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When I became a real fan

July 16, 2010 - John Stack

 Well, finally all the hoopla is over. The tournament with the best 16 teams is through. We’ve suffered through unruly fans, loud noisemakers, atrocious officiating at inexplicable times. My North Country neighbors and I were glued to our TVs throughout much of the slog. We of course watched our teams in games set up to decide who would get in. But all in all, it was a great 6 weeks. Basically a game every other day. I’m of course referring to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

            What a season it was to be a Canadians fan. They get in on the last day of the season. A backup goalie (Halak) leads them to the doorstep of the promised land. A promising youngster makes his presence felt (PK Subban). But it wasn’t just about hockey. It was much more than that. My good friend Chev likes to recall what it really means. Last year, he was having a mild argument with his wife, and she claimed he was ’addicted to hockey’ –as if this was a bad thing!

            The playoffs started with Chev and I trading places of which to watch the games – my place or his. When not together, we would rant at each other on the phone during intermission. Heck just watching Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada is something most Americans haven’t fully appreciated. Then, out neighbor Dick got in on it. As he had watched the first 2 games from the start, they lost those. Then, he turned on half way through the next game, and they won. From there on, he had to wait until 8:30 to turn on a game. Then, James (who bought my old house)  turned out to be a fan. He would be home yelling at the TV until his wife would finally say ‘Just go next door and watch it with the guys’. I do believe he was on Chev’s couch with a Bud popped before the word ‘guys’ had finished leaving his wife’s lips.

            But, it wasn’t just here. I was at camp down in Minerva, with no way to watch TV. The only place for 10 miles is Sporty’s bar. This is a Biker bar with Sporty as the owner/bartender (and 2009 Citizen of the Year in Minerva). It was an afternoon game against the Penguins. I went over with my two 12 year olds, hoping to convince Sporty to let me watch the game. He wasn’t there, and there was a bartender I didn’t know. But, with sports on 2 other TVs, she said we could watch it. The other guys at the bar helped her find the right channel and away we went. After the first period, I realized that prior to the game, no one was even looking at the TVs. Now, a majority were following the game. I knoew no one other than my boys there. But, at one point, a shot just barely missed going in. Instinctively, I winced, holding my thumb and forefinger together to show how close the shot was to my kids. I look over to my right, and a guy is looking at me – doing the exact same thing! The true universal symbolism of sports and comraderie.In the second period, a group of 3 or 4 guys show up on crotch rockets, with blue, red and white leather. (It may be a biker bar, but Sporty doesn’t discriminate). One guys sits with me at a table next to the bar. Turns out, of course, he’s from Canada (as well as his buddies) and huge Habs fans. So, we talk for a while. Again, with the universal language of hockey/sports/guys. Now, I have female friends who are sports fans. But, outside of sports, what would engender this type of friendly behavior between strangers at a bar? Would they be yelling ‘mix that batter!!’ or ‘Fillet that fish!’ and high fiving watching Iron Chef? Do some people wear Emerill chef uniforms when they go out?

            I thank my wife (and Chevs wife and James’s wife) for allowing me way too much time to just watch hockey for those 6 weeks (honestly, after the Habs were eliminated I didn’t have as much of an excuse to go over and drink beer with Chev). I thought it was a great time and we definitely had fun with neighbors who we don’t see as much as we would like. But it was more. Canadians hockey is more than a typical North American sports team. Watch ‘Fever Pitch’ about a fan’s obsession with the Red Sox and you may understand. For game 7 against the Penguins, I was thinking of heading up to Montreal, finding a local sports bar, and watching the game where it should be watched. The game was an away game but the Bell Centre was packed. Turns out, the Canadians packed their home ice arena – to watch the game on a Jumbotron!!

            So, I can’t wait for the season to start again. Halak is gone, Price is unsigned but PK will be up for a full season. Heck, with this heat, I can’t wait to just lace up my Vapors and get on the ice where I’ll again disdain any reference to playing defense and continue to sharpen my skills  as an offense oriented shooter while Chev grinds behind the net to set me up for a breakaway. 


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