In Their Own Words


Saturday, June 13, Stanley Cup Finals, Game 5

Chicago Blackhawks @ Tampa Bay Lightning

Amelie Arena, Tampa, FL

Tampa Bay Lightning Superfans

Sarah and William

story by: William
Sarah and William
Sarah and William pose in front of a Stanley Cup sand sculpture

So we show up to the Hilton lobby, and meet the other “winner”. We get to talking to this guy (his name was Kyle), and he seems like a good kid. 24 or 25 years old, actually works 3 floors above Sarah, and a real Lightning superfan. After chatting with him a bit, I feel pretty confident Kyle is in the same boat as us – and not, in fact, an assistant murderer. Anyway, about 10 minutes later, Hockey Santa walks up and introduces himself (for the record, he just introduces himself by his first name, I’m just calling him Hockey Santa because 1: It amuses me. And 2: He would prefer to remain anonymous). So first impression, this guy is shockingly normal for how odd this situation is. Clean cut, mid-30s, laid back. To be honest, if any of us sorta looked like a shady character/axe murderer, it was probably me and my beard. So we break the ice and start talking, and the guy is friendly and personable. We joke about how our friends think we might get robbed and/or murdered, he jokes about how his friends think he might get robbed and/or murdered, y’know… bonding.

At this point, I’m reasonably sure he’s not going to kill us (or throw water balloons at us… because those are two sides of the same coin). And if he’s going to rob/scam us, well he’s likable enough that I can deal with giving him the $40 in my wallet. So then we go to dinner before the game, keep chatting and talking about hockey, our lives, and whatnot. Check comes and we haggle over the bill. He absolutely would have paid it, but I win the “no, I insist” battle, and he reluctantly relents. It was absolutely the least I could do, and this would have been the most elaborate ruse to scam a free $11 pizza in history- like the Oceans 11 of Italian food (Oceans $11 Pizza). So we walk to the arena, Hockey Santa hands us our tickets, and we’re in the game! No muss, no fuss, no bullshit. The four of us go on to watch the game, and we have an awesome time.

The gang outside the arena
Outside the arena, from left: Zan, Brett, William, Sarah

The crowd was electric (Lightning pun!), and you could cut the tension in the air with a knife (again, thankfully, nobody had a knife). Throughout the game, Hockey Santa bought us beers (and a souvenir koozie), cheered with us, and was just the nicest person in the world. No fine print, no bait and switch, nothing but a 100% genuine desire to generously share his love of hockey and the excitement of the Stanley Cup. I’m still not sure we even deserved all of that generosity, but I’m tremendously grateful to him for the opportunity.

William Sarah Zan and Brett
from left: Sarah, William, Brett, Zan stop for a pic during the game

I don’t really want the moral of this story to be “All Internet Strangers Are Awesome” (be smart and safe, kids), but sometimes a leap of faith lands you in a pretty cool spot. There is a world full of kindness out there, and a billion different ways people choose to express that kindness. I feel like I’m an alright guy, and I try to give more to the universe than I take, but this experience – and everything I’ve experienced in the past year and a half – makes me hope I’m around for a long, long time – because I have a lot of paying it forward left to do. As disappointed as I was that the Bolts lost the game, I was way more happy to have my faith in humanity reaffirmed. Santa Claus might be a make-believe guy in a red suit. But Hockey Santa is very real, very nice, and on Saturday night he wore a Hartford Whalers sweater.