Lisa Varga: One Woman’s Quest To Bring A Story of Hope and Friendship To The World

Liam Traynor meets Michael Del Zotto back in 2010 (Rangers.NHL)

Liam Traynor meets Michael Del Zotto back in 2010 (Rangers.NHL)

There are stories in sports that inspire and warm the heart that few ever get to hear. Sometimes, they just aren’t “newsworthy” enough to be known. Today the entire sports world is so on fire with the NFL’s Ray Rice / Roger Goodell scandal that not much else matters. Lisa Varga of Beyond the Offseason feels otherwise.

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Liam Traynor is a name hockey fans in the Metropolitan Division have come to know. He suffers from cerebral palsy, but plays competitive sled hockey and doesn’t miss a Rangers game. Many were introduced to him in the 2012 HBO’s series 24/7, as NY Rangers fiery head coach, John Tortorella’s buddy.

From that story we also learned about his close friendship with a young Ranger defenseman, Michael Del Zotto. It’s that bond that Lisa has decided to focus on. “I haven’t seen a friendship like this is a while,” Lisa told me. “And although we see Michael as the good guy, he reminds us in my interview wih him that it is Liam that has a greater impact on Michael’s life.

Most hockey fans know that Del Zotto has had his struggles in his playing career. Most criticism seems to center around his mental approach to the game. Eventually those criticisms cost Del Zotto his job with the Rangers and he was dealt to the Nashville Predators in January 2014.

Liam was heartbroken, but he understood. I came to know the young man via social media and asked him to pen a letter to his buddy Del Zotto. Here are his words that were posted on 1/22/14 at our NYR site; FullTilt Rangers.

I am proud to call Michael DelZotto my best buddy. I can remember the day I met him on January 2010 and that day I knew he was someone special. He came back with pucks and sticks for me and my twin sister (Shannon).

When Coach Tortorella invited me down to the locker room, Michael would always spend time with me. We would sit on the bench by the ice and talk about the game. Then out of the blue he texted me getting my phone number from Torts.

I always text him before and after the games wishing him best of luck and great job. When Torts sent him down, I did call him pleading to bring him back up. Well, Torts explained to me the process that players go through and I need to support him. That’s just what I did and it made our friendship stronger. I even spoke to Glen Sather at coach’s dog walk to get his contract done.

In anyway I would support my buddy. We would joke around that I was his #1 fan after his family. Not only did I support Michael, but he supported me. This past summer I had surgery. Michael came and played xbox to lift my spirits. I joked and said I don’t know you are going to be on xbox, but I’m DelZotto. He laughed and played USA Vs Canada. I have to admit he did beat me, but it was a great day.

I was very sad to see him traded, but know this is a good decision for him and his hockey career. I know where ever he goes we will be best buddies. 

Michael and Lian playing xbox (Ctsy Traynor Family /via ESPN)

Michael and Lian playing xbox (Ctsy Traynor Family /via ESPN)

Liam was kind of enough to let the world in on his special relationship with Michael Del Zotto. MDZ, as he’s also known, should be applauded for understanding that being an athlete comes with greater responsibilities outside of the game.

“It makes me cry, but he really is a true role model,” said Liam’s mom, Debbie in Lisa’s interview. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the Traynors a few times myself, and as a father I can tell you that they are a role model family.

This past summer, Liam’s “best buddy” came back East by signing as a UFA with the Flyers. Now let’s get this straight, Liam is a True Blue Rangers fan. There will be no conversion to Orange and Black. However, he will support his buddy and will proudly wear a Flyers sweater – just as long as it reads DEL ZOTTO on the back.

Lisa and her crew truly captured this special bond in her interview with Liam and his family. It was more than Liam bargained for, but the emotional reaction was priceless. “From the moment when Michael walked in to surprise Liam in the episode I saw the bond that they shared.” Lisa continued, “It was evident that they genuinely cared about each other and it was uplifting to see their interaction as they reunited.”

Lisa is an avid sports fan and a great supporter of the FullTilt Hockey Network. What makes her so special is her positive approach to life, wonderfully captured in her new show, Beyond the Offseason. It’s about athletes in the offseason and how they give back to the world around them. Lisa believes strongly in that principle and put that into action by starting the Fight Club For Cancer after her brother Shane was diagnosed.

Michael Del Zotto and Lisa Varga at Liam Traynor's home (photo ctsy of Lisa Varga)

Michael Del Zotto and Lisa Varga at Liam Traynor’s home (photo ctsy of Lisa Varga)

She’s as much a part of this story as Liam and Michael. Her quest is to get this story aired by October 1st on NHL Network – that also happens to be World CP Day. Lisa asked me to help bring more awareness and I was glad to help.

“I am approaching the NHL Network to air the story as well as TSN. So far no response but I am hopeful. I also have a call out to Comcast Sports Network in Philly and [they] have some interest.” Lisa is on a mission to expand the reach of this touching segment, “I just want the world to see this amazing story of friendship, hope and inspiration. Something we desperately need in the sports world after all the negativity that has been surrounding it lately.”

However, Lisa’s goal is much bigger than just getting this episode to air to a larger audience. “My big picture goal is to have Michael Del Zotto recognized and nominated this year at the NHL Awards for his efforts and dedication to doing something positive. And if that happens I want Liam beside him on the red carpet. I think the two of them would look amazing side by side and Liam would look great in a tuxedo.”

For Lisa, this was more than just and interview. The love and kindness from the Traynor family and Michael Del Zotto inspired her. She was especially moved by Liam, “His smile lights up a room and warms your heart. You can’t help but cheer for him and want the best for him.” Her goal is simple; “I hope this story goes big so the rest of the world can experience what I saw that very special day we filmed Beyond The Offseason.”
The world needs more stories like this.



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