I need to take a moment to step out of my “unbiased” sports writer’s shoes for a moment so I can make a confession.
I despise the New York Rangers.
If asked to rank the 122 professional sports franchises in the Big Four (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL), the Rangers are No. 123 on my list. I’ll find a way to rank a minor league baseball team or an NFL Europe squad ahead of them.
So when the universe’s No. 1 Rangers fan comes to me — a diehard New Jersey Devils fan — in a dream, it catches my attention.
His name is Jimmy Aschwanden and last night I dreamt I was hanging out with my good friend. In the ethereal world of my mind, it was his birthday.
I hadn’t thought about him during the day, nor had I even stopped to think about hockey before sleepily sidling into bed.
But to dream about someone you’ve spent your adolescence trading (good-natured) hockey smack-talk with on the eve of the Eastern Conference Finals between our two teams is goose-bump inducing.
It was a little over a year ago when I had my last epiphany regarding Jimmy — a body-numbing moment that turned out to be the 10th anniversary of the day the hockey Gods summoned him to heaven.
I’m not exactly sure what form of Leukemia he lost his battle with, but, if there’s any divine irony at play, I’d like to believe it was Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma — if solely for the initials N.H.L.
We grew up playing rollerblade hockey in the cul-de-sacs 20 miles west of New York City in a tiny, unassuming New Jersey-borough along the banks of the Ramapo River, where the concrete sprawl of the Big Apple begins yielding to the picturesque spine of the Appalachian Mountains.
We’d play until our feet hurt like hell, which was usually long after the day had ran out of sunlight.