It's been a long - almost normal - summer around our household, the hockey season having ended before Memorial Day (for a change), opening the door to other endeavors.
Oh, we still enjoyed hockey through the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we're looking forward to Sunday's unofficial opening of the AHL season, when the Hershey Bears play their first preseason game, one of two lead-in games to the real season, which comes three weeks later.
But I don't think we gave much thought to how a summer without hockey would impact our little one, who in his scant two and a half years already has attended nearly 100 hockey games.
He was born in the midst of a Calder Cup championship run; a year later, our team went back to the finals - he's accustomed to hockey lasting until mid-June. But he got to see a couple of baseball games during the time we might have been in the postseason - one of which was an event related to the Bears - and he discovered that sliding boards, sidewalk chalk, a bubble machine and his tricycle offer plenty of summertime fun that doesn't include a warped stick and a hard hunk of rubber.
A few weeks ago, he started picking up his little hockey stick again, and started asking me to put hockey on TV - a Saturday-morning tradition for the two of us in season, when we watch the NHL Network instead of Scooby Doo.
But I didn't realize how much he missed it until a bit more than a week ago, when we were inundated with Friday rains that stopped him from playing outside. When he awoke Saturday morning, it wasn't televised hockey reruns he asked for - the conversation went something like this:
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Norfolk Admirals at Hershey Bears
WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Giant Center, Hershey
"Still raining?," he asked.
"No buddy, it stopped," I replied.
Ballgame, at this stage of his life, is anything that involves a ball, from football to soccer, basketball to baseball. I knew that the soccer match scheduled for coverage that day had been called off, and I knew Juniata's field hockey team was playing in Selinsgrove - just a few blocks from my house.
"Tell you what, Christopher," I said. "I'll take you to a ballgame - but one that's also a hockey game."
"Hockey ballgame? BALLGAME HOCKEY!," he shouted, and tore off for the door.
He didn't quite know how to take hockey on grass, but he had a great time. He met Juniata coach Emily Wagner and warmed right up to her, but was not so smitten with Selinsgrove coach Cathy Keiser, one of my contemporaries. That, I warned him, might be a mistake, since he might be playing for her someday. In fact, one of the teams in the tournament had a young man on the roster, so Christopher got to see that field hockey wasn't just a game for girls.
That experience was nothing compared to this past Sunday, though, when we traveled to Washington, D.C., to see the second day of the Washington Capitals' training camp. The Caps - Hershey's NHL parent club - have a practically brand new practice center on top of a shopping center and parking garage in Arlington, Va., and their practices and scrimmages are open to the public.
We got up early Sunday and made our way to the Ballston Commons, where the Kettler Capitals Iceplex is located. Somebody wasn't quite sure where we were taking him, or why - all the stores were still closed. Coming off the elevator, though, he quickly guessed what was up - the doors open to the public rink, one of two in the facility.
And even though it wasn't being used, he knew immediately what it was, and I have no doubt they heard him in the full-contact practice at the next rink.
"Hockey! HAAAAA-KEEEEE!," he screamed.
His bright eyes lit up. He couldn't wait to watch, and got to, both from above and at glass level. He ended up with a new team sweatshirt, so big he'll be wearing it for half a decade, despite being the smallest size in the store.
This coming Sunday, it will be a nice reunion for us adults, who haven't seen one another since April. But for the little ones - not just ours, but all the others like him - it will just be a reason to smile.
And that gives his mom and I cause to do the same.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.