Two days after Marisa’s untimely passing, the St. Joseph High School ice hockey team played a nonconference regular-season game and held a moment of silence in her honor before the puck was dropped.
The home and visiting teams lined up on their respective blue lines with players from both sides bowing their heads prior to the National Anthem in a show of solidarity and respect for the daughter of a sports writer whose longstanding relationship with St. Joseph head coach Ryan Carter dates back to the veteran mentor’s scholastic playing days nearly three decades ago.
Carter and his son, Ty, a sophomore who is a rising star with the Falcons, attended Marisa’s wake and brought a sympathy card that every member of the team signed, with each player penning his jersey number beneath his name.
Later in the season, Marisa’s father, Greg, and mother, Cyndi, paid a postgame visit to the St. Joseph locker room to thank the players and to present them with the hockey stick Marisa used while playing with her father inside the house. The stick happened to have a black shaft and green blade, reflecting the school colors of St. Joseph, from which Greg graduated a long time ago.
Using stuffed animals as goaltenders, Marisa and Greg would set hockey nets up in the bedroom and play games of one-on-one. The first to score 10 goals won. Marisa and her choice of stuffed animal were somehow always the victorious team. Marisa called the game “Okapi Hockey” because her father’s choice of stuffed animal was always an okapi, an animal found in Africa with the hybrid characteristics of a zebra and a giraffe. The okapi was among Marisa’s favorites.
On Christmas Day, while in the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at New York Presbyterian’s Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and his wife, Therese, visited Marisa and other patients on the floor.
The Lundqvists, who could not enter Marisa’s room for medical reasons, stood at her doorway. They were incredibly loving and giving of their time. Marisa told Henrik how she played street hockey in gym class at James Monroe Elementary School and boasted, uncharacteristically, that she was better than some of her male classmates. She encouraged Henrik to play “Okapi Hockey” in the house with his two young daughters. Cyndi and Greg were impressed beyond words that Lundqvist and his wife sacrificed time away from their own children on Christmas Day to be in the hospital with critically ill patients. Watching Marisa interact so cheerfully with a Vezina Trophy recipient and the winningest goaltender in franchise history who was conducting himself more like a caring father than a celebrity sports hero was both refreshing and amazing. Lundqvist autographed a present for Marisa, which rests on the desk in her bedroom.
Upon meeting with the St. Joseph players in their locker room in late February, Greg made an upbeat presentation, devoid of any melancholy, and thanked the team for holding a moment of silence for Marisa. He presented Coach Carter with Marisa’s hockey stick while telling the players about “Okapi Hockey” and Marisa’s meeting with the Lundqvists. Greg told the players they are wonderful ambassadors of the school and that he would ask Marisa to watch over them.
Days later, moments before St. Joseph was set to take the ice in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship, Coach Carter sent a text message to Greg that read: “Game time 13 minutes. Marisa is with us.” A photo of Marisa’s hockey stick resting against the bench alongside a helmet with a white decal bearing her initials “MRT” in black letters accompanied the text message.
After St. Joseph won the game and the locker room had emptied, Carter placed Marisa’s hockey stick, butt end first with the blade facing up, inside the conference championship cup, named after legendary coach Pete Kolodney, a former St. Joseph mentor who coached Carter and is now his assistant.
Carter snapped a picture and tweeted it from the St. Joseph ice hockey team’s official Twitter account with the words: “In memory of Marisa Rose Tufaro. Our good luck charm!”
Those outside the St. Joseph program had no idea whose hockey stick was inside the championship cup.