Growing up as a child I was never overly interested in sports. My brothers and Dad were more aviation geeks than sport followers. My Dad did like baseball, though, and he would follow the Red Sox. He took me to a game at Fenway when I was a teenager. I remember Carl Yazstremski and Carlton Fisk were both playing in the game I went to, so I'll leave it to you to narrow down the years. But baseball never really took a strong hold on me. I liked it and I watched it, but I could take it or leave it.
But then came hockey. The Hartford Whalers to be exact. And my love for it and them all happened due to my sister Lynn's divorce. Lynn worked for Travelers and was in a hockey booster club called the 91 club where she got discounted season tickets and who all drove up I-91 to Springfield, Mass to see the Whalers play.
Yes, I said Springfield, Mass. That January of 1978, the Hartford Civic Center roof caved in and the Whalers were now without a home. The Whalers were actually the New England Whalers at that point in 1978. They belonged to the WHA (World Hockey Association). While the Civic Center was rebuilt, the Whalers were offered the Springfield Civic Center. They stayed there for 2 years until the new Hartford Civic Center re-opened 1980, and the New England Whalers were now the Hartford Whalers and were a part of the NHL.
But back to 1978. Lynn and her husband Glen Drake were going through a divorce and Lynn got custody of the hockey tickets. She asked me if I wanted to go see some games. I was 13 at the time. We had just moved to South Windsor and I was having a pretty tough time of it with being bullied. I was extremely unhappy. Looking back on it, I think Lynn suddenly realized I was struggling and decided she would at least try to get me out of the house once in a while. I figured why not. It was something to do. Sure, I'll go, I said.
I loved hockey! It was 90 minutes of fast paced action. I completely forgot about any troubles I had going on in South Windsor, and I threw myself completely into learning everything I could about the game, the players and the league.
In 1978, my favorite Christmas present was the Rogers jersey I received for Christmas. Mike eventually signed it a few years later.
|Meeting Mike. Age 13|
How can you not love a guy like that?
Mike was a sweet and special guy. He introduced me to his wife, Ann, at the first Booster Club banquet, and if it were at all possible, she was even nicer than he was. She loved that I adored her husband and was very kind and encouraging to me whenever I would see her at hockey games or at events. She always remembered me by name.
|Age 15, Posing with Mike Rogers at a Whaler banquet|
My sister, Lynn, wrote to Mike shortly before my 15 birthday and asked if he could give me a signed hockey stick. I had no idea. So, there we were down in the front seats for warm-ups that night. Mike didn't take his usual lap around to wave or tap the glass to me. I was a little disappointed. But then he came out on the ice and skated straight for the rink door that was right next to us. The Zamboni came out that door. Mike skated over and looked at me and smiled and tapped on the glass to get the ice crew's attention. One of the guys came over and opened the door. Mike handed him a stick and pointed over to me. The guy handed the stick over to me and said, "This is from Mike. He says Happy Birthday Jenny." I was floored! Mike just grinned and skated away. I looked at the stick and not only was it signed by Mike, but by the entire team. Names like Gordie Howe and Mark Howe.
Mike was traded to the New York Rangers when I was a junior in high school. Devastating, to say the least. But I had come a long way since I had first met him and I accepted it quickly and knew that he would do well anywhere he played until he retired or went back to Calgary, Alberta Canada where he and Ann were originally from. I tried to keep up with Rangers, but it just wasn't the same. Mike eventually went on to the Edmonton Oilers and then retired from playing and became a coach in Canadian minor league hockey. The Whalers, of course, left Hartford and moved to North Carolina. Connecticut is still not over it, and you see Whalers memorabilia all over the place.
In 2010, there was a Whalers reunion held at Renchtler Field in East Hartford. Whaler alumni were all getting together for a meet and greet. Thousands of people showed up. I waited in line for 3 hours to see Mike again. When I got up to him I had a photo I had taken of him and Ann at one of the Whalers banquets. I gave it to him. Then I showed him the photo of him and I at the event. I said, to him, "I'm sure you don't remember me, but, I'm Jenny. " He shook his head and said, "Oh my God, yes! Of course I remember you. How are you?"
I babbled on to him about my life and how I had named my third daughter, Michelle, after him because he had made such a big impact on my life. He looked truly touched and looked me in the eyes and said, "I can't believe that. Wow. Just wow."
|Mike Rogers and me, in 2010 at the Whaler reunion|
So hockey was a real saving grace for me through those years I lived in South Windsor. And it continued to be a wonderful part of my life after we moved back to Windsor and my life got so much better. It was like the icing on the cake at that point. And I know Mike really has no concept of how important he was in the life of a 13 year old girl who was struggling so terribly.
Who would have thought hockey would make such a difference?