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'Thrashed' Dreams 'Jet' to Life
As a writer, I have always had a word for everything. I play word games in my spare time for crying out loud. Still, I’ve been staring at a blank page for over a week, trying to find the right words for a day I will remember the rest of my life. Besides, how do you describe the day your dreams came true?
People have wild dreams. It’s in our nature. I’ve always heard that God gives you dreams a size too big so you can grow into them. However, some people have dreams that they couldn’t grow into if they take enough steroids to drop a full grown elephant.
Rock star pipedreams, Justin Bieber fantasies, and sports stardom—all dreamed by those with the smallest chance.
I had believed my chance to meet my Atlanta Thrashers equally nonexistent when they flew north of the boarder in June after a few messy months of rumors and drama. There, they became the Winnipeg Jets and sold out the arena for the next few years simultaneously.
With such devout fans in Canada, I knew it wouldn’t be long before they forgot all about us down here in Atlanta. My dreams were crushed under the shiny heel of the greedy Atlanta Spirit, the group that formerly owned the Thrashers and still owns the Hawks and Philips Arena.
As soon as the deal was done and thinking about the Thrashers didn’t make me want to throw myself down in the floor and pitch a fit worthy of a three year old, I was copying the schedule and making detailed lists of how far each venue was within driving distance of here.
As the first month of the season came and went, I was especially eager to see my team once more, the team I had based much of my year around including homework time around live TV games up to four times a week, and my weekends and breaks around trips to Philips which became my home-away-from-home.
After they left, my grandparents began planning a way to get me to a game. Eventually, their planning paid off and we were on our way to Raleigh, NC, a 10 hour drive with eight people packed into a suddenly very tiny car Nov. 25.
Mothers are always supposed to love you best, and after long distance calls, extensive begging and pleading, and the repeating of her “sob story” about her daughter missing her hockey team so much that she cried every day (not every day…), her hard work paid off. My mom was connected to the Winnipeg Jets public relations office. Eager to help, the woman put us on the Friends and Family list for the Jets, giving us access to the closed practice and the locker room after the game.
Enter my lack of words. I’m sure I made quite a face as my mother told me her good news, but I couldn’t find the words to thank her enough. I could merely stand there, smiling like my face was about to split. Thinking about it now just makes me kind of numb, like I was watching it all happen to someone else.
The practice was at 11 Friday morning. We went in through the back security entrance, and into the stands using the same entrance that the players would use later that night to get to the ice. It was cold in the giant arena, and the ice was blindingly bright. We sat for a moment, me shaking with both cold and anticipation, as we waited for them to come out.
My first glimpse of that white Jets jersey inspired so many emotions that I could hardly keep myself in the seat. I wanted to run down the aisles, scale the glass, and attack them like some rabid Bieber fan. Once, I’d never understood the “Belieber’s” insanity, but as soon as my boys skated out onto that ice, it all became clear. After almost 10 months of agonizing nights spent without Thrashers hockey, they were back in front of me albeit in a different uniform.
I spent the entirety of the practice grinning ear to ear and sharing the newest stats with my family who may never understand what exactly it all means to me. And then it was over, and they were trickling off the ice one by one until only one was left, one I didn’t know. He noticed us and tossed a few pucks over the glass.
As we wandered out the way we came, my mom stopped to talk to the security guard about our instructions for after the game. I glanced back past the crates of Gatorade, the Zambonis being prepared for the night, and the random piles of sports things everywhere, and I caught a glimpse of a familiar face working his way to the back exit. Zach Bogosian, the Adonis of our team, was strutting across the room headed out to the bus. My brain shut down as I watched him pass, but I managed a tiny squeak of “Good luck tonight!” He gave me a small smile and wave before ducking out into the afternoon. The shock of seeing him lasts still as I remember it.
