(L to R) LTC Michael Lee Pryor, LAARNG (Ret.), 8 JAN 1964 – 15 JUN 2014, and his brother, Matt, at Tex Rickard Arena in Henrietta, TX, in September 2008.
The sport of hockey lost its biggest fan yesterday: Michael Lee Pryor, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Louisiana Army National Guard and OIF veteran, passed away Sunday due to complications from a massive stroke. He was 50 years old.
Native Texans, Mike and his brothers became hockey fans for life on 22 FEB 1980, while watching the United States defeat the Soviet Union, 4-3, in the “Miracle on Ice.” Shortly after the “Miracle,” cable television arrived in our Garland, Texas neighborhood. For reasons unknown, our cable package included the MSG network, so we instantly became fans of the New York Rangers. One of the highlights of our family vacation to Alberta that summer was our dad explaining to a Canadian border guard why a car with Texas plates had a trunk full of hockey sticks. We lugged those sticks back to Texas and played street hockey with our friends until the end of high school.
With the Stars’ 1993 arrival in Dallas, we finally had a home team to support (as long as they weren’t playing the Rangers, of course). As much as Mike loved the Rangers and Stars, though, he loved hockey itself even more. How big a fan was my brother? Last January, Mike, dad and I took a roadie to catch Dallas at Nashville and LA at Columbus. While proudly wearing a Stars hoodie, Mike marched into the Bridgestone Arena gift shop and bought a Predators t-shirt. He saw nothing incongruous about that; the man just loved The Great Game.
On 30 MAY, Mike suffered a massive stroke during hip implant replacement surgery (his defective hip implant broke and had to be replaced). He was left paralyzed on his right side, with blood clots in his lungs and brain. He had some cranial bleeding, as well. The stroke inflicted an unknown amount of damage to Mike’s brain. Because he had to be intubated to help him breathe, we didn’t know if he could still speak, read or write. When I saw him on 2 JUN, his eyes were open, though fogged by pain and medication. As soon as I started telling Mike about the Kings’ dramatic 5-4 OT win over the Blackhawks in Game Seven of the Western Conference Final, the fog lifted…as did his eyebrows. I told him about the rumor that Minnesota might host Dallas in an outdoor game next season…more raised eyebrows, and a squeeze of my hand with his good (left) hand; my brother was still there!
Over the next two weeks, Mike gradually improved. After the tube was removed from his throat, he slowly, and with great effort, was able to speak a few words and short sentences. With difficulty, my right-handed brother wrote a few letters and his name with his left hand. NBCSN wasn’t available on the TV in Mike’s hospital room, but he watched every Stanley Cup Final game televised on NBC. When Game Two went to OT, his blood pressure actually rose. During those two weeks (and, come to think of it, anytime during the last 34 years), if you wanted to get Mike’s full attention, all you had to say was “hockey.”
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know if Mike was still awake when the Kings scored the Cup-winning goal. I know he would’ve shared my disappointment, but he also would’ve seen the joy on the faces of the Kings players and been happy for them, because that’s the kind of guy Mike was.
My brother improved to the point that he was moved out of ICU late last week. Saturday evening, however, he began to have trouble breathing and his heart rate spiked. Back to ICU he went. The problem was that the blood clots in his lungs were too large and the blood thinners normally employed to break up such clots couldn’t be used without worsening the bleeding into his brain. A team of ten doctors and nurses labored tirelessly through the night to save him, re-starting his heart twice in the process. They did all they could. Shortly after six o’clock Sunday morning, Mike – my brother, my friend, the greatest hockey fan I’ve ever known - slipped away.
This blog began in 2008 because of Mike’s brilliant insight: that NHL teams play out each season along a performance curve – the Playoff Qualifying Curve, or PQC. Teams must play at or above the PQC in order to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here’s the kicker: Mike figured out that if teams reached a certain point above or below the curve, they could be called IN or OUT of the playoffs an average of 60 days prior to their mathematical clinch or elimination, and those calls could be made with 90% accuracy.
My brother and I saw multiple applications for the PQC: as a tool to help General Managers decide whether to buy or sell at the trade deadline, a mathematical way to prove that moves made at the trade deadline come far too late for most teams, as interesting fodder for discussion amongst hockey fans and pundits, or even for use in wagering on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Along with a friend, we formed ON GOAL ANALYSIS, LLC, and decided to monetize Mike’s idea by selling the PQC data on a subscription basis, with a blog designed to tease/tout the PQC while allowing us to express our love of hockey.
Sadly, we learned the painful lesson newspapers continue to absorb: most people don’t want to pay to read stuff on the internet. After three profit-free years, our friend withdrew, citing family and (paying) job commitments. Who could blame him? The subscription service fell by the wayside, but the blog remained. Mike and I continued to vent our opinions, our occasional insights and our abiding love of hockey out onto the internet. Usually, we’d start each new season strong, blogging regularly, and slowly wind down into the playoffs, when we often found ourselves too caught up in the excitement of watching the games to blog about them.
Now, after a six-year run, this is the end. My brother is gone and I just don’t have the heart to continue On Goal Analysis without him. We had so many great times, like our 2008 OGA Launch/Season-Opening Roadie, in which we caught five games in four (!) days in four different barns (first-ever trip to MSG for Hawks-Rangers, to Washington for Hawks-Caps, then Sabres at Islanders AND Devils at Rangers in a Columbus Day doubleheader, finishing up with Flyers at Penguins)…Our pre-Christmas trip with our sons to games in Atlanta and Tampa…Our last roadie, with dad to Nashville and Columbus back in January. OGA brought Mike and I closer together, as hockey fans and more importantly, as brothers.
I am eternally grateful to my brother for many things, including his great idea. Though the PQC wasn’t commercially viable, it’s still a fascinating and accurate way to assess a team’s playoff chances. Blogging on this site allowed me to rediscover my long-forgotten love of writing. Since The OGA Blog began, I’ve authored several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News and am now writing a biography of George Lewis “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers. Were it not for Mike, I doubt I’d be writing today.
At some point in the future, I may start a new hockey blog; I can’t say at this point. If I do, it won’t be On Goal Analysis. This was Mike’s brainchild, and I wouldn’t feel right blogging here without him. For those of you who have followed us over the years, I offer my sincere thanks and hope we’ve enlightened or at least entertained you from time to time. Yesterday, my family lost a son, a brother, a husband, a father and an uncle. Hockey lost its biggest fan. He was the best of all of us.
Follow Matt Pryor on Twitter: @BigTex1926