I've wanted to write this for a while after seeing similar posts in the past. This is my story of my love for this game (albeit a short time, it has been very passionate time)
I grew up in Alaska, and loved the outdoors however being from a very low income family the chance for me to do any sports were very very slim. I recall being 8 or 9 and writing an essay to my mother about why I wanted a pair of hockey skates (I bet she still has it) detailing out how it is good exercise and other lofty ideas my young mind could come up with. It was one of many things she never could afford to give me that I wanted in my childhood even though both her and my father worked tirelessly to make sure we had everything that me and my older brother needed. The extras always fell by the wayside I grew up learning the difference between a 'want' and a 'need' at a very early age.
I remember finding this letter a couple months later after I had already forgotten about my desire to ice skate. I sat and read it a dozen times in my room and can still clearly remember tears hitting the paper, distorting the letters i had so passionately written a short time before. I got over this dream in a couple weeks, I always understood my parents did what they could to keep us in clothes and food, and that this was more important than a child's passing desires.
In the interim years I was forced to moved from Alaska to Arizona when only the tender age of 15, my friends were lost, life was in an upheaval of turmoil and disrepair (oh to be young again) I never made friends easily after this point. I moved out at 17 lived my own life and ended up getting married at 21 to a girl I knew from Alaska who i had been dating for a couple years. Life was...ok
Now I will say this, growing up in Alaska we have zero major sport teams. Neither of my parents ever watched professional sports. My father has been a boxing fan for a very long time, but nothing NHL/NBA/MLB/NFL. When we first moved to Arizona my father would watch a Diamonback game now and then and I would join him, This is the year they went on to win the world series. I remember cheering and being proud, but it just didn't feel "right"
It wasn't until the off-season prior to the 2009-10 NHL season that a couple new employees started at my company almost as if fate it's self reached into my life and decided I needed something in my life. It was a turning point in my life, I was ending my marriage and never really socialized with people outside of my small close knit group of friends, but I was making sweeping changes in my life. I got a badass scooter that I loved to no ends (I know what you are thinking, "I hate to interrupt Kroon, but those two words do not go together in the English language" but here is the proof!
These new employees were my kind of people from the beginning. Rowdy beer drinking, foul mouthed , good time having genuine honest people. I loved hanging out with these guys and with my pending divorce I needed to get out more and this was the ticket. At first I noticed a couple of them had stickers on their desk that were of the God bless playoff beards. During one of many smoke breaks and slow times at work. I learned about their love and true faith in the game of Hockey.
When I would go home to an empty house and play video games, the memories of my childhood would stir in my head. Tears falling on a young child's desires, the emotion I felt over something that I didn't even own has stayed with me to this day. One sleepless night where my mind ran over events from my life and tormented me for choices made at previous stages, it became very clear.
I WILL become a Hockey fan
The following weeks at work little was done besides talking about Hockey. I was lucky in the fact of the knowledge I had at my disposal was vast and in depth, I only now realized exactly how beneficial it was to have them in my life.
- There was a Vancouver Canucks fan, born in Canada coming from a long line of Hockey players and fans die hard to the core. His entire life has been Hockey, but not all about his team. He came to tell me great stories about the sport, the changes over time and legends from times gone by. Hearing this man speak about the sport always puts me into a state of awe, his love for the game is something that stood with me. You always RESPECT the game and The Stanley Cup
- The Washington Capitols fan, from DC. He taught me of rivalries that go back decades. The blood and tears split over the pursuit of The Stanley Cup, and just how much it means to the players and fans. These rivalries are NEVER forgiven, nothing makes them go away.
- The Buffalo Sabres fan, from Buffalo. He taught me of desire and yearning for something that was always out of your teams reach. He taught me that regardless of how your team did, you are ALWAYS faithful through the good times and bad. There is zero bandwagon jumping and doing so is traitorous.
- The Detroit Red Wings fan, from Arizona. He told me of great games from yesteryear. When I first got into hockey he was not a fan. I came to learn that the blackout of 2004-05 was a dark mark on the sport and a great many fans lost their way in the support of the NHL. As my interest grew in the game so did his, we both became fans for me the first time, him a second.
With this band of cohorts and drinking buddies I was set on the daunting task of picking one of the 30 teams to call my own, to love, to respect, to stand up for. I had a list of criteria in my head that narrowed down the choices to some degree.
- It cannot be a team they anyone I currently know is a fan of. This is my team because i love them and not because someone else I know follows them
- It has to be a place I have been before I couldn't see myself following a team from a city I didn't know.
- There has to be something of ME in this team I wanted to recognize with the team on a personal level
Little did I know the last defining factor would be the biggest one in the choice. Sitting down with my friends and telling them the options I had. The Canucks fan began to tell me of the Philadelphia Flyers. I would sit and listen to him non-stop about the history of the team.
The exhibitionism game against the Russian team, being called animals and being scared to come back onto the ice. How the Broad Street Bullies came to be, Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, Only god saves more than Bernie, Bobby Clarke and his toothless smile. I knew my search for a team was over. Not a team MY team. I was a Flyers fan.
