The best things in life really are free.

Today is my dad’s birthday. He passed away 5 years ago. This is dedicated to him…

Growing up was a hard time in my life. We moved from Iowa, to Minny, right after I finished 2nd grade, age 8. Moving in the summer was tough. Hard to meet friends. My dad always made time for me, even though he traveled frequently. He would call home every night just to say he loved me. Weekends were our time. Whether we went to the local swimming pool, or out out dinner, or watched a movie together, or went fishing, or just played games, I was daddy’s little girl.

When I started my first year of school in Minny, I was the strange new kid on the block. I did not make friends, and would come home each night, only to await my dad’s call. He never faltered, and always put a smile on my face. Sometimes we would talk for an hour. My dad was the best!

One weekend he came home and told me he had a surprise for me. I was so excited, I could not wait! We were going somewhere Saturday night without my mom. This confused me, but he let me know it was our special time and mom was going to go out with friends. My interest was peaked! I was going to get my dad all to myself!

I waited all day Saturday, so excited. I helped my dad mow the yard, and followed him everywhere that day. I had no idea what was coming…

We finally left in the afternoon and stopped to eat. We talked and laughed, as only my dad could make me do. I thought this was what we were doing. We got in the car and he asked me “So are you ready for this surprise?” I giggled because I knew there was more coming. I could not sit still. Just where were we going…

He started driving, and we sang some songs, and laughed some more. I loved my dad so much. We had been driving a long time, and I had no idea where we were going. I just kept asking the obvious, “Dad are we there yet?”

He just kept smiling at me, saying it was a secret, and it would be our new time together. Finally he told me to cover my eyes. I did only to peak several times, naturally. He told me no peaking, ahhh dad you know me so well…

The car started to slow down, and he told me to uncover my eyes. I did and looked up and around, only to see two very large buildings. I had no idea what they were. He was parking and I was almost screaming to him “Dad where are we? What is this place?!” He let out one of those awesome smiles of his, and said “The Met Center.” I has no idea what this place was. I wanted to know why we were there. People all over going in. I thought the circus, yay! We were walking in with me on his shoulders, I was so excited I just wanted to get inside!

Well there was no clowns when we entered. No cotton candy, and definitely not a lot of kids around. “Dad what is this? No circus? Where are the clowns?” That’s when I heard a thump. Then another. I was a little scared. He let me down and took my hand. “Nikki we are at a hockey game” and smiled down to me. Hockey? What? I did not have any clue as to what hockey was. So we walked to our seats,3 rows off the blue line,  then I saw. Players practicing, slapping pucks (as I later found out that was what they were called) and I just wanted to leave. Like now! Dad reassured me over and over again, that everything was going to alright, and to just have fun. How could I have fun? Cheevers mask was staring me down…

I begged to leave. I cried, and just wanted out of there. These guys were pretty scary to me. And some of the fans were drinking beer, and getting loud. This was my worst nightmare. He again assured me that everything would be alright, and through that remarkable smile of his, I trusted him, as only a little girl can do with the most wonderful dad in the whole wide world…

I tried to watch the game, and it was getting better until a fight broke out, almost directly in front of us. I screamed out and hid my head behind my dad. Cursing going on everywhere around me. My dad was blocking my sight to the rink, but was enjoying himself, I could tell. This was not fun for me,  and I just wanted to go home, now…

As the game ended, I finally looked around. Although we lost, fans were acting crazy and yelling and screaming. I just wanted to be back in the car and on the way home. No way was I ever going to go to another with my dad. NEVER…

It was a quiet ride home. Dad kept telling me jokes, but all I could see was Cheever’s mask. It haunted me for a few weeks. Or until he said we were going again. At this point, dad was not my favourite person. I did not want to. I refused to go, but my mom had told me how important it was to him that I go along, so of course I did…

Always out to eat then a game. I still loved my time with my dad, but never wanted to go past the eating part. It took me 4 more games until I could actually watch. Thankfully no more Cheevers. (easy to say then!) I actually started kind of liking it, but I think it was because my dad was having so much fun. Even at a young age, his happiness, was happiness for me…

It was about the 6th game, and Steve Payne scored. I remember it to this day. I got up and screamed “F#@^ YES!!!” And went a little crazy for an 8 year old! When I realized what I had done, I looked up to my dad, he looked upset, then let out a “F#$@ YES” himself! Then that glittering smile, smiled down to me. He picked me up and it was like a moment in time, I will never forget…

We continued to many games over the years. He found time in his busy schedule to help coach a girls hockey team when he could. I played for 5 years, only to be too small for my age, and had to stop because of it. Being the wonderful man my dad was, he still coached, although I was not playing. He always took me along with him. Thank you to “The Barn” in Hopkins. Made me even closer to my dad, and hockey…

Until I went to college, we went to every North Stars game possible together. It was “our thing.” and never ceased through the years. We had nightly calls about what games had been on. What we were able to watch, and I made it up as often as I could for games, as I was in Arizona at college…

When the North Stars moved, we were both devastated. I flew up to Minny right away. We mourned together, as we did for years to come. It was not an easy time for either of us. He went with the Stars, as I went with the Flyers. Nothing better than great debates with your dad over this. He always, until the day he passed away, disliked the Flyers. I am so happy he was able to see when The Wild came to Minny. We went to the Inaugural game together, as well as many, many more. The last game we were able to go, he was in a wheelchair and on oxygen, but his heart was still in the game, and a smile stayed on his face…

My dad was a strong man, and knew me like no other person ever can, or will. He knew from the beginning that I would appreciate, and love hockey, even though it was a bit traumatizing at times. He was always there for me no matter what. We had a lot of differences through the years, but he always respected my opinions and thoughts…

Now that he gone, everyday I miss him. The ear that always listened, the man that made me smile, the man that made me laugh, the man who would do anything for anyone, the man that made me a strong person, the man that made me happy with a smile, the man that could never do any wrong, the man that always held my hand in the bad times, and was always ready to share the good times, the man that stood by me no matter what, and there was a lot of “what” moments in there, the man who taught me to give and never have regrets, the man that would call me just to tell me he loved me, nothing else, the man who could conquer the world, but never lose site of his family, the man who put everyone in his life on a pedestal, and rarely though of himself first…

Thank you dad for giving so much to me. Hockey is only a small part of it, but you know how much I loved, and love it. Every game I watch to this day, I can see your smile, and even hear a “F&# YES” out of you sometimes. I miss you so much. Those smiling eyes of yours, every time I saw you.  Thank you for being my friend, my confident, me mentor, and most of all, my father…

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