Over the summer of 2009, Puck Daddy was asking bloggers to contribute a post detailing five reasons why they love hockey. Recently, John Fontana pitched to the staff here at Raw Charge on resurrecting the topic through a series of posts.
I'm a novelist by trade, and as such, I tend to approach things with narrative structure in mind. If you ask me for the reasons I love hockey, I can't point to elements of the game ("Drop passes are why I love hockey, huh huh.") as much as the events that made me fall in love the first time. But before I get straight to my list, let me tell you about the simpler times that I like to call 1993...
Things were easy then. I was fifteen. Beer had not yet come along to muddle my thinking, although I was plenty muddled already. Girls were still very confusing and mysterious, but a magazine store that sold Playboy and Penthouse to minors was opening my eyes to strange new wonders. Sports were stupid, but role-playing games were still somewhat cool. Comic books were awesome but getting too expensive, and the best video games had robots, lasers, tanks, and explosions. But then, while renting a game one night, my friends and I discovered...
Video game hockey is awesome
I'm talking of course about the legendary EA Sports NHLPA Hockey '93, with the fighting, and the blood on the ice, and all the awesome you can handle.
We didn't like sports games generally, but someone heard this was good, and we were instantly hooked. Everybody ended up picking a team, and soon we were playing a season, recording our stats, everything. I suck at all video games, so I wasn't concerned about winning, but the idea of fighting appealed to me (and continued to appeal to me until the I learned more about the effects of head trauma in the last few years). I chose the Tampa Bay Lightning as my team because they had three great fighters: Basil McRae (100 rating!), Tim Hunter (who never played there), and Mike Hartman. I never won the games, but there were always lots of fights.
One thing led to another. Suddenly my buddies and I were all nuts about hockey. I discovered the magazine store where I bought my porn also sold hockey magazines. In the next winter we all bought hockey sticks and I learned...
Ball hockey is wicked fun, even if you suck at sports
I was horrible at every sport I ever tried, but with ball hockey that didn't seem to matter much. Even though I didn't score, I could still knock the puck away and prevent others from scoring. Plus, I could push people into a snow-bank. Then we would go inside to warm up, watch Hockey Night in Canada, play more Sega hockey between periods, then go back outside to play more.
Then one day the Regina Pats called my house
The local WHL team was cold-calling around town, trying to "Pack the Dome" against the rival Moose Jaw Warriors. I answered the phone and said sure, I'll take a ticket.
The Regina Leader-Post ran a story leading up to that game about Rob Trumbley, the Regina-born captain of the Moose Jaw team. Trumbley was a lunatic on the ice, racking up massive penalty totals. Cool, a crazy villain. I was jacked up to see this game.
What kind of game did I get? A free-for-all blast-away battle. Trumbley trolled the fans who heckled him after scoring a goal, and future Duck-Shark Jeff Freisen rode his stick down the ice like Tiger Williams after scoring the game-tying goal in the last seconds. The final score? 6-5 in overtimes for Regina, bitches. What a game. HOOKED.
At the same time I discovered
The joy of following a team
I was still cheering for the Lightning, even though my selection had been arbitrary and nonsensical. I bought a hat, t-shirt, and jersey. The team was never in newspaper articles or on TV, but I got to know the players through the magic of the box score. I didn't know much about Petr Klima or Denis Savard in the fall of 1993, but I knew they were scoring. And even though the team wasn't that good, life felt more interesting. I had a stake in something somehow. I was cheering for a scrappy underdog, and when they won, I won a little bit too.
The game is all about stories
That's what I like most about it, and it's why that first Pats game was so magical. It had heroes and villains, ebbs and flows. That's why I started blogging about hockey: because of the stories to be found in each team and each player. Each season and each game has something special in it. Sometimes it doesn't come through in the box score, but it always comes through on the ice.