Friday, March 28, 2014

A Hockey Love Story & On-Ice Wedding

Mark and Mary - A Hockey Love Story

Tomorrow night (Saturday) long time Allen Americans fans Mark Costello and Mary Rose Simonetti will be getting married in an on ice ceremony performed during the first intermission with Americans players, Ice Angels and staff playing a part in their special night. I first met Mark through this blog as we share a passion not only for the Allen Americans but also number crunching and statistics surrounding the team and the league. He has provided information used in the blog on several occasions and his spreadsheets are full of  data not to be found elsewhere. When I heard about the upcoming wedding I asked Mark to share with me the Mark and Mary story and he graciously agreed to do so. It is a story of a hockey love affair but it is also a great trip down memory lane. Hope you enjoy. If you see Mark and Mary tonight in the concourse of the AEC be sure to wish them good luck for the big day tomorrow.

A Hockey Love Story
On November 6, 2009, the Americans were finishing a seven game road trip to start their inaugural season and awaiting the completion of the brand new Allen Event Center. That night the newest team in the CHL was improving their road trip record to 5-2 by earning a 6-5 win against a tough Corpus Christi Ice Rays team that featured great CHL players like Chad Woolard, RG Flath, Chad Costello, Chris Richards, Justin Quenville, who would later coach the Ice Rays, and a young Ryan Garbutt, who now plays hockey at the big arena in downtown Dallas.
That night was also the grand opening of the Allen Event Center with a concert performance by country music legend Reba McEntire. In the concourse was a table manned by a lonely Allen Americans staffer who sat awaiting the chance to talk to potential hockey fans about the new team and maybe even sell a season ticket or two, he was watching hundreds of concertgoers walk by without even giving him a look. In attendance that night were two die hard hockey fans who approached the table, they were on one of their first dates and on the threshold of a hockey love affair.
Mary was a Plano hockey mom who had moved from central Louisiana in the early 80’s, her son had gravitated from street hockey to ice hockey years before. She chauffeured Nick and his teammates to countless practices before dawn and on road trips, championed fundraisers, sat on the private boards that make junior and varsity high school hockey happen with no help from the UIL and spent way too much time in the laundry room with the dreaded gear bags of sweaty uniforms, pads and gloves, the smell of which would make a lesser woman cringe. As all hockey moms, she endured all for the joy of sitting in the stands cheering her son’s play between the pipes for the Plano East Panthers for a couple years before he even got to senior high school and thereafter until graduation.
Mark was an old pond hockey player from Michigan City, Indiana on the shore of Lake Michigan, an hour from Chicago Stadium where he attended Blackhawks games cheering hockey legends like Stan Makita, Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito and Keith Magnuson. Mark moved to Plano in 1979 and made the weekend trips to Fair Park and the Fort Worth Coliseum to watch the two biggest rivals of the old CHL, the Dallas Blackhawks and the Fort Worth Texans. On many nights there were as many fights in the stands as on the ice and there were a lot of fights on the ice. Old school hockey, without helmets. The old CHL died in ’84 and the new CHL came to life in ’92. The Dallas Freeze floundered in the 6 team league and quietly faded to memory when the Stars came to town.
The night after the concert, the Ice Rays visited the AEC for the first hockey game. The Rays were not happy about the upstart Americans beating them the night before in Corpus, so they came to Allen and spoiled the home debut in front of 5,800 fans with an impressive 4-1 win in a penalty-laden game that included four game misconducts and 106 total penalty minutes. The lone Allen goal coming from Justin Bowers, assisted by Nino Musitelli and Tyler Wooddisee. By the end of the game, Mark and Mary had fallen in love- not with each other or hockey; that had already happened. They fell in love with a team.
Season one was special. Mark and Mary sat in section 117 and cheered their favorite players, Brandon Straub and Nino Musitelli, and watched a fledgling team carry the season near the top of the standings, second to only the Odessa Jackalopes who were led by the 97 points of Sebastien Thinel. Musitelli and goalie Chris Whitley caught fire during the playoff run and along with Brandon Straub, Jordie Benn, Bruce Graham, Jarret Lukin and a late season addition of Colton Yellow-Horn dispatched the Laredo Bucks and then the tough Odessa Jackalopes in the Conference Finals. The Rapid City Rush probably thought they had it made when Odessa went down, but they didn’t count on the fight the Americans would put up. The playoffs ended in a double overtime game 6. There was no joy in the outcome, but immense pride in the how well the young team has played against the best teams the CHL had to offer. Over the course of the season, Mark and Mary got to know the players and it was with sadness that some departed to pursue their careers elsewhere. But new players joined the team and all became family. Teams also came and went- life in the minor leagues. But game after game, the hockey couple watched, and cheered and as fans do, felt joy of victory the agony of defeat.
The next season, the Mark and Mary became engaged. A celebratory road trip to Bossier ensued. Midway through the season a cross-ice pass whizzed between them in Section 117, Row F and slammed into the empty seat behind them. With jaws dropped and eyes wide open, they decided that maybe it was time to move down a couple rows, you know, below the top of the glass. The following season they made the move to the glass.
The fourth season arrived with a new coach and new players. Fall is to hockey what spring is to baseball. Hope springs eternal as the Americans embarked on their 4th campaign to win the game that matters the very most- the last one. Elation does not reflect what they and their fellow 6000 fans felt when Todd Robinson scored that magic goal in overtime of game seven. All of the missed opportunities, heartbreaking losses, and frustrating losses of previous seasons faded away. The dream had come true and the last game of the year had been won. What would next season bring. Few back-to-back championship are won in the minor leagues. The nature of the minor leagues makes it difficult and it hasn’t been done in 12 years in the new CHL. After four years of being engaged, Mark & Mary were frequently asked when they would tie the knot. With three of their combined five children still in high school, the busy schedules just didn’t seem to offer a good time to do so. Their friend, Shonda Hardy, who became the wedding planner, suggested that since they were at every home game, maybe they should get married at a hockey game. Everyone laughed, but the suggestion seemed to live on. It was suggested to the front office and the organization enthusiastically began preparations. It would be a first for the team and the AEC. To many of their friends, it sounded crazy, but to Mark & Mary it all makes perfect sense.
After four years of engagement, five memorable seasons of Americans hockey, and numerous friendships forged with the camaraderie that is part of being hockey fans, Mark and Mary will be married during the first intermission of the final regular season game on Saturday with their favorite team and thousands of their friends and fellow Americans fans looking on. The hockey love affair is in full bloom. As for the honeymoon, that will have to wait; there’s playoffs to follow the wedding.
Mark and Mary are well aware of hockey superstition and what you should and more importantly should never say, like a prediction during a game when no one has scored yet on your goalie. The same holds true for playoff runs and a suggestion of the outcome, but Mark and Mary, like all good hockey fans, know anything can happen in the playoffs. Their suggestion: just Rock Your Red.


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