American’s love of hockey is growing; nowhere near the sparkling thunder of Canada’s devotion to the game. Russia and Sweden have great fanfare over the sport, yet the NHL has placed its roots in the States.
Every hockey fan can pinpoint the moment they fell in love with the sport. Growing up in Michigan was close to living in Canada, literally a drive over the bridge or a car ride over a border of forest. Michigan boasts seven college hockey teams, equivalent to rival hockey state Minnesota. Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan, Wayne State, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State create a vortex of goons on ice that is impossible to avoid. Not to mention minor leagues spanning from Grand Rapids to Saginaw to Calumet in the Upper Peninsula.
I always had a pair of skates. Never remember not skating on a frozen pond, at Yost Arena or in my best friend’s backyard where her father built us a rink to practice every day after school. I loved making figure eight tracks in the ice and the whoosh and scrape sounds my skates sang. I was in training to be a professional ice skater because in my day, girls playing hockey wasn’t the norm. Today, I know many women who strap on the gear for some non-contact ice time. The big ice arena where I took lessons was in Muskegon where my dad would take us for Mohawk games. The thrill of watching the pros move the puck on the very same ice I loop to looped was exhilarating. I felt a kinship.
Years passed, college came and the Detroit Red Wings drafted Steve Yzerman. To say that most girls in Michigan had a super crush on Stevie Y is an understatement. His presence in Detroit hockey rivaled the previous generation’s love of Gordie Howe, who was a household name for most in the Great Lakes region. Some of us may not have known all of Howe’s triumphs but we knew he stood for something great in our state and one of our greatest ambassadors for the sport and the state. Howe still lives in Michigan. We love him.
The Detroit Red Wings defined hockey for me beyond what I knew. Super bad boy Darren McCarty defended the pride of the Motor City with his spunk and fists. His scraps enlightened my view of fighting’s purpose in the game. When some player rushed Chris Osgood or Dominic Hasek I awaited a brawl. Defending your friends and your teammates seemed a viable reason to cause some stink. I know obsess over penalty minutes for roughing and fighting drafting the toughest defenders for my fantasy teams. I cheer when my guys rack up the PIMs, and devote my blog to the blue line.
So as I’m writing this in response to a recent posting of the 5 Reasons You Love Hockey, for Puck Daddy’s blog I’m reminded of another great influence of my fascination, Wayne Gretzky. He may not have started my love affair with the sport but his dominance was eye opening. Honestly, I never followed his career in Edmonton. I took notice when he went to the Los Angles Kings mostly because I couldn’t believe anyone would put a team near the beach. Stats and news trickled in on my radar for the Great One yet my interest wouldn’t peak until after the Kings. I recall a co-worker who was a St. Louis Blues fan thus the debate over our rival team’s greatness. He crashed into my office boasting of the acquisition of Gretzky. I assured him it wouldn’t help his team.
Off to the bright lights of the big city, Wayne Gretzky landed with the New York Rangers. Comparable to the Stevie Y worship, Gretzky and NYC were irresistible. My boss gave me tickets to a New Year’s Eve game when the Rangers came to Denver to play the young Colorado Avalanche in 1999. My love for hockey infiltrated that job with a Boston Bruins fan and a San Jose Sharks fan all under one department. If we had to stay late during the playoffs, we had a radio broadcasting the games. Our boss, a Denver Broncos fan, couldn’t believe he had three voracious hockey girls in his office.
Gretzky’s retirement is held in high tribute in my home with a framed print plate from the actual New York Daily News front page announcing Gretzky’s departure. My husband somehow acquired this for me, along with giving me his vintage Rangers jacket. The New York Rangers are my Eastern Conference team.
I landed in Denver, Colorado before any NHL franchise planted its roots. In 1996, I found a new hockey hero in Joe Sakic. Walking downtown one day, the meager crowds were ambushed by numerous fire engines carrying men waving, and sitting atop one was Sakic hoisting the Stanley Cup. Shining in the sunlight, my heart raced. Hockey was finally in the Rocky Mountains in grand style. I followed Sakic’s career, was an Avalanche season ticket holder in 1998 and wore my Avs gear with pride. My Colorado hockey experience was born.
In 2002, I looked at graduate schools. My interest fell on Cornell or the University of Denver based on their academics but a must was their hockey traditions. DU was down the street from my house, so the choice was clear and what an amazing opportunity to see the DU Pioneers ravage the college hockey scene. I watched NHL stars Paul Stastny and Tyler Bozak play in front of my third row season ticket seats.
Sometimes, the best time out is cozying up on the sofa with a beer and a hockey game. I watch hockey every night. I can’t live without knowing the scores and who’s kicked it on my fantasy hockey teams. What the players do on their ice time is their concern, as I just want to experience the joy of their triumphs. My fantasy hockey team drives what keeps me watching hockey where stats and percentages finally make sense. Few players on my team have been notified of their status, yet it’s always fun to tell them this fact.
Five reasons why I love hockey seem too few. Mentally and spiritually the greatest game on ice fills a place like no other. Hockey has always been a large part of my life. I never realized how influential the sport has been to who I am and how I approach people and situations. Tell people you’re from Detroit may invoke a mixed response of sympathy and fear, but tell them you’re a Red Wings fan be prepared to defend your turf.