Some of you know the story, but since not everyone knows, I thought I’d share it again. How I, in only a few months, came to love hockey. We start with my best friend in Philly: Pam.
Pam and I have been friends for almost four years now, most of that online through a writing site. I liked her stories, she liked mine and we started emailing, which led to online chat, which led to texting. Over the course of those first couple years, I would occasionally hear about hockey and specifically the Flyers. I knew the name of Mike Richards pretty early in the friendship because he was captain and rather dreamy (we’re girls and we can’t help it.) I didn’t pay much attention, but as the good friend that I strive to be, I listened patiently to her woes and elations. She even poured out her heart when Scottie Upshall got traded, mentioning that she knew I had no clue what it meant, but would I please sympathize? Of course I did. I even read her blog that consisted of game updates and crazy things that happened when she got to skip work and go to a practice. I listened and read, but didn’t get it.
But in February of 2010, I was at a friend’s house after church in Rockford, IL (I was living there at the time) and the last hockey game of the Olympics was on: USA vs. Canada. It was on the television and if a TV’s on, I watch. It’s impossible for me to look elsewhere. Surprise to me, I knew some of the names of the players: Mike Richards, of course. Sidney Crosby (otherwise known as ‘Crybaby’ according to Pam). I texted Pam that I was watching the game and she asked immediately who my favorite player was. I looked at my friend’s brother for advice and he recommended Jonathan Toews. We had to Google to get the spelling of his name right. And I watched. The whole game.
And I liked it.
I made the mistake of telling Pam that I rather enjoyed watching hockey. Soon my email inbox was full of interviews, videos and photos of Flyers both past and present. I learned the personalities and stats of several of the players and got sucked in. I tried watching Flyers’ games when I could, often finding the illegal stream to view. I started matching player numbers with names. And somehow, I was watching when a shootout got them into the playoffs.
Been a fan ever since.
So that’s the story and with the very disappointing end to this Flyers season, I thought I’d post something that might put a smile to someone’s face as we look toward an excruciatingly long off-season.
These are in no particular order, as I hate to order things. Ever.
1. It’s a sport that no one in my immediate family or circle knows a thing about.
I come from a football family. My mom is a Gator and my dad is Sooner and we live in Vols country. If you don’t understand how it is lucky that we’re still liked by our neighbors, that’s another post for another time. I enjoy watching football somewhat, but it’s never been my thing. I got into pro-cycling a few years back, but a friend of mine sort of led me through it and when Floyd Landis admitted to doping, I pretty much gave that up. So, sports, college or pro, have never really been my thing.
Fast-forward to now and my brother (Duke basketball fan) marvels at how much I know about hockey and the Flyers. Even more than he knows about basketball. He admitted it.
2. It’s a sport and I’m a girl.
One of my mother’s first comments on my new interest was "Well, you’ll have something to talk to guys about." Apparently my love of Star Wars and James Bond was not enough.
But truly, it’s fun to be a girl and know a thing or two about sports, especially hockey. During game one of the Stanley Cup finals last season, I was still in Rockford, IL, which is near Chicago (I have a thing about not being a homer, obviously). I went to a bar with two guy friends of mine (both Hawks fans, but they loved me anyway) and wore an orange shirt. Not Flyers crest emblazoned, but still, I wasn’t afraid to show my loyalty. Some of their friends met us there. So I was the only girl in the group and a couple of these guys look at me with disdain and say, "So, you’re a Flyers fan?" I nod. With a superior ‘I’m a man and I know everything’ smile, one asks me, "Who are the four main defensemen?" Without hesitation, I reply, "Pronger, Timonen, Coburn, Carle." And I smile sweetly.
One of the best moments of my damn life was the acknowledgement on their faces. That’s right, bitches, I know my shit.
3. It’s unlike anything I’ve cared about before.
I’m a writer, movie-watcher, music-listener, and pretty much soaker of pop culture. I lived in Los Angeles for a few years, so I’m aware. I love story. It’s why I read like a crazy person, feel the need to see every new television show at least once, and can’t enjoy a movie too easily. I love fiction. Most of my past interests (some might say obsessions) have had something to do with fiction. When you wonder what will happen at the end of Romeo and Juliet, still hoping that Juliet will awake early and she and Romeo will be okay, your world is story. But I know how that ends. At the end of a season of some television show, yeah, I want to know what happens. I’m anticipatory. But I’m not stressed because in the end, it’s just fiction.
Hockey is real. I have no damn idea what’s going to happen during the sixty minutes of a game. I can’t predict and I can’t control. It’s happening in real time, in real life.
The stress, anticipation and anxiety are overwhelming, but I love it.
