My grandpa died a little more than two years ago. When I got the phone call my reaction was one of resignation, which at the time I think I mistook for acceptance. He had been sick, which allegedly makes these sort of things easier. In reality, nothing is easy. This wasn't easy, hasn't been easy and likely won't ever be easy.
We talked about travel and England — of course about England. There was never a question of where he came from. While he may be the only Manchester boy who cared more about ice hockey than United, he was definitively English.
I'll remember my grandpa as the most loyal Sharks fan I'll ever know. Goodness knows no one at any age deserves the grief San Jose put him through over the years, but he watched every game. Randy Hahn and Drew Remenda were his nightly company, along with Patrick Marleau and the rest of the boys.
I didn't understand it then, not really. I watched baseball — and that was about it. But he'd be sure to mention Evgeni Nabokov, Joe Thornton or this Joe Pavelski kid that's really setting the world on fire. His regular refrain of "Maybe they'll figure it out" wasn't said with resignation so much as it was with optimism. If someone who lived through the second World War, the Bush administration and season after season of Sharks hockey could keep hope and a sense of humor, I can, too.
He grew up playing ice hockey — always ice hockey, never just hockey — in England. He claimed he was quite good at it, and I'm fair game to take him at his word. He didn't talk much about his childhood at all. Not about waking up in the middle of the night to head to a bomb shelter, not about walking to school to see stores he'd been at days before blown to pieces. But ice hockey, now that's something that always caused him to light his eyes up.
I don't know what position he played, to tell the truth, or even if they really played positions in whatever league he participated in. He wasn't ever especially big or strong, so I like to think of him as a finesse player. Lord knows he was wiry enough to make the comparison work.
When the Sharks lost to the Kings in 2014, it didn't really hit me at first. I'm used to this and losing is a part of sports. But when I thought of my grandpa, who had passed just months before, I welled up with sadness. He never got to see Marleau lift the cup — god did he want to. It's strange to have a regret you couldn't influence, but there it is, sitting inside me all the same.
If the Sharks ever win the Stanley Cup, I'll first think of my grandpa amid the confetti and celebrations. I hope he'll get to watch it, wherever he is.
Thanks grandpa, and go Sharks.