Giving Thanks For Hockey

What are we thankful for? That’s always the question every Thanksgiving holiday season.

Honestly, I feel this should be asked everyday. When I reflect back to all the wonderful times shared and special moments spent with family and friends, it’s all about the little things.

That’s what I appreciate most. Knowing I have a loving mother and father along with the best brother anyone could ever ask for. The Inner Circle that mean so much to me. Whether in person or online that I’ve met or even reconnected with, that truly matters.

If you don’t realize that, it’s not too late to. I always think about that heavy scene in my favorite holiday movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles when Neal Page expertly played by Steve Martin, plays back some emotional moments with traveling stranger Del Griffith, who was magnificently played by the late John Candy.

He starts to piece together that Griffith isn’t who he thought. It’s then that he realizes on the train ride home to make Thanksgiving dinner that Del has nowhere to go. Instead of walking home from the station, he returns to find Griffith by himself with his suitcase.

It’s at this moment that he asks the obvious question on everyone’s mind in the movie. What is he doing here? When he tells him the hard truth, Neal does the right thing and invites Del to his home to spend Thanksgiving with the family.

That poignant moment where they walk back and his daughter answers the door with such excitement before finally hugging his wife (Laila Robbins) is so emotional as Del has that wonderful smile as the film ends. You come away feeling good as “Everytime You Go Away,” plays.

To me, that’s the essence of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah or any holiday or magical moment we celebrate. Every day has meaning. No matter how challenging it gets. I will always believe that was Candy’s best role. He had so many and was gone too soon. But as I like to say, “Legends Never Die!”

If we all have the heart of that lovable Del Griffith character, we can enjoy things more. Despite his home situation without his wife Marie, he is an upbeat person who’s happy go lucky. That quality teaches a cynic like Neal a life lesson. It makes him a little wiser as he says before the fateful train ride where he finally realizes the truth.

If we apply that philosophy to our favorite sport of hockey which isn’t perfect, we can sure be thankful it’s around. A welcome attraction or distraction from our daily lives. That’s why I really loved Hasan’s Devils game recap because he gave us the live game experience along with some funny anecdotes about which players on the Wild he didn’t know still played. Haha.

I’ve spoken on here how much I loved the 25 years I went to Rangers games at MSG. It wasn’t only about watching the play develop and calling a goal before it happened which I can still do at home on television. It also was the people we met who made the games more fun. Even during the Dark Ages Error, we always laughed at the bad comedy in our section.

What should we as hockey fans be thankful for in 2021-22?

1. How special Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl are. They’re truly amazing players. McDavid is the best offensive player I’ve ever seen. Even better than Gretzky, Lemieux. To be that dominant is scary. Can you imagine him in the wide open era?

2. Draisaitl I believe is the best player. He’s not only on the same level as his special Oilers’ teammate. But he is excellent overall. He is the only Edmonton player to join Gretzky with 40 points in the first 20 games doing it in 19. He leads the league with 20 goals. That’s ridiculous. Can he keep going to 30, 40 or even the prestigious 50/50 Club? I’m rooting for it.

3. Alexander Ovechkin turning back the clock. The Great Eight is carrying the Caps minus Nicklas Backstrom. His start at 36 has been unbelievable. Not just for the 15 goals he’s scored as he tries to chase No. 99. But 18 assists match his ’21 output which was in 45 games. What a special player.

4. Troy Terry provided us with a potential new young star. His 16-game point streak was phenomenal. It finally ended against Nashville on Nov. 22. The former USA WJC hero has 22 points (12-10-22) in 19 games for the surprising Ducks. Hopefully, he can get back on the score sheet after being shutdown the last two.

5. Locally, how about Adam Fox. He’s proving the Norris he won in the shortened season wasn’t a fluke. What makes him so good is his IQ. His ability to read plays is tremendous. He’s got great vision and has become a Ranger staple. At a point-per-game so far, Foxy plans to do it over a full 82.

6. Lucas Raymond has been the brightest rookie for the Red Wings. It’s the number 4 pick from the ’20 NHL Draft that’s asserted himself as the early breakout star. With 20 points in 21 games, he’s got good chemistry with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi on the top line. Detroit finally seems to be headed in the right direction. Watch Raymond play and you’ll see why.

7. The outstanding teams such as the Panthers, Lightning and Maple Leafs, who all are competing for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. As impressed as I am with how the Leafs play compared to recent years, how can you not shake your head at the depth and talent both the Cats and Bolts have to overcome injuries to key stars? Thank God they’re not in our division of hell. To borrow a Hasan phrase.

8. Speaking of which, that division of hell is headlined by the ultra talented Hurricanes, who boast top center Sebastian Aho and emerging scorers Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas. Rangers South features six including Tony DeAngelo, who’s formed a good top pair with the overlooked Jaccob Slavin. Rookie Seth Jarvis is staying in Raleigh. Freddy Andersen is the netminder.

9. If there’s a gift that keeps on giving despite his team’s subpar start, it’s Patrick Kane in Chicago. He continues to be a wizard forming a deadly combo with Alex DeBrincat.

