(FOX 9) - The puck dropped Friday evening on a family tradition in the east Twin Cities metro.
They have been playing street hockey together for weeks, and Friday's showdown was an extra special, especially for the game's biggest star.
"We just love being together," said Maureen Cade. "We laugh a lot. We eat together. We pray together."
They say the family that plays together, stays together. For Jim Thomas' extended family, the puck stops here.
"Because everyone was getting older and we stopped doing a lot together," said Thomas. "We decided we got to do this again."
The 83-year-old spent three months in the hospital battling COVID-19, spending much of that time on a ventilator. His loved ones didn't know if he would make it.
He eventually pulled through and when he got out last December, his family gathered to welcome him home -- which prompted a flood of tears.
"I started crying," said Thomas. "The parking lot was full of friends and relatives. It was very emotional. [How come?] Because they cared, I guess, and I cared about them."
Since then Thomas' four kids, 16 grandchildren, and 17 great-grandchildren get together as often as they can for weekly game nights and once a month family dinners.
They also play street hockey on Sundays but for this special all-star game, they picked bags with NHL jerseys in them to decide whether they were on the lights or darks team.
Thomas was also the official puck dropper. They even played the national anthem before the game. "We feel God gave us the gift of his presence of a longer time," said Cade. "He is so laid back and a positive presence. We want to be around that."
Thomas' loved ones say his close call with COVID-19 reminded that life is short and not to take it for granted. From now on, spending more time together will be the ultimate goal.
"It's family and it's love and it's life and that's what matters," said Thomas.