4. It’s its own sub-culture.
I’ve always been fascinated by sub-cultures, especially ones I have no entrance into. I once visited the Kentucky Derby and saw the bedraggled and the upper crust. I wondered what that world was like.
Hockey, not being the biggest sport in America, is another type of sub-culture. I’m from the South; it does not make waves down here. My knowledge prior to my friendship with Pam consisted of the Mighty Ducks movies and I only watched those for the pure childhood joy.
For those uninitiated into the hockey world, fans of hockey are considered bloodthirsty and crass (Flyers fans especially). When people and friends found out I loved hockey, they assumed I enjoyed the fights. To my surprise, I do enjoy the fights (Richie’s against someone last season as he stuck up for Danny remains one of my favorites as well as Powe’s during the Habs game this season that we lost), but that has nothing to do with my love. I love how fast the game is, how talented the players are (I mean, really, using a stick to hit a disc of hard rubber into a net with a big man with padding in front of it? It’s incredible), and how the crowd gets into it. I like the crowd, when they’re not being terribly rude. I love their cheers and boo's and gasps when we as fans see something so incredible we know it will be on YouTube for decades to come.
Fans are not bloodthirsty. Not always. Often, you can find a fan that is just excited to find another hockey fan (I’ve run into this in both Nashville and Atlanta) and doesn’t care that you’re for the other team. You talk about the awesome players (of any team) and just bond because of your love of hockey. That’s what being a part of a sub-culture is about.
5. The players are real.
As a lover of film and the art of acting for years, this hits close to home for me. I’ve followed celebrities (those who and who do not deserve that status). I grew up in the theatre and because of it I do not trust actors. Don’t trust musicians either, but that’s another story.
I cannot compare hockey stars to other sports’ stars all that well, as I haven’t paid much attention to the NFL, NBA, MLB, etc. But what I have seen is often a lack of humility, a penchant for entitlement, and a waste of financial surplus. Coaches often go off on their players and players often create dissension in their own locker rooms.
Hockey isn’t like that. Even my father comments on the difference. The players are real and sincere (generalization, I realize). When they are happy, they hug and celebrate. When they are angry, sticks are banged and a scowl appears. There is no pretense about them. Nothing hidden. I love this.
And then there are the charities. Every player I have read about has some charity they have founded and/or supporting. Usually more than one. I went to my first Flyers Wives’ Fight for Lives Carnival this year and it was so awesome to be a part of that program.
Because of my years among actors and other performers, I’ve learned to distrust eloquent speakers. Give me someone who stumbles over their words, because I can believe they are sincere. Look no further than some of our favorite players. They are not always eloquent or composed, but they are sincere and real.
6. Hockey Commentators
I will, of course, narrow this to the Flyers comms: JJ, Jonesy, and even Coatesy. I love Jeremy Roenick on Versus though. I also like the Tampa Bay comms due to the fact that they cover both teams well, and various others. I like how much I learn from these comms and often how much fun it sound like they are having. I love when their voices grow with anticipation when the players get close to the goal and how the words, phrases they use can often sound dirty.
Which brings me to my next reason.
7. Hockey Jargon
And I’m still learning this stuff. But when you talk about ‘magic hands,’ ‘stick-handling,’ ‘going deep’, etc. I giggle like a ten-year-old boy in most cases. ‘Gets him from behind’? How else are we supposed to take that?
On the other side, I like using the jargon. I threw out ‘crease’ and ‘pipes’ in front of my brother and had to explain it to him. And I don’t care how old we both are (in our 30s), knowing more in anything over my Duke and law school brother is freakin awesome.
8. Broad Street Hockey (broadstreethockey.com)
A site for fans, supported by fans and I have learned so much from you guys. I love the contributors (Travis, Geoff, Ben, Teemu, Eric, Todd, and Shawn) and I find that they cut through the bullshit and politics that accompany the Flyers organization. The fans that keep the threads going are awesome (when they are not, I just close the window, but this is rare). We talk about Flyers, hockey, Star Wars, history, dating…did I mention it’s awesome? As a hockey and Flyers fan, I am more knowledgeable because of you people than I ever expected. I cannot wait for the seasons to come.
See above and nuff sed.
10. The game itself
I had the great privilege to see five hockey games live this year. Three Flyers and two Coyotes. Only one was actually at home (I live in TN, so it’s Nashville & Atlanta for me). Watching the ability and talent on the ice is incredible. Having my heart pound as I watch men skate up and down the ice, doing what they’ve been so extremely gifted to do is awesome. There is nothing like it. The music playing over the speakers, the National Anthem (and God Bless America), the fights, the hits, the passing (I love a good pass): Hockey is kick-ass. It takes skill, talent, heart, and pure determination.
How can anyone not love it?