10. Logan Couture still is the leader of the Sharks. They’re off to a surprising start. Timo Meier is emerging again along with Couture, who remains a fun overall players to watch. Jonathan Dahlen has been a nice surprise. The son of Ulf can finish.

11. Credit goes out to Lindy Ruff, who has the Devils hanging around despite Jack Hughes having played two games. The addition of Dougie Hamilton has helped stabilize the defense. Pavel Zacha remains a scoring threat while captain Nico Hischier is the key setup man. Mackenzie Blackwood has been solid since returning.

12. Nazem Kadri has taken his lumps forever due to his playoff past. Without Nathan MacKinnon, it’s the former Leaf who’s been on a tear while leading the Avalanche back into the Central Division race. This is the best hockey he’s ever played. MacKinnon is due back soon.

13. Cale Makar is the new offensive dynamo. He might not be as polished as Fox, but the smooth skating defenseman is a rover whose nine goals are proof of how lethal he can be. A very exciting player to watch.

14. Elvis Merzlikins is doing his part to keep the overachiever Blue Jackets afloat in the tough Metro. He might not have the gaudy numbers of Jack Campbell, Jacob Markstrom, Sergei Bobrovsky, Igor Shesterkin, John Gibson or even Carter Hart and Tristan Jarry. But he’s backing up his promise for Matiss Kivlenieks, who must be proud watching upstairs.

15. Take in a Kirill Kaprizov shift and you’ll understand just how special his talent is. The super sophomore is the engine that makes the Wild go. Old friend Mats Zuccarello has amazing chemistry with Kaprizov and so far, Joel Eriksson-Ek is living up to the contract. If Kevin Fiala heats up, the Wild will be tough.

16. It’s nice to see a healthy Vladimir Tarasenko back and doing well for the Blues. Who knows if he’ll be traded? But the speed and skill is still there. How about having Pavel Buchnevich play with him. Yikes. The Blues are a good team. It still will be an uphill climb to make the playoffs in that division.

17. Chandler Stephenson is putting up the points for the Golden Knights, who are patiently waiting for Jack Eichel to debut in March. Stephenson was on the ’17-18 Caps who won the Stanley Cup. Think maybe they regret trading him?

18. Is there a more cohesive trio than Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk? They’ve dominated at five-on-five. Since Darryl Suter put them together, they’ve only been on for one goal against while burning opponents, who literally are seeing Flames. Calgary is for real.

19. Cy Young NHL Leaders

A. Andrew Mangiapane 15-2

B. Chris Kreider 15-3

C. Alex DeBrincat 11-3

D. Ryan Hartman 10-4

E. Brandon Saad 8-2

20. It’s nice to see Steven Stamkos back to playing at an elite level in Tampa. He’s overcome a lot of injuries. The 31-year old captain needs 12 points for 900. His next goal will be number 450. What if he’d stayed healthy?

21. Playing in Winnipeg, Kyle Connor remains in obscurity. A hidden American gem who can light the lamp with the best of them who’s a dynamic skater. When I saw him early in his career, I concluded he was better than Patrik Laine. Laine now plays in Columbus. Condolences to him on the recent loss of his Dad.

22. Pierre-Luc Dubois is reminding folks of the ability he has for the Jets. Hard to believe he and Laine went a pick apart in the McDavid ’16 Draft. Matthew Tkachuk was also in it as was underrated top Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who you can see this afternoon when the B’s host the Rangers in the Black Friday game on ABC.

23. If you can get Ducks games, watch just for Trevor Zegras. The Team USA hero has the tools to be a good one. He’s already scored some highlight reel goals.

24. I didn’t include Andrei Vasilevskiy in the list of goalies before. I still believe he’s in a different category. Forget the team he plays for. If you subtracted him off the Bolts, they’d struggle. They don’t believe in good backups. Vasy makes great saves look easy.

25. As bad as things have been in Montreal, here’s hoping Carey Price can successfully return soon and still be the elite goalie we saw carry the Habs to the Stanley Cup Final.

26. God bless Kevin Hayes, who scored an emotional goal for his brother Jimmy up in heaven. I can’t imagine what he’s going through. Hope he gets back on the ice soon.

27. Who had Tage Thompson with eight goals and Evan Rodriguez at seven helping their teams more than expected?

28. Pat Maroon has as many goals (4) as Mika Zibanejad or Artemi Panarin. Kevin Rooney has five on the same team. Is the apocalypse near?

29. Miro Heiskanen put on a tremendous defensive game against McDavid in a recent Stars’ win over Edmonton. He was so effective against the Oilers superstar that the Dallas skaters had more shots in the third period when up against his line with Heiskanen matched up. He doesn’t get the ink of the other defensemen. But Heiskanen is in that class.

30. If Alexis Lafreniere’s skating and skill catches up to his maturity and intelligence, the Rangers will have a very good young player. It hasn’t come easy for the former top pick. But he understands his role and demonstrated that he isn’t afraid of sticking up for a teammate. Admittedly, he said it was his first fight ever. The kid has a keen sense of humor.

31. The U20 World Junior Championships are a month away. An exciting tournament that features the best prospects, it’s a chance to catch a glimpse of the future. Shane Wright is the projected top pick for 2022. The center is expected to be an impact player. Don’t put crazy expectations on him.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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