Derek Kessinger talks about his connection to his friend Jessica Redfield Ghawi through the Colorado Avalanche and hockey. Jessi died five years ago in the Aurora Theater Shooting.
One of the great joys I find in watching hockey is the puck movement. I love having an intuition about where the puck is on the ice, even when I can’t see it. The body language of the players and the puck’s previous trajectory take over in my brain.
Of course, the puck often takes a bounce and disappears. No one—the fans, players or refs—can find it. It’s teleported to another dimension. After a moment, the puck falls to the ice and continues with more unscripted entertainment ahead.
When well executed, hockey is all about movement. The puck never stops on the frictionless surface—players collide, the puck zips down one side, teams change on the fly, near misses, posts, checks and goals. The game is a symphony of chaos on the ice.
The game of hockey fit so well with Jessi. A metaphorical hockey forward, she was ready to jump over the glass into any situation, which is a great quality in both a journalist and a friend.
It’s one reason I think she loved hockey. There are some people that thrive best when they’re watching order turn into something entirely unexpected, like bowling pins set up to be upturned by a spinning ball. I see that trait in hockey fans more than in any other group.
Jessi and my friendship revolved around hockey during the Colorado Avalanche’s 2011-12 season. With tweets and texting, we were always talking about the games and how our lives revolved around them. Jessi was still making up her mind about the Avs while covering games in the press box. I was a die-hard fan since the age of four when the team moved to Colorado.
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In sports, the realm of play, the letdowns and the disappointments are minimal. The team never wins another cup. They lose their best players. The captain doesn’t return. The team becomes stuck as bottom feeders in the league. These are deflating moments that we have the luxury to laugh off. They’re fun to dissect and talk about.
As the 2011-12 season ended and the Avs missed the playoffs, I leaned too heavily on a sports cliché with Jessi. There was always “next time” to catch up or hang out. I always just assumed that Jessi and I were on similar career paths and there would be plenty of time in the future.
In life, it’s not that easy. Even five years later, I don’t have the full framework to process what losing a friend in a mass shooting really means. I can’t describe the pain I’ve seen in the people closer to the shooting than I was. I still have overwhelming moments in the July heat. The demons of this tragedy never really leave. All of us have to deal with the fallout of the last five years
Jessi was with me when I achieved my dream. During my first game ever in the Avs press box, six months after Jessi’s death, I sat next to the plaque placed there in her honor. I’ve wondered many times over the past five years how Jessi would react to the state of the Avalanche.
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The Avs did not play great hockey this past year. That was sarcastic—they played the worst professional hockey I’ve ever seen. They were an orchestrated disaster. Instead of chaos, the brand of hockey the Avs brought each night was a fiasco. However, even the current Avalanche provided some moments worth sharing with fellow Avs friends.
Sports, even bad sports, are best shared with others. The moments I’ve enjoyed with friends through sports stick in my memory more than most other events in my life. These memories usually involve a conversation about an entire game or a particular event in a game.
Sometimes, as was the case with my friendship with Jessi, the joy of sports is in sharing little moments, like experiencing the combined emotion when everyone loses sight of the puck and waits with anticipation for it to land…