I started to learn everything I could online about my teams history, the roots, the struggles. Daily links to youtube videos from these four filled up my email, showcasing the moments of history that forever changed the sport. Feats of skill that still to this day baffle my mind. How my team came to be defined as a staple in the world of the NHL. Every day it dawned on me how much my team was hated throughout the league. Looked down on, insulted and tossed to the wayside. This was the moment I realized I WAS A FLYER
It was a very surreal moment when I felt one with the team, I could understand being the new team in the NHL in 1967, the 'expansion' team ruining the great sport of hockey, so much to prove to the world and itself. Taking a chance on a young Flin Flon and Bobby Clarke, putting its faith and future on the shoulders of Dave Schultz to protect the young dreams of rookies.
I signed up for NHL Gamecenter live prior to the season, the first thing I did was to watch history, every game they have archived of the Flyers I watched with bated breath. I knew how it ended but still cheered at every goal. Watching Kate Smith sing God Bless America sent shivers down my spine and left me with a feeling I can only describe as spiritual.
I became a new person, I couldn't wait for the season to start. I printed off the schedule of games and taped it up to my desk, eagerly checking it daily counting down the day till my team would start playing the preseason. I knew being a newcomer to this sport of life-long fans I would conduct myself with great tact. Never taunting a friend on their teams lost, they had lived their teams from birth, I was just a new fan this was not my world yet.
I would watch the games and mark the results on my sheet with great excitement the following day. Asking lost of dumb questions, but I wanted to learn more about how the rules came to be, when they were changed. The Capital's fan who sat next to me at work asked me to name five flyers players, I honestly couldn't at the time and I felt ashamed when put on the spot with a request that I couldn't fulfill. I spent hours at home researching my own team, I had to prove myself to him (any myself) as a real fan, I learned about Chris Pronger, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards. The core of my team and where they came from. This is also when I discovered Matt Carle was also from Alaska and was born the same year as myself.
Carle was still new with the Flyers and I could see him develop as a player with his linemate Pronger. I started to refer to them as 'Father and son' line, I felt as a part of me was growing as a fan while he was growing as a player. He became my boy, the hopes I had as a fan were directly related to his hopes as a defense man.
As the season progressed It dawned on me that my team would be coming to Phoenix to play the Coyotes on November 21. This game was circled I was going to this game. My co-workers decided to come with me for my first live NHL game. The Canuck fan had a connection with the Coyotes and scored us good seats.
I was filled with emotions before the game, Earlier in the season I decided to purchase a Flyers Jersey. I wanted to represent my team at the game. I decided to get Matt Carle's Number as he was from Alaska and my favorite player and it was also my age at the time I became a Hockey fan. I had my name put on the back of it.
The game was quick paced and at the end of the second period we had tied it up 1-1. I was full of new emotions. Discussing the play with my friends I never felt so alive before, It was pure happiness, I was full of energy. Once the third period started It dawned on me that Emery was slow and sluggish, something was wrong. as the go-ahead goal went in I was deflated, I had seen the Flyers loose before but it was so much more in person, I was losing with my team. As the third Coyote goal went in my friend snapped this picture. Even looking at it now I can feel the rush of pain and sadness I am feeling in the picture all over again. I remembered what the Sabres fan told me months before, you are always faithful to your team.
I felt so much love for the Flyers after seeing them in person, how they played the love for the sport grew 10x that night. Like life, the season went on and we ended up playing by the skin of our teeth in the 82nd game, It was a shootout goal that decided the fate of the post season. The shot went to the backhand, I felt my heart skip a beat. I saw the black of the puck against boosh's pads and I sprung from my chair screaming. We had did it against all odds we made the playoffs.
The playoffs as you all know was one for the history books, Ian Laperrière taking a puck to the face and coming back on the ice to keep playing. Fighting against the Bruins in round two to claw our way back into the series. This was a real sport, the love for the game was clear and true. I saw the desire in the players, the fans at the game pour their hearts out with a love that I had never seen.
In game six vs the Blackhawks once the puck was shot in overtime I can clearly remember saying softly under my bated breath "not like this". The climb myself and the team had made was over in a quick wrist shot. We had finally hit a level where our sheer will and determination could no longer compensate for.
In the following years I have grown to be, in my own eyes, a true Hockey fan. I love this sport, the dedication, the strength of the players, the respect for the game, the pursuit for The Stanley Cup.
I still will talk smack to my fellow hockey fans, but when it comes to season ending games, I respect them and their team. Never once saying anything bad, those games are meant to be watched alone. The outcome to be dealt with by yourself as a fan.
This past year I truly felt the love of fellow fans when the Coyotes/Flyers game a fellow Orange clad fan paid for mine and my Red Wings fan's beers (10 dollar tallboy each) simply because I was showing pride for my team, His team, Our team. I plan on continuing on this tradition for every game I attend.
Today me, Tomorrow you.
In closing I do apologize for the length of this post, but it something I have wanted to do for a long time, I fought many tears back writing this out. I feel the passion, the love from everyone who has ever been a fan.
To all the teams no longer with us I toast this beer to you.
-A humble Hockey Fan
Since writing this i have been ice skating and loved every horribly awkward second of it. I plan on going as much as i can. Ive loved goalies and i hope to be able to play as one, even if just once in a while.