Getting to T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday was infuriating.
I’ve never liked getting to the arena late on a game night. Traffic was absurd on the I-15. Off ramps were closed every which way. Little did I know that the entire 15 heading north was basically shut down because some wackadoo went crazy.
The whole time I tried to get through the Strip, pissed off and enraged at construction and heavy traffic, I completely forgot that I was at peace about two hours prior.
Twelve years ago yesterday, I lost my grandfather, George Sommers, at the age of 66 to a stroke. If you’d like to read more on him, you can read it here in this piece I did for the Los Angeles Times while I was in college.
Prior to the game, I stopped by the cemetery just to talk. It’s what I do whenever I need to clear my head. We all have our unique ways of letting off steam; mine just happens to be standing above my grandfather’s tombstone and talk to him as if he can actually hear me.
Had to make a quick trip before heading to the arena. Twelve years today. Crazy.— Danny Webster (@DannyWebster21) December 11, 2019
Miss you, Grandpa. pic.twitter.com/84d1CLO0Kx
I spent about 15 minutes there. It helped. Then I started driving, knowing I was going to be late. When I got settled in the press box, it was almost 7:10. I was just pissed.
Meanwhile, on the ice many floors below, there was a man going through loss that hurts and feels more fresh than what I felt.
Marc-Andre Fleury made his return to the ice for the first time in eight games after his father, Andre Fleury, died on Nov. 27 at the age of 63. The performance on the ice was spectacular; he made 28 saves and was 30 seconds from a shutout. The Vegas Golden Knights went on to win 5-1 against the Chicago Blackhawks and earned a point for the sixth time in seven games.
After the game, as it’s seemed the past couple of days since Fleury rejoined the Golden Knights, you can tell he’s a man still somber; a man who feels a pain that no one can imagine.
Yet he still came to work that night whether he was ready or not.
“I don’t know if I thought about it (throughout the game) or not. I don’t know how that works,” Fleury said. “He’s been in my thoughts, for sure.”
Fleury has played in big games before. He’s won the Stanley Cup three times, for Christ sake. He knows a thing about playing in pressure-packed situations.
This was obviously different, from the crowd’s loud ovation when he was announced in the starting lineup, to how locked in he was from puck drop. It doesn’t take much to motivate Fleury. It’s hard to find someone more locked in during a hockey game than him.
Whether or not Fleury went into this game wanting to play for his dad, we may never know. His demeanor is still that of a heartbroken man. He still flashed the trademark smile after the game, happy that his team played well in front of him and won the game.
“I wasn’t shaking nervous, but I felt it a little bit,” Fleury said. “It’s been a little while since I played, and I felt maybe the last couple of practices and warmups, I was thinking, ‘man, I should’ve stopped that one, or that one,’ instead of just relaxing a bit. I think that’s what happens when you miss a little while.”
Not until midway through the second period is when I sat and wondered how this man could put on this type of performance, while everyone had a feeling he still wasn’t himself. I haven’t had my grandfather, who was my father figure, for 12 years and I still become a babbling mess. Fleury was back after a week-and-a-half and put on a clinical Fleury-like performance against the Blackhawks.
“Every win is huge, but with what he’s been through the past little while, you want to battle for him,” said defenseman Deryk Engelland, who scored one of the five goals on Tuesday. “Getting back and seeing him do his thing, he came up huge a few times for us tonight. He’s back in fine form and we’re happy to get him back.”
Trying to understand an athlete’s mindset of loss is hard to fathom. Sometimes, all athletes need is to get back to what makes them comfortable; playing in their respective sport. Sometimes, it can be difficult for us to cope with loss. Athletes might be programed a certain way that we can’t comprehend.
After the game, I got the sense Fleury didn’t want to dive too much into the situation. Even after his postgame scrum, when I shook his hand and asked if he was doing fine, there was this sense it’ll take a bit before things seem normal. And, quite frankly, that’s OK. He’s allowed that, much like we all are when we deal with loss. How we deal with it and move on is what makes the difference.
By the time I got home and decided to write whatever the hell this has become, it dawned on me that there are things that shouldn’t matter. Whether in traffic, stuck on the interstate, or being late to something as minuscule as a hockey game, life takes over.
Fleury’s performance on Tuesday reassured me that we should all look to those in our lives, especially during the holidays, that give us solace and peace. For Fleury, it’s his teammates and the sport he loves. It’s also his family, his wife and kids. For us, we should look to our loved ones, our friends to understand that no matter how hard life might be at the moment, we can be picked up. We can get through life’s struggles, no matter how hard they may be at the current time. No matter how dark, brighter times are ahead.
And if I had the time to thank Marc-Andre for that subtle reminder last night, I would have done that.