I watched John Carlson skate around Giant Center ice in the early moments of his team’s Calder title celebration Monday night with a cell phone to his ear, his eyes scanning the stands, and in that moment I thought of another Captain America in skates, Jim Craig, 30 years earlier, and his iconic search for his father in the stands at Lake Placid, American flag draped over his shoulders.
That image of Craig overpowers the rest of that aspect of his story, doesn’t it — all these years later I can’t quite remember if and when he found his father in the Olympic rink that day. Well, John Carlson had no trouble locating his family Monday night; they joined him on the ice moments later, and I was fortunate enough to meet them. The mother of Captain America 2010 emailed me a few times this past season, expressing appreciation for our coverage, but Monday night she was overseas on business, I learned from her sister and John’s stepfather. In mom’s absence the rest of the family offered me hearty handshakes and warm words that I’ll carry with me all summer long.
Standing among the Carlson clan I wondered how many hockey games young Carlson had played over the course of 2009-10, and his stepfather told me, “Tonight makes one hundred and one — not counting the World Juniors!” I got tired just thinking about such a slate.
Family is so central to the development of hockey players, and in this apex moment in hockey Monday it struck me as powerfully appropriate, and wonderfully warming, to see so much family out on that ice sheet, sharing embraces, exchanging kisses, holding and squeezing hands, laughing gleefully and most especially savoring and securing the moment with hand-helds directed at their brothers, sons, boyfriends, and husbands in skates.
Ray Bourque stood out prominently among the throng of family and girlfriends and friends gathered around the jubilant Bears. Chris’ younger brother Ryan, himself a gifted hockey player, was on the ice as well. The Bourque men bear a striking resemblance to one another. I was able to snap a photo of the Bourques gathered around Chris holding his just-earned Calder Cup playoff MVP trophy.
All forms of media were on the ice amid the celebration, and with respect to those on hard deadline, I could understand their need to interrupt the camaraderie and exuberance to get reaction, but I made a point of trying to remain a bit on the periphery and carefully and respectfully pick my spots to engage players and their families. I found Andrew Gordon alone for a moment and I told him that if things don’t work out in his hockey playing career he had a star candidacy as a hockey blogger. He got a good laugh out of that. If you didn’t follow the finals diary he kept for the wonderful blog Russian Machine Never Breaks, do yourself a favor and start at its beginning and enjoy Gordo’s prose gift to Hershey and Washington hockey fans that followed each game.
Among all the images of family and loving support I bore witness to within that jubilation scene Monday night the most indelible was that exhibited by sports’ best band of brothers: unleashed elation, teammate upon teammate. It was unbridled and boundless and beautiful. Its sound was so striking — banshee screams of glee, nickname to nickname, followed by what appeared to be bruising hugs. All unrehearsed of course, all so organic, and yet also seemingly so orchestrated in its fluid joy.
There was one other family prominently portrayed in the title-glow of Giant Center Monday night — thousands of Bears’ supporters on the other side of the plexiglass. Perhaps a dozen Bears’ players skated along the boards during the celebration and pointed hand-helds at their admirers, a hockey team and hockey town at one in passion and elation.