Over the past few weeks, with the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, my thoughts inevitably have turned to my sister, a transplanted New Englander who, unlike the rest of my family, adopted the Bruins as her team and hockey as her sport. It’s been more than four years since she passed away, of cancer, at age 46. And while I still think of her every day, it’s times like these that bring back memories – mostly happy ones.
My parents were born and raised in New York City, where Lauren and I also were born, but by 1977 my father had taken a job in Massachusetts and relocated our family. Outside of Lauren, the rest of us were too contrarian or too stubborn (even my younger sister, who was born that year), so we stuck to our roots as dyed-in-the-wool New York Rangers fans.
Lauren, who began fourth grade the year we moved north, made friends easily with her bubbly personality and, naturally, took on a “when in Rome” attitude. If her friends and everyone around her were Bruins fans, she would be a Bruins fan, too.
In high school, her hockey fandom took root. Franklin High began to advance deep into the state playoffs and the school organized buses to the old Boston Garden for the games. I remember her coming home one night at the same time exhilarated and outraged that the opposing Wilmington fans chanted, “Hicks Go Home!” at the Franklin section. (Franklin, after all, is only about 40 miles from Boston.)
In 1982, Franklin lost 4-0 to Falmouth in the Division 2 Eastern Mass state final (the cousin of one of Lauren’s best friends, Peter Laviolette, the future Stanley Cup-winning coach, suited up for the Panthers that year). The next year, Lauren was there when Franklin avenged that loss with an epic 5-4 overtime win over Falmouth in the title game.
A favorite memory of mine came on December 23, 2010 – in the form of a birthday present for Lauren, whose special day was one day earlier. I was working as an NHL.com correspondent and had flown to visit my family for Christmas for the game before the holiday break between the Atlanta Thrashers and the Bruins. I covered the game from the press box while Lauren, her husband Bob, my wife Christie, and my brother-in-law Byron sat in the stands (my younger sister Alyson didn’t come because she was attending to her newborn).
Resplendent in the Christmas-colored accessories that adorned his tuxedo, Rene Rancourt led the crowd in carols between periods. It had been more than 15 years since I had lived in Massachusetts and it was hard not to be charmed by the atmosphere – perhaps as Lauren was, as hockey and the Bruins won her over.
As I was jostled by bodies making my way through the crammed concourses at intermission, I was reminded of who Bruins fans were. These were the kids I had grown up with whose parents woke them at 4 and 5 a.m. on school days to drive them 30 miles to practice. Tough, scrappy kids like Matt Grzelcyk of Charlestown, Massachusetts, and Charlie Coyle of Weymouth.
After some time, I arrived at their seats. Lauren was ebullient. Shawn Thornton went one better than a Gordie Howe hat trick – two goals and a fighting major. In all, the game had eight fighting majors and four game misconducts. Tim Thomas, who would go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy that spring as the Bruins won their first Cup in 41 years, made 26 saves in the 4-1 victory. Everyone went home in a celebratory mood.
What I have always loved about sports is its ability to draw people together collectively, as it did that night, and for families to share those thrilling emotions and memories through the years. Nothing captures this spirit better than the great Boston Globesports writer Leigh Montville’s book Why Not Us?, about what the Red Sox’s World Series victory in 2004 meant for their legion of long-suffering fans.
Growing up in Massachusetts with my New York sports loyalties (a Yankees fan) naturally meant hating the Red Sox. Yet when the Red Sox won that first World Series in 86 years, I rejoiced for my friends who were die-hard Sox fans, including my high school friend Brian King, who, along with his older brother Kevin and his father, obsessed about the Sox. Kevin died tragically young in 2011 but it makes me happy to know that Brian and his family got to share in those memories.
When I think back to my sister’s final weeks, my thoughts again turn at times to hockey. It was February 2015 and Southeastern New England was buried under several feet of snow and frigid temperatures. I will always be grateful for the 10 days I spent with her during that period.
One night, about a week into the trip, I ventured out to a Franklin High hockey game and brought home a program. As she lay in the hospital bed that had been set up in her den, she carefully and thoughtfully poured over the program. Two of the sons of a neighbor who had grown up across the street from us were on the roster. (One of them, Luke Downie, would go on a year later to score the winning goal in overtime to deliver Franklin High its first Division 1 state title.) In the program’s records section were many of the names of her high school classmates. It’s a fond memory from a dark time.
During the current series, I have preferred to think about how my sister would have been excited to follow the games and how we might have traded emails and texts about them. Following Game 5, the Bruins now stand one loss away from elimination.
Yet I’m hoping. This year, I’m pulling for the Bruins – for Lauren.
By John Manasso, author of A Season of Loss, A Lifetime of Forgiveness: The Dan Snyder and Dany Heatley Story