As a native New Yorker, every Sept. 11 is a day of reflection.

With the much anticipated 20th anniversary of that day looming, I thought back to how sports were a major healing force for New Yorkers. History fondly remembers the George Bush first pitch at Yankee Stadium or Mike Piazza’s game-winning home run against the Braves, but for me that healing moment came at a New York Rangers game.

I was four years old when the Twin Towers were attacked on that day. I vividly remember going to Kindergarten that morning on a beautiful sunny day and when I got off the bus that afternoon, it was cloudy from the debris. At that time I didn’t understand what was going on around me and like so many people, found out later that some of my closest friends lost family members that day.

Things changed after that day. I recall that my parents were more on edge than they were a few days prior and for the next few weeks, my parents would check in on me while I was at school. When the calendar finally changed to October, we were all in need of something to take our mind off of what just happened. For my family and I that relief came on Oct. 7 when the Rangers faced the Buffalo Sabres.

It was the home opener for the Rangers and it was the team’s opportunity to show their appreciation for New York’s first responders. As every player was introduced to the crowd and skated to the blue line, Ranger’s captain Mark Messier donned a FDNY helmet. The helmet belonged to Chief Raymond Downey one of 343 firefighters who died during the attacks. The image that ran in Newsday the next morning showed a dejected Messier wearing Downey’s helmet with New York spelt across the front of his jersey.

It was an image that symbolized what so many New Yorkers were feeling — shocked, but also understanding the importance of moving forward. It was a time and a moment I will never forget and every time I hear the national anthem play, I am reminded of that day, more specifically that picture, and what it represented.

As always, we will never forget.

Contact sports writer James Benedetto at 864-223-1814.