I’ve been a hockey fan for 21 years, since watching that division final series between Edmonton and Calgary that ended with Steve Smith putting the puck off of Grant Fuhr’s leg and ending (temporarily) the Oiler dynasty. In the excitement of the moment, I initially decided to become a Flames fan, but Calgary doesn’t mean so much to a kid from the Midwestern USA, so by the start of the 1986-87 season I’d settled on St. Louis as