In just a few minutes, the puck will be dropped as the St. Louis Blues take on the Detroit Red Wings at the Scottrade center; we’re gathered near the roof of the rink, center ice to be sure, but so high up that there’s a noticeable delay when a player makes a shot and the sound of it reaches us. I’m desperately trying to reconcile in my mind why it is that I love hockey so much that even though I can’t name the current roster of my beloved Blues, I feel like I’ve been a fan all my life. I’m not a sports nut, actually not even much of a fan. I enjoy playing sports, but I’m not very good at it, especially as it comes to hockey; that’s the price of learning how to skate when your 29 years old as opposed to 2.9 years old (per Canadian law).
So why is it that hockey turns me into a screaming, bellowing fan, outraged at missed calls, pulled out of my seat when a goal is scored, cheering as though we’ve just landed a man on the moon for the first time?
I think it’s because I find hockey analogous to life in so many ways.
The puck drops and St. Louis can’t seem to battle it back to their defensemen, so they must now play in a defensive mode, preparing for Detroit attack. This pisses me and 19,000 other people off (Red Wings fans, notwithstanding).
Hockey is a jittery, fast, inconsistent sport, with a constantly changing face of play that demands the ability to act and react on a moments notice. I realize that my life is lived inconsistently and my caffeinated addictions result in jittery behavior. Back and forth, up the ice and down, these fit and furious men are constantly engaging in give and take, elbowing their way into advantageous positions, looking to exploit the tiniest loopholes in their opponents strategy and skills; it’s politics and Wall Street on ice, minus the lawyers.
Detroit goes up by three goals in the second period, and I take it personally. I angrily shout at the boys from 10,000′ up, as though they’re looking to me for coaching advice. All at once I hate myself and am totally immersed in this moment. When I hear fans of other sports talking about “their” team in the first person plural, I’m overcome with urge to slap them right in the mouth:
“Yes, if we don’t get our defense anchored before next week, Green Bay is gonna tear us apart.”
What is this “we” business? Does the coaching staff call you up and solicit you for advice with regards to their team strategies? YOU are not the team, you are not ON the team, you are an overweight, lazy spectator, and don’t give me that “ownership in the game” bull either. You’re living vicariously through the athletic endeavors of people who don’t know you from shit, and frankly, it’s a little embarrassing to see you carry on like that.
Except for me, and except for tonight. Except for every night I go to a Blues game. I’ve become that guy. And the rush it brings.
Oh, the rush.
The surge of emotions when Oshie FINALLY sends a saucer into the net (check it out here, it’s the clip from 11:44 in the 2nd period), and it’s as though I’ve just found out it’s not cancer, after all. Out of my seat, $9 worth of Guinness splashing all over my overpriced jersey, and I’m lost in the moment. All is hope is not dashed, not yet. This will NOT be a shutout, and as the horn blows, thousands of fans gain optimism at high decibels.
Life is compromise and constant adaptation to circumstances beyond your control. Hockey players do the same thing in 1 minute shifts. And who comes out on top? The player willing to find just a little more juice at the bottom of his tank, willing to chase that puck into the corner, scrum it out with a vicious passion and make something big happen. It’s the same in life. We root for the single parent who has to dig deep into her own passion to provide for her family, willing to fight to make a better life for her kids. We’re touched by people who seem hopelessly overwhelmed and somehow find the grit to fight back, to triumph against the obstacles in their path. Hell, we hungrily absorb movies like Forrest Gump and the Pursuit of Happyness, one fiction, one based on fact because we want to cheer them on, we want to we savor their triumphs.
The same holds true for me when I watch Blues hockey.
I’m rooting for the boys to find that strength, to draw deep from that well of iron will, to beat the unholy piss out of the Detroit Red Wings.
And somehow, I’m convinced that my own iron will has played a role in the Blues tying up the game in the closing minutes of the third period. I’ve now switched over to Red Bull and churros as a means of keeping my laser-beam focus of positive energy aimed soberly towards a win. We just might do this. We just might defeat our hated rivals in the Central Division. The coaching staff has yet to place a call to my cell phone so as to inquire how I’d handle the special teams lineups. But that’s okay. Right now they need me. I’m convinced of this.
The clocks ticks down in the third period, and this can mean only one thing : it’s going to overtime.
5 minutes of chaos, with “sudden death” rules set into play, meaning that the first team to score wins it all. It’s not as though it matters in the big scheme of the NHL; Detroit is in first place in the division, as usual, and my beloved Blues are trolling in third (out of four). Since their inception as an expansion team in 1967, they’ve never won a Stanley Cup, despite multiple playoff appearances. They’re perennial underdogs, which is a huge part of their appeal to me, their uninvited coach high up in the stands, in a Guinness and Red Bull frenzy of panic and expectation. C’mon boys; make a play happen. Make the three and half hour trip back home worth the drive. Don’t let me down, don’t give the entire fair-weather Red Wing nation one more reason to gloat.
One minute and fifty one seconds later it’s over. Darren Helm, one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and, unfortunately, a Red Wing, scores off of a pass from Jiri Hudler. Just like that, it’s over. Another non-win.
Dejected, muted fans begin the long descent from our perches at high altitude. As the teeming masses cram onto the escalators, the mood picks up considerably, as fans begin to buoy one another up with loud claims of unfair referees, bullshit calls, and the mercenary tactics of the Detroit hiring staff.
The boys in blue will come and go, changing jerseys as their contracts allow, in pursuit of victories and paydays and a chance to play in the big leagues. And toiling away, with a bizarre sense of undeserved ownership, the myriad fans of hockey in this most Midwestern of towns will continue to support their boys. They’ll wear jerseys and spend ungodly amounts of money on beer and pretzels and they, and I, will pull together every time we enter the rink, bellowing like fools for the Blue Notes.