Later that evening, after a hectic entrance, we were standing against the glass again watching the pre-game skate. My boys skated around the lower end of the ice, shooting calmly at the net, stretching, and talking to each other while we ogled them like they were some sort of creature trapped in a glass bowl. As we watched, something caught the corner of my eye. A little poster was propped against the glass in front of some blonde girl who was probably close to my age. Hastily written with marker on a piece of poster board was “I love Burmistrov.” My eyesight nearly turned red as I bubbled over with envy. How dare she think she could flaunt that stupid sign in front of my Burmistrov? Everyone knew I’d had claims on him since he started playing for the Thrashers as a rookie last year. I narrowed my eyes at her, hoping an escaped puck would fly over the glass and pop her right in her pretty little teeth. Sure it was an evil thought, but I hadn’t spent 10 months waiting for this moment to have her get his attention.
The game passed by too fast. From our bird’s-eye-view up in the highest of nosebleed seats, we saw every goal. I yelled at them as if they could hear me, cheered when they scored the first goal, then the second goal, and then the final goal to win 3-1 over the Carolina Hurricanes (a team I had detested since I’d become a fan, perhaps due to the embarrassing 6-1 loss that I had witnessed the time I sat at the glass). I ignored the obnoxious Cane fans that sat around me (they were probably more die-hard than the ones that sat in the lower bowl), and yelled over their Cane cheers with my Jets cries, booed their goal, waved our goals in their faces, and celebrated despite their twisted faces and mutters. One kid, probably no older than six, even stuck his tongue out at me and gave me a thumbs down as he passed with his family to leave.
Though I was disappointed that the game was over, my excitement exploded as we were led down the service stairs to the locker rooms. We stood a while, waiting as they changed out of their uniforms and showered. A few wandered out at first, in their suits and graciously signed my Thrasher book. They smiled at our Thrasher shirts and thanked us for our support before posing for pictures and ambling out to their awaiting bus.
Finally, Bogosian came out again. He was more friendly this time, smiling, posing for a picture, signing things, and thanking us for our endless support, plus a happy birthday wish. My giddiness lasted as the other popular players came out and huddled around talking to a Cane that was a Thrasher last year.
Then he appeared. Alexander Burmistrov joined the group of players. A man came up to us then, asking for my mom. He introduced himself as their public relations manager and asked if we had seen everyone. When we told him we were still awaiting Burmistrov, he nodded quickly and told us to hang on a moment as he went over to the group. He spoke to Burmistrov, and within the minute, Burmistov was making his way over to me, smiling like some adorable Russian school-boy.
In English that nearly required a translator, he introduced himself and thanked us for our support. It’s all a blur now, but he stood with us a while, posing for a few pictures and thanking me for my compliments. It was over all too soon, and he was walking away, waving and saying what I think was, “happy birthday.”
The team was almost gone by then, my long awaited dream slowly dwindling to a close. But there was one more player still there, one that recognized me almost immediately.
I met Chris Thorburn last May at the Stockbridge Brandsmart where he was signing autographs and granting interviews to the press who only wanted to know about the move. He was the friendliest person and even let me interview him for an article. Despite being star struck and completely unprepared, I managed to think up a few questions that helped me get to know him. In no time, we were chatting like old friends.
When he saw me after the game he smiled and asked if the article was a hit. We chatted a while about the game and our long trip up to see them. He was just as friendly as before. But even that came to an end and we were standing out by the loading dock, waving the bus away.
As the bus sped off to the airport to get the boys to Boston for the next game on Saturday, I turned and saw a familiar sign behind the fence. My fellow Burmistrov fan was standing on the opposite side of the fence, looking a little disappointed at her distance from the team. I gave in to my pettiness, and flaunted my signed picture of Burmistrov before her. Her mother began talking to mine, saying that they had gotten seats two rows off the ice so their daughter could see her favorite player really well. As if she could read my mind, my mother mentioned that we too had traveled a long way to see them play again and had managed to get on the Friends and Family list so I could see my favorite player.
When she asked who, I told the girl that I had met Burmistrov. Adding flourish to my tale, I told her about the whole thing dramatically. Sure it was petty and silly thing to do, but sometimes I have to give in to my smaller side.
For now, that experience will stay in my memory and help me perk up when I’m feeling extra down about hockey. If anything, this whole experience will only fuel my passion more for bring my boys home to Atlanta where they belong.