I’m writing a bit outside the box this week, but you probably already know I like to do that on occasion. I know this is supposed to be a “Blueberry Haven blog,” but if my boys didn’t play hockey, the blueberry gig probably wouldn’t even exist. In addition, this week happens to be the 36-year anniversary of “Miracle On Ice,” and this past Sunday was National Play Hockey in America day. Life is so intertwined sometimes, you just don’t always realize it until everything plays out in the end.

So, this week’s blog is a little sentimental for me. My husband and I attended Senior Night last weekend at our middle son’s high school hockey game. Senior Night is always emotional and signals the winding down of a hockey season. Because we have a Senior, this is the close of a chapter in our son’s life and the beginning of another one.

Three years ago, our middle son began playing hockey on his high school varsity team. He was just a sophomore, so when it was his turn to pick his jersey, there weren’t many jerseys left in the pile. All three of my boys have played hockey for many years, and picking a particular jersey number has always been important.

My oldest son wore number 25, my middle wore 52, and the youngest wore 77. The numbers “2” and “5” were Grandpa’s favorite numbers, and you may notice that both “25” and “52” add up to “7.” There really is a method to their madness!

In 2008, something happened in our lives that made my boys want to change their jersey numbers. Tragedy struck my childhood friend when her young daughter, Chiara, drowned in Lake Michigan right outside our house. Her birthdate was 8-1-1998, and she died on 7-18-2008. Chiara was athletic, too, and her jersey number was 8. She was a joy to our family, and we were all devastated when she was taken away at such a young age.

The next year, my boys all switched their jersey number to 8, or some form of that number if 8 wasn’t available. When my middle son became a varsity hockey player at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (GRCC), number 8 wasn’t available because a current player on the team was already wearing that jersey. However, number 24 was available, and my son pointed out that 2 times 4 equals 8, so he was happy to wear that jersey. Ironically, the previous summer, he had played on a U.S. hockey team in Sweden and all the players were able to get Swedish national team jerseys. My son had selected the number 24!

The number 24 has been a good number for him, and I have to admit that when I am asked for his jersey number, I sometimes slip and say 8 or 88. I even thought he might switch back to the number 8 if it became available. It wasn’t until this year, his last year of high school hockey, that number 8 opened up. But, after wearing number 24 for two years and having decent hockey seasons both years, he is comfortable sporting 24. Personally, I believe he really likes wearing the same number that one of his beloved former coaches wore—Travis Richards retired jersey number 24 at the Van Andel Arena. Coincidentally, his son plays on the same hockey team with my son, and they are best buds!

A new player to the GRCC team is lucky enough to take over jersey number 8 this year. This is his first year on the team, and he’s reaping the benefits of such a lucky number. The new number 8 had an older brother named Keegan who sadly lost his fight with leukemia at the young age of two.I feel fortunate that his mom shared the story of her Keegan with me. One thing I have learned from friends who have lost a child is that they DO want to hear their child’s name. She told me how happy she was to hear of another Keegan, and she knows nothing about the significance of the number 8 in our lives.

Ironically, the boy who wears jersey number 18 on the GRCC team lost an older brother named Nate a few years ago after living with Muscular Dystrophy his whole life. I have a feeling we have some special angel wings on our team this year. You just never know the stories that other people may have in their lives—on the ice or in their personal lives.

I hope this wasn’t a downer blog but rather an uplifting one that shows the importance of rallying around one another as a team, whether it’s in life’s tragedies or in a hard-fought battle on the ice, field, or court. In light of the recent tragedy in Kalamazoo, let’s all do what we can to help each other out in both good times and bad.

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