Saturday, February 11, 2012

Hockey Day in Canada


Today is officially Hockey Day in Canada and we celebrated by going tobogganing, building a snow fort, and wearing long underwear. There's a full slate of games today, and we're gonna settle in and watch while the weather stays nasty outside.

My relationship with hockey has been a tricky one. When I was a kid it meant just about everything. We did the whole 6am scraping the car off to get to the rink thing, just like so many other families, and some of my best friends came from beneath a half inch of horrible smelling hockey equipment. I have at least a billion stories, and by the time I was on the precipice of adulthood I'd burned through three or four hockey lifetimes...there were endless games of road hockey on Dora Drive, frigid marathon games on the Sydenham River, House League, Travel, Junior camps...and then suddenly and strangely, nothing. I walked away in an evening.

My hockey obssessions began with Ken Dryden and Guy LaFleur, and as I grew older and Wayne Gretzky emerged as Canada's favorite son, the Oilers became my obsession and remained so for nearly two decades. Heartbreak, disappointment tainted my love affair with the Gretzkyless Oilers, and distance from Northlands Coliseum, contrasted with proximity to Detroit and Joe Louis Arena, turned me slowly but surely into a part time Red Wings fan. Success in Hockeytown pushed me back into fandom but with a hesitant uncertainty of a jilted lover. I'd been hurt and I wasn't going to get hurt again. It sounds dramatic. It was. The departure of Ryan Smyth from Edmonton sealed my fate as a jaded, jilted, and faithless fan. It was the last blow that was dealt to my hockey heart before I checked out and swore indifference.

As a boy I idolized Ken Dryden, then Mike Palmateer, and finally Tom Barrasso...the 18 year old was mere months out of high school and already hoisting a Vezina Trophy. Of course, Dryden retired, Palmateer disappeared, and Barrasso slipped off to Pittsburgh. Vladislav Tretiak, the other embarrassing obsession from my childhood was an old man, a figment of our hockey memories, and every Oiler I ever loved was no longer an Oiler. Sure... we won another Stanley Cup in New York disguised as the Rangers, but hockey had deceived me...had let me down, and now that I was no longer a little boy, and just like playing the game itself, I walked away.

I still have hockey friends, best friends from years past, and I still love the game, but I own ten jerseys instead of one, and I pledge allegiance to no one, not anymore. I love this fickle game but it feels so often as though it's never loved me back. A daughter...a wife...a life...have all replaced the game that I swore my allegiance to almost a million years ago, or so it seems. It's been a long time since the outcome of a hockey game ruined my day, but I can't remember a time when a simple hockey game couldn't make it.


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