moment in time, I could smile again.
After the game, I promptly purchased club tickets to our first playoff game against Air Force, which we would also go on to win. I got to catch the televised highlights of the game on YouTube. Gene Battaglia’s call of that final goal is etched into my mind. “Wildung is off the ice, you never ever see that in a tie game,” his call goes as Wildung skates off the ice. Powell clears the zone, “The Tigers could win it with the empty net,” his voice grows more excited, “will this do it?” The puck enters the net, “THE TIGERS ARE THE THIRD SEED, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!” Whenever I’m feeling blue, I always watch those highlights and listen to that call. You can see me in the video as well, clapping and cheering along.
Since that time, I have become a true blue RIT Tigers Hockey fan. I saved the ticket stub and printed line chart, which I plan on framing with my autographed jersey. I attended the first playoff game against Air Force. I attended the semifinal against Canisius at the Blue Cross Arena. I watched the championship against Mercyhurst on television. I attended viewing parties at the GPC where we defeated the #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and lost the next game. I attended more games the next year, including my first women’s games. I was in the stands for our Championship repeat against Robert Morris. This year, I purchased season tickets and have been to every game. I’ve become friendly with many of the players on the team. I arrive early for pregame high-fives. Several players remember me from my time at Subway. I am known as my alter ego, “Ca$h Money,” especially by Mike Rotolo, who was definitely a regular at my store. The Norrish twins always say hi to me whenever they see me. Some players follow my Twitter account, as do several other sports related accounts. Gene Battaglia even follows me as well, we share a love of the Mets, and of course the Tigers. Todd Skirving has even recently become a Facebook friend of mine.
We all rely on different things to pick us up when we’re feeling down. It just further shows just how unique we are as human beings. For me, it took me several years, but I discovered that hockey makes me smile. Hockey picks me up when I’m feeling down. Hockey has helped me to heal, and will continue to do so. To them, they had a job to do, to gain better playoff position. What they didn’t realize, is that they are my heroes, for bringing the smile back to my face, for helping me feel better about life.
For helping me to heal.