As I watched a spectacular finish to last night's Edmonton Oilers/Colorado Avalanche game, stuffed full of turkey and ‘taters after a thoroughly satisfying meal with my family, I couldn't help but reminisce upon the hockey-playing years of my life, where each holiday was just another day on the calendar.
Maybe the team went with turkey instead of chicken for Thanksgiving Day's pre-game meal, but other than that, it'd be just like any other day.
You have to sacrifice the holidays to live the hockey player's life.
I went nine straight years without being able to attend a New Year's Eve party (including multiple 11:30 curfews). I missed out on all things Halloween for nearly a decade (including one where I was in Madison, Wisconsin). And now that I think about Thanksgiving, I can't recall being together with my family since I was 18.
The numbers would be similar for most hockey players.
For guys like Jordan Eberle(notes) and Taylor Hall(notes), deciding to make hockey their lives is a no-brainer. The holidays may be a little tougher, but it's infinitely justifiable. I mean, if you're into being rich/famous/successful and all that other crap.
But for so many of my great friends spread out around the globe trying to make it in various European leagues and minor leagues and what-am-I-doing-here leagues, missing out on things most people get to partake in can be the straw that broke the camel's back.
It's quite the feat to play in most elite leagues in Europe, but being alone in your bare apartment on Christmas doesn't exactly sound like a great time from where I'm sitting. If I chose to continue playing, that's likely what my holiday would look like.
That, and I'd probably be single.
Long-standing NHLers might have homes and wives and kids and pets and all the great things that make the holidays enjoyable, but they're a tiny percentage of professional hockey players.
Most guys have Easy Mac, overdraft protection and the Internet.
It's not just the players that have to forfeit time with their families, but their loved ones go without too. My Dad has a couple stories about boarding flights on Christmas Day for hockey -- I can assure you, that wasn't easy on anyone.
When the clock struck 12 to mark the beginning of a new year, I've been sleeping on the floor of an Alaskan airport, on a bus in the middle of the country, in my dorm, and answering coach's curfew call while watching SportsCenter.
And, I've been hitting "ignore" on drunk dials from friends with lives.
The life that the game affords players is obviously not to be pitied, but there really is a big sacrifice there that weighs in on your decision to keep playing if you're not making the big bucks. I can't believe how much I missed being able to be at the big get-togethers I dreaded as a kid. They're far less painful as an adult (see: wine).
Hockey's a wicked game, but there's no shaking the fact that you're an eight month prisoner to an itinerary (seven, if you're an Islander or a Leaf).
Travel is such a big part of the lifestyle, and the foremost reason you get stuck eating Whataburger instead of holiday feasts. Only two teams played last night, but half of the others were in a bus or on a plane or in a hotel or somewhere markedly different than watching the Jets beat the Bengals with a belly full of pumpkin pie.
For me, I'm happy to be where I'm at. Today, I've got leftovers, a comfortable apartment, and a steadily-growing gut.
And I don't care.
It's great to finally be a part of the holidays again.