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Me like hockey


Fri, Mar 15th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

In a classic case of “Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone,” I find myself paying more attention to the professional hockey season this year than I ever really have before. I have to admit, when the negotiations broke down, I thought to myself “is this really going to mean no more pro hockey in America?”

“Why should you care?” I could hear a cranky voice answer back, “It’s not like you ever watched it.”

But it was always there. Hockey always sat on the periphery for me: I’m a terrible skater, I don’t particularly like the cold, and an early hiccup in lessons got me thoroughly confused on which hand I should use to hold the titular stick. Being a lefty’s not all it’s cracked up to be on the ice, it turns out. Still, I always found myself interested at least in who came out on top each season and got to hoist that sweet trophy over their head, fill the cup with champagne, drop it in the swimming pool, whatever.

Of course, that’s not to say that a hockey player should even have the foggiest idea of what a swimming pool is. In my old-fashioned mind, all hockey players live above the 40th parallel, subsist on a diet of donuts and snow, and crack smiles that are missing a few teeth when someone even thinks of playing hockey in somewhere like Dallas or Anaheim. I’m still stewing about Tampa winning the cup over Calgary, and that was almost ten years ago (has it been so long?!) so I guess it’s safe to say that I’m a hockey fan in general… if not specific.

So a 48-game, strike shortened season it is, much to my older brother’s jubilation, and when I find a match on TV I usually sit down and watch. Yet, for some reason, I haven’t developed the love for one team above all that the small and feisty minority in this country have. You’d think the game would be right up my alley: as strategic as baseball, as fast as basketball, and full of enough bone-cracking hits to make Ray Lewis look like a girl scout. And yet, for some reason I just can’t find myself getting into it.

Perhaps it stems from me never really finding one team. I grew up in Wisconsin, the child of two Illinois parents who bled alternate currents of Bears and Cubbies blue. Around the time I started noticing basketball in the early 90s, Chicago was top of the pops as well, so it seemed easy and practical to extend my fandom further. We were never a hockey family, and didn’t really cheer for the Windy City squad (though I saluted their 2010 championship), so I didn’t have the family connection that seems to lie at the heart of so many sports fandoms. Furthermore, I grew up squarely into the middle of Wisconsin, a state that has never had a pro hockey team that I know of, making it even more difficult. As a final nail in the coffin, there was the aforementioned Dallas debacle, leaving nearby Minnesota lacking a team, and me with no local professional hockey teams to pledge allegiance to in my youth.

So my quest for slap-shot supremacy continued. For a short time, I found myself cheering for the New Jersey team… until I realized they were located in New Jersey, insert joke here. Minnesota eventually got a new team, but I was still stinging from the Dallas championship a few years prior. I started looking at Canadian teams, thinking there was no better place to cheer than the place that made the game famous. Sadly, not even those teams north of the border could kindle a fan fire. In one last desperate move, I looked to the small time, minor league circuits, hoping their charm might rub off on me. I was looking into a team from Iowa called the Chops (because nothing is more fearsome that a squealing, angry pig on your jersey), but the organization sadly ceased business operations, and that little piggy went home for the last time in 2009.

So here I sit: teamless on the ice, an empty rink begging to be filled. I like watching hockey, but my years watching other sports has shown me that it changes the entire dynamic when you’re cheering for “your” team. Without a so-called “good guy” to cheer and “bad guy” to chastise I find it difficult to sit down and really get into any kind of game for any sport. I think I might blame that little wrinkle on my childhood spent watching too much pro wrestling, but my point still stands.

Before this short season is done, I’m going to have a team. MY team. If anyone out there reading this has a suggestion, I’d love to hear it. Maybe there’s some little story about an organization that makes them endearing, maybe a star player whose charity knows no bounds… maybe a defenseman with a really silly last name that’s fun to yell inbetween bites of poutine. Almost losing the icy sport has gotten me more interested than ever (which is not to say that the organization should make this a regular occurrence) and I look forward to the day where I can pull on an official sweater with pride, sit down with my brother, and watch our two favorite teams maneuver the puck from goal to goal.

Of course, knowing my brother and I, we’ll probably descend into childish name-calling before the end of the first period.

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