Chris Ballard gets down on one knee and proposes to his girlfriend Ashley Burton.
Normally, when you turn to these pages, you're expecting to see a recap of the weekend's most recent Caribous game or photos of local youth excelling in regional and provincial sport.
But today, on Valentine's Day, I would like to tell a different kind of sports story; a story that involves an epic journey, NHL playoff hockey and falling in love.
I've been dating Ashley Burton for almost two years now. You may recognize her from her seat behind the Caribous bench at all Clarenville Caribous home games. This young lady wasn't always a hockey fan but hockey certainly played a big role in bringing us together.
Ever since we met, I knew this girl was the one for me. We first met on an online dating site and she agreed to meet me at a Tim Hortons on Lawrence Avenue West in Toronto, where I was living at the time. On the night we met, we spent four hours chatting and getting to know each other, drinking I-don't-know-how-many double-doubles. We hit it off immediately. I was immediately drawn to her vibrant personality, her zest for life and her beautiful smile.
Right after she spilled her beverage on herself, I jokingly quipped that we must be soulmates, because I have been known to be a little clumsy and was surprised I hadn't already made a mess myself.
For those who don't know me well, I am not only a huge sports fan but a big hockey fan and one of the biggest Philadelphia Flyers fans on the planet. As Ashley and I started spending more time together, she became increasingly interested in hockey and the Flyers and was never afraid to ask the silly questions.
"Was THAT an icing too?," she asked, multiple times. "Now that they scored, he comes out of the penalty box right? What's the difference between cross-checking and boarding?"
I was happy to oblige, excited that I found a girl who didn't just fake interest in sports because it was the 'girlfriend' thing to do. She was taking genuine interest in the game.
As most young couples spent their date nights at restaurants or the movies, Ashley and I grew together by going to hockey games. Living in Toronto, there was certainly no shortage of hockey to watch and we took advantage. From watching the Mississauga Steelheads and the Brampton Battalion in the Ontario Hockey League and even a handful of Leaf games at the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto.
For our first Christmas together, she even bought me tickets to see the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies face off at Ricoh Coliseum against my hometown St. John's IceCaps. I hadn't been able to go to Mile One to catch a game since the IceCaps were introduced to the league because I had been living away. She went all out, ponying up for seats directly behind the IceCaps bench. Coach Keith McCambridge even gave me the wink-and-nod. We were that close to the action.
She had brought a piece of home to me.
Fast forward to April 2012. The Flyers were fresh off eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins and were set to face the New Jersey Devils in the second round. As Ashley was driving me to work on Friday, we were talking about how cool it would be to go to Philadelphia to see a game. I had never been able to travel to the City of Brotherly Love but it had always been a dream of mine. Philadelphia is my Mecca. To watch a game at the Wells Fargo Centre on Broad Street is this sports fan's dream.
"Let's do it," she said. "Let's drive to Philadelphia and you can finally see a game. I'd love to do it with you."
I was dumbfounded and quickly googled their schedule. It didn't look good. The only game that fit in my work schedule was Game One on Sunday, 48 hours away.
"No excuses," she said. "If we can get tickets, let's go!"
By the time I got to work, I had found two tickets on StubHub and Saturday at midnight, we were fueling our car for the 10-hour drive to Philadelphia.
Our voyage was spectacular. Not only did the Flyers win the game in overtime, Ashley's excitement for the trip and her desire to help me fulfill a lifelong dream really opened my eyes.
My premonition from our first date had come true. She really was my soulmate.
Ashley was everything I had ever dreamed about and not because she liked hockey. She's intelligent, compassionate and always finds a way to make me laugh. And in addition to being loving and understanding, she is absolutely beautiful.
Between concerts, hockey games, broken windows, autograph hunting, Fleetwood Mac singalongs, family dinners, cross-city and cross-country moves and plain ol' nights at home, Ashley has become a part of who I am and I want to spend the rest of my life with her.
A lot took place between our first date and our Flyers trip. The best memories of my life were created thanks to her. After all she has done for me, it's time for me to ask a very important question...