You see, I grew up in Texas years before the Dallas Stars were established as the Lone Star State’s only NHL team. During the years of my youth, ice was something we put in our tea, and hockey was something that went plop in the toilet. It didn’t get any more complicated than that.
My father was a huge sports fan, but I’d be surprised if he ever said more than two words about hockey. I doubt I even knew the sport existed much before I reached high school. I’d been to the Ice Capades, but was unimpressed, and to this day, I’ve never worn a pair of ice skates.
And really, for most of my life, I was okay with having no knowledge of hockey. Then I moved up north, and suddenly people around me were getting excited about toothless guys with unpronounceable last names. I was completely lost.
I had to do something, so several years ago (when I still had a real job), I declared myself a Hockey Fan Free Agent. It would have been the simplest thing to adopt the New Jersey Devils as my team since they are closest, but if you know me, you know I rarely do anything the easy way.
I researched hockey with the best materials Wikipedia has to offer. I learned the names of all the NHL teams and perused W-L records for the current season. That was important, because I didn’t want to declare for a successful team and have everybody accuse me of being a front-runner. I also didn’t want to be accused of any regional bias, so the Dallas Stars were out (much to the chagrin of my co-workers who tried to guess which team I’d pick). But I also didn’t want to pick one of their teams — the Devils, Islanders or Rangers — because I’m not at all in love with this area I now call home.
Here’s what it came down to for me: Hockey is played on ice. Ice is cold. North is colder than south. Canada is more northerly than the United States, and Canada just seems to ooze hockey like Ireland oozes shamrocks. Therefore, I decided I’d take my hockey allegiance north of the border.
I wanted a team that wasn’t currently winning, but one that had some history. I don’t speak French, so Montreal was out. Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton seemed too remote. I almost picked the Ottawa Senators, but in the end, I decided I could identify more with a maple leaf than some kind of whacked-out Canadian/Roman gladiator.
I decided I would be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan!
It was obviously a wise decision because ever since I declared for them, the Maple Leafs have rewarded me with nothing but sucktastic play. Nobody will ever accuse me of being a front-runner with these guys!
Even though I’ve now had a team for several years, I’m still a bad hockey fan. Sometimes I’ll watch a game on the television or on a highlight reel, and when a player scores a goal, it always looks more like an accident than skill. But I’ll be first to admit that I have no way of knowing because I’ve never played.
I’m mystified by off-sides and icing calls. Crease? What’s a crease? I don’t understand the significance of lines, power plays, short-handed goals, forwards vs. defensemen … any of that crap. What’s this plus/minus statistic all about, and why do some people tell me that penalties aren’t necessarily a bad thing? Some guy leads the team in penalty minutes, but he’s treated like a hero . . . huh?
I guess hockey leaves me feeling a lot like my sister feels when she accidentally stumbles across a baseball game. But the difference is, at least I want to learn. I’m sure there’s an exciting sport in there somewhere, if only I could understand it and pronounce a few of the names correctly.
So let’s go, Maple Leafs! When you take the court tomorrow night, I want you guys to take that opening kickoff, drive it down Montreal’s throat, and get a lead in the first inning. Iron your creases, and don’t get any penalties unless it seems like the heroic thing to do! Mind your plusses and minuses, and don’t lick the icing!
Losing was great for awhile, but it’s been long enough now that I can’t be accused of jumping on the blue-and-white bandwagon. It’s okay for you guys to bring home that Lombardi Trophy! I’m really counting on you this year, Maple Leafs, so fight hard, and don’t puck it up!