Friday, October 5, 2007

the puck drops...

I can feel it in the air.

That may seen cliche, but it's true. I can feel the country gearing up. Hockey season is upon us and I see it everywhere around me. Not only has the NHL started its season with a pair of publicity-seeking games in Jolly Old England, which may or may not have been a success(more on that later,) but I see it in our advertising, at the local community clubs and arenas, at the sporting goods stores. In ANY store for that matter.

Enjoyed some Lays chips recently? How about some Pepsi to wash that down? If so, you've seen Sidney Crosby adorning the packages for both. How about the new Tim Hortons commercial where the guy asks his little brother to play goalie for his team, have you seen that? They go to Timmie's after the game and he orders his baby brother a hot...chocolate? No sir brother mine, I'll have a double double because I'm a (sniff, sob) big boy now who is addicted to coffee! AND I can't wait for the Mastercard ads to start about the boy who can't play hockey but becomes a success and minor celebrity by driving the Zamboni. P.S. are they ever going to finish that campaign? I'm dying to know what happens to him when he gets "called up" to the NHL. Does he do well? Does he run over one of the players and is forever branded a failure and sent down to the minors in shame? I'm just wondering is all. I think Mastercard realized that the hockey fan market in the states is minimal, and decided not to sink any more money into the campaign. Oh well, it lives on in my mind....

I'm getting off track here. I guess it really hit me yesterday, as I was taking Nicholas to Gateway Rec Centre for his hockey tryouts. There were a group of kids and adults playing ball hockey on what would be an outdoor rink when winter rears its ugly, frozen head. It was like they were saying, "We can't wait for the ice, we're gonna start NOW!" That image, along with the crisp air and falling leaves really encapsulates to me what it means to be a hockey fan. You don't just love watching the game. You love everything about it, including playing it. (Even if you suck and can't skate. Ahem.)

Nothing makes me feel more Canadian than my love of hockey, and sharing that passion with those around me. We gravitate towards each other, we hockey nuts. It's almost like Gay-dar, but with hockey people. Anything can give you away: your hat, shirt, coffee mug. If any of those items bears the logo of an NHL franchise, it's an instant conversation starter. "So, you're a Leafs fan, eh? They suck!" Is usually how it goes.

I guess I'll give you a bit of history here. I was always what I would now refer to as a "fringe fan." Growing up, I was aware of this game that most kids I knew liked. I went to the minimum number of Jets games. I remember watching Gretzky raise the Stanley Cup over his head four times in the eighties. I was never what I would call "passionate" about it. I was sufficiently angry when the Jets left that I stopped watching what little hockey I did watch. A few years later, I moved to Edmonton, and while I was there I saw a few games. I watched the Oilers beat Colorado in the first round of the playoffs and the City of Edmonton went NUTS, kinda like they did a few years back when the Oilers went to the final. I guess living in a hockey market kinda kick-started my interest in the sport. I've been an Oilers fan ever since.

The real start to my obsessive fandom came when I was living across the hall from my brother, Tobin. I had free cable. He was a crazy Habs fan. We ended up watching the playoffs that year (2003)and the team we chose to cheer for, The Mighty Ducks, made it to the final only to lose to New Jersey. That's how it started, it's like I caught a cold from my brother and was never able to quite get rid of it. I never wanted to, for that matter.

So here we are, four years later, and the '07/'08 season has begun. The two regular season games that were played across the pond are being deemed a success by the NHL because both games were sold out. However, my friend who lives in Manchester had no idea that they were taking place. And he would have been looking for that kind of thing. (I've been educating him about the game. He in turn is teaching me about soccer. It's a give and take situation.) I think that selling out two 20,000 seat games in a city of 13 million is not a hard thing to do. Should London have an NHL franchise? Probably. A team would probably do very well over there, if it weren't for the logistical nightmare of scheduling and travel.

Not only is the NHL season starting up right now, but the local season is beginning as well. All over the city, parents have shelled out upwards of $700.00 for registration and equipment for their kids to beat the hell out of each other (if they're over 11, that is.) My step-son Nicholas plays defence and is the biggest kid on his team by far. In fact, one year we had three or four large children on the team, prompting a parent from an opposing team to say, "Are you sure those kids are 10?" This will be my fourth season as a hockey parent and I love it. There's nothing better than watching your kid play hockey and praising him for his efforts. You become great friends with the other hockey parents, and there are very few of the nutbars who scream and push their kids too far. One year this one parent would scream every game: "Just get the puck!" I used to call him "Mr. Yellypants." No one could ever really understand him, and what the hell do you think they're trying to do out there, buddy? Figure skate? What an idiot. Thank God he moved away.

This is one of the two times in the season when I'll drive Tanya nuts with my obsessiveness, the other being playoff time. It has been almost four months since I've been able to watch ANY kind of hockey, four months of SportCentre being incredibly boring but I watch it anyway out of habit. Four months of (shudder) baseball. Now I'm watching as much hockey as possible. There are probably four or five games on per week, and I'm determined to watch all of them. This will taper off after about a month. Then there'll be a little blip on the radar as I watch the World Juniors at Christmas, but for the most part I settle into my Hockey Night in Canada on most Saturdays and the occasional Oilers game on Sportsnet for the bulk of the year.

I haven't bothered to join any hockey pools this year. After completely failing in them the last two seasons, I have come to the conclusion that I can't predict SHIT! I am now content to just watch and let the poolies stress over how many points Alfredsson needs on whatever night to win the week. I may do the "Point Streak Challenge" this year, because it's free, and it is quite a challenge to pick players who will score at least one point on any given night in a row for as long as you can. We'll see.

Anyhoo, I'm excited as hell. My predictions are as follows: The Oilers WILL make the playoffs. The Canucks will win the Stanley Cup. Sam Gagner will win the Rookie of the year trophy. Unfortunately there is no hockey on tonight, so I'll have to pretend to be a football fan and watch the Bombers play, but I really don't care.

Go Oilers!

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