Saturday, June 22, 2013

Growing Hockey (and Hawkey) Fan

I am becoming more and more of a fan of hockey.

I'll admit I jumped on the band wagon in 2010.  I had  been watching the playoffs that year casually, but what really sealed the deal for me was when Duncan Keith got his teeth knocked out and only spent a short time out of the game before returning.  When I heard that I said, "I have GOT to watch this game."

I have been to one Hawks game.  When I was very young (probably about eight) my cousin took us to a game and we sat in the corner right up against the glass.  This would have been about 1974-75.  I had no idea what was happening but I was thrilled by the big men slamming against the glass and the Gino's East pizza we had after the game.

Despite this I never got into ice hockey as a youth.  We weren't too big on watching sports at our house anyway.  We watched the Bears, but not really anything else.  We were always outside playing, mostly football.

We were a fairly rough and tumble bunch.  If we weren't playing football, we were playing dodgeball (usually our own invented brand that we called Tron, using Frisbees) or floor hockey.  I even got stitches playing floor hockey.

I never played anything more organized than intramural softball (16 inch, and only because that was the only intramural sport we had) and a season of floor hockey in the park.  Everything we played was sandlot or in the church basement at Boy Scouts.

We did love watching the Bears.  When we played sandlot football I tried to run like Walter Payton and tackle like Dick Butkus.  Walter never ran out of bounds, he ran his would be tacklers out of bounds.  I loved that sort of gutsy, hard hitting play.  I loved watching Butkus drive ball carriers into the ground.  I never saw either of them get into a fight.

That brings me to the first reason I never got into ice hockey, the fights.  It seemed, at least to me, that back in the 70s and 80s there were a lot of fights in hockey.  There was a joke about going to a fight where a hockey game broke out.  I hate that.  In a hard hitting sport I don't know why anyone ever needs to fight.  It spoils the game and there is no reason for it. 

The second reason was that the Blackhawks never made it easy to watch them.  I never knew when they were on or what channel.  Eventually they had their own private channel that you would have to subscribe to.  You could not watch them in Chicago for free.

Even if I could have watched them when would I have had time to watch that many games?  There were just too many games to keep track of.  I feel the same way about baseball.  Baseball's sin of lethargy on top of that means I will never warm to that, but with hockey I'm beginning to see how I might be able to work around it.  I especially liked this year's shortened season.

The last reason I never got into hockey was because I could never play it, not ice hockey at least.  Even when we played floor hockey you couldn't emulate your favorite players, the Bobby Hulls, the Stan Mikitas, the Tony Espositos, the Denis Savards, the Daryl Sutters, Chris Chelios', the Jeremy Roenicks.  I knew all those names, but I didn't really watch them play because I didn't feel the need to study them so I could learn how to play like them.  I knew I would never be able to even imitate that play.

I've overcome that.  Now that I'm old enough to realize that there are just some things I'm never going to do, I can appreciate someone doing something that I will never be able to do. let alone top.

The NHL has gotten away from fighting (at least there is less than I remember) and the Blackhawks are not a brutal team anyway.  With the style they play it is in their best interest to keep the game moving and use their speed and skill.  I love that.

Also, as bad a my knees keep getting (I hurt my left knee just playing 45 minutes of tennis yesterday) I need to find a low / no impact cardio activity to pick up.  Skating seems like just the thing to try.

I also have another forever memory of ice hockey and of some of these Blackhawks.  When my Dad was sick we watched the Olympics together when I was over at his house.  I remember watching the Gold Medal Ice Hockey game between the USA and Canada.  There were Blackhawks on both sides.  I'll never forget watching that game with my Dad.

So now I'm watching the games.  I'm trying to learn the sport.  I'm learning the names and numbers and styles.  I've looked into other teams (gasp) to see what they are like.  I casually watch whatever hockey is on when I have a free moment and a fleeting control of a TV.  I'm talking about it at work.  I'm nervous about how games will turn out.

I like these current Blackhawks.  I love how they started this season.  I like that they won the President's Trophy.  I have been watching them casually since 2010 and was genuinely disappointed when it looked like this season might not happen.  I know what the new alignment will look like and bemoan the loss of the Redwings in our division.  I'm even thinking about getting tickets to some Wolves games, both to see the Wolves (which I have done a few years ago and had a great time) and to see the Rockford Ice Hogs.  I want to see the if I can watch some rising star.

Go you Blackhawks.  Take the attack, yeah, I'll back you Blackhawks.

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