Down the street from my apartment I always pass a couple kids shooting at their empty street hockey net. Driving by they scurry to the side of the road with their mangled goal, and I always give a quick wave. Every time I pass a different championship being won in their imaginations, or a different player’s body being inhabited for a quick hour shoot around before dinner.
I remember walking by one evening this fall while they played keep away from one another.
“Im Lucic,” One of them said
“No Im Lucic!” replied the other
“No You’re RECCHI!”
“NO YOU’RE RECCHI”
“IM NOT BEING RECCHI!”
As I walked away I wondered where along the road in his 22-year career Mark Recchi stopped being a player kids wanted to embody in their driveway.
I guess I cant blame them. It might be hard for a 11-year-old to identify with a 43-year-old man, especially when there are younger, less weathered faces for them to idolize on the Boston Bruins bench.
It’s fun the be Milan Lucic or Tyler Seguin, an instant sensation. Its fun to be a power forward, to fight, to score, and have the crowd rise as you leave another adversary limp on the ice.
It’s harder to be Recchi. Its harder to put your reputation on the line for a teammate. Its harder to tell your wife that you want one more shot at a cup.
Fast forward through winter, another season almost in the books for Recchi. Last week against the Chicago Blackhawks I watched as he passed Paul Coffey for 12th on the all time scoring list, the culmination of 22 years of work. He stood up and took his bows and said he was humbled in the locker room following the game. Im sure very similar sound bites were said on the days when he passed Guy Lafleur and Stan Mikita.
His responses were of the “all in a days work” variety.
“I just keep plugging along here and trying to help this team win,” Rechhi said “When I’m done I’m sure I’ll sit back and really recognize that it’s been fun.”
And then he uttered the words everyone was waiting for.
“If we win a championship, I’m gone,” he said.
After 22 years, and seven different NHL teams, this is where he wants to walk away. This locker room, this city, and this team.
Depending on who you ask he might be coming to this revelation a year too late or year too soon. Im sure you’ve heard both sides of the tape.
Even Recchi himself didn’t seem to be sure at times. When he signed a one-year deal with the Bruins in July 2009 Recchi stated that it would be his last year.
In July of 2009 I’m sure Mark Recchi didn’t envision bowing out of the Stanley Cup playoffs a year later, blowing a 3-0 series lead to end his career, and it wouldn’t be out of the question to think this contributed to his decision to put his retirement on hold. No matter how many greats Recchi passed along the way, no matter how many games he notched on his belt, his last memory of hockey would have always been walking down the tunnel of the TD Garden with the crowd in deafening silence.
This was not how Recchi wanted to leave his life on the ice behind. He wanted to do it on his own terms, and in his mind right now, the only terms acceptable are those which feature him lifting the Stanley Cup for the third time in his 22 years.
Even I was critical of Recchi a month ago after he questioned Max Pacioretty’s injuries. I still hold my stance that personally I would never say anything but “I hope Max is doing alright and recovering well.” But then again Im not Mark Recchi. I had said “Im starting to believe that Mark Recchi might have a heart bigger than brain” which I will admit might have been harsh in the moment.
Even though its hard to admit, maybe it was Recchi’s willingness to appear this way to me that shows his true character. Whether it was staged or truly reflective of what Recchi thought we might never know, but maybe having a heart bigger than your brain isn’t that bad of a deal. If thats the case for Recchi, its seemed to work out just fine.
Recently when watching Recchi play, instead of criticizing his speed or skill with the puck I end up pondering “What will I be doing when Im 43 years old? Where will I be?” The speculative answers rarely involve me having the heart of an 18 year old, and never involves me playing for my third Stanley Cup.
I once heard a saying about hockey. Inside every grown man on the ice in the NHL there is a small boy. A boy that was once alone with a net in his driveway with a stick and a ball. Every game, play for that boy and you will never go wrong.
Right now Mark Recchi might be the youngest at heart of all in his locker room. He can hear his mother calling him in for dinner. It’s almost time for his game to be over now, but not before he takes one last shot.