Pat Burns passed away Nov. 19 after a long battle with cancer. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
- Algernon Charles Swinburne, British poet
You’ll probably read a lot of Thanksgiving-themed hockey stories today - mostly on which NHL players or teams you should be thankful for.
There’s nothing wrong with that type of story. But as the years go by, I’m finding that being thankful for what you have is one thing, but being thankful for things you can’t or no longer have - or things you’ve had, lost and found again - is just as important.
So this year, I’m thankful for different things.
I’m thankful Bob Probert got to spend a little bit of post-career time with his wife and children - and that he got to complete a book that provided great insight into the physical and emotional toll fighting takes on NHL enforcers - before a heart attack took him from us last summer.
I’m thankful Pat Burns made us media types all look foolish and wrestled down rumors of his demise with the same cantankerous-but-caring approach that endeared him to so many of his players and fans. I'm thankful his pain and suffering is over. And I’m thankful that, when he did pass away last week, he inspired heartfelt tributes from every corner of the hockey world.
I’m thankful Mandi Schwartz, a member of the Yale women’s hockey team (and sister of Blues prospect Jaden Schwartz) is in remission from acute myeloid leukemia. I’m also thankful her story alerted people to the benefits of stem cell research and bone marrow donor registries; because of Mandi, thousands more have been given a chance at a better life.
I’m thankful Luke Richardson and his wife Stephanie made the brave decision to speak out about the suicide of their 14-year-old daughter, Daron. Raising awareness of mental health is one of the last taboos in professional sports - and helping kids and parents understand and cope with teen suicide will be more of a profound legacy for Luke than anything he did on an ice pad.
I’m thankful for the handful of times I got to talk to Peter Zezel over the years, as well as for the people I talk to about him now; the bond between himself and his family and friends will always be there to help them continue on without him.
I’m thankful Taylor Pyatt and his fiancé Carly Bragnalo were able to love each other as long as they did before she perished in a car accident. And I’m thankful Luc Bourdon, Steve Chiasson, Alexei Cherepanov, Dan Snyder, Walt Poddubny and Sergei Zholtok, among others, never will be forgotten in their respective hometowns. All of them died too soon, but all left an indelible mark on those fortunate enough to know them.
I’m thankful virtually every NHLer has a charitable cause they work in service of. And I’m thankful that, for every tragedy that befalls a member of the hockey community, the reaction to it illustrates the resiliency of the human spirit and affection that binds us together, forever, through any kind of day that may come.
We can’t control what will happen to us and our loved ones. We only get to shape our reaction to it - and how we face life’s challenges, peaks, pitfalls and heartbreaks and carry on as best we can is ultimately what defines us.
On this and every Thanksgiving, I’m most thankful the hockey world sets such a wonderful example of how to do that gracefully.
Follow Adam's hockey tweets at twitter.com/TheHockeyNews, and his non-hockey observations at twitter.com/ProteauType.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. Power Rankings appear Wednesdays, his blog appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays.
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