Tonight, Sergei Fedorov was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame along with other awesome players Chris Pronger, Nick Lidstrom, Phil Housley, and Angela Ruggiero. In recent years, Hall of Fame inductees have become the who’s who of players I grew up watching. It’s a funny thing to realize you’ve watched someone’s entire pro career and their induction. Fedorov doesn’t stand out to me because of his incredible skating, two-way play, or the Cups he won with Detroit. Those are all reasons he’s being enshrined tonight, but I remember him more for a bit part in a childhood memory.
As an only child I became accustomed to having the attention of those around me at my disposal. So when my mom was meeting her father’s new girlfriend, Eleanor (my grandmother passed away when I was very young), I was feeling pretty bitter about being left out of their conversation. I was introduced to her and exchanged pleasantries, but was soon directed to the den with the TV on and a fresh pack of hockey cards.
Among the first cards in that pack of Score 91s was a Sergei Fedorov card. It looked like this:
At all of six years old, my hockey fandom was just getting started. I couldn’t yet recite rosters or stats. My knowledge of players came down to three quarters of the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup and anyone on the back of a Kraft Dinner box. Hockey cards were my textbooks then, and I studied hard.
It’s one of the few really early memories I have, and I have no idea why the Fedorov card stuck out to me. There were probably another seven cards in that pack, and I’m pretty sure my mom gave me another one later in the evening when I got bored. Maybe his was one of the first Russian names I’d seen. It was the first time I realized being a kid means missing out on stuff sometimes, even if it’s boring grown up stuff.
My granddad was always a fixture in my early love for hockey. We weren’t Duncan and Charles, we were Mario and Ray (Bourque), in some parallel universe where the two of the game’s best transformed from rivals to pseudo teammates. He would tell me some stories of older teams, and we’d play the occasional game on his old table hockey game, where the puck was a ball bearing wrapped in a hoop of black plastic, the players were 2D, and the blue and green sweaters worn by the Canuck players were still considered vintage. The resentment I felt as I practiced pronouncing “Sergei” wasn’t just my first case of FOMO; I was worried I’d be losing my granddad to some stranger.
My granddad married Eleanor shortly after that night. I don’t remember many details during that time. I was there at the wedding. Someone had the bright idea to trust me with a video camera during the reception. My granddad told everyone about Mario and Ray. I sank down in my chair in embarrassment, but it made me smile.
At some point, Eleanor decided it wasn’t for her anymore. He came home one day and she was gone. I didn’t really understand it at the time. When he died I saw her again. I don’t know anything about her after that.
I’m lucky to have parents who have been together my whole life. I’ve been told by some friends who’ve seen their parents move on and meet new people, how difficult, awkward, uncomfortable that getting to know process can be. Sometimes it ends up working really well. Sometimes it’s not so great. So it goes. I can’t imagine what that process is like when you’re in your late thirties. I can’t imagine what it’s like when that person decides they’d rather not.
Life is complex and shitty sometimes. Sometimes you don’t really understand how much you don’t know about the conversations you were being left out of, and how little the participants knew themselves. My mom’s head must have been filled with all kinds of questions and thoughts and concerns and fears and who knows what else before having her kid begging her to hang with the grownups.
I don’t remember any other cards from those packs my mom used to distract me while she met her father’s future ex-wife. I read them over and over that night though, and I learned how to pronounce Sergei (not Sir-Jee). I’m grateful I didn’t understand all that stuff then. I didn’t have to worry about grownup things like intentions and heartbreak and grief when I visited my granddad. There was just Mario and Ray, and it was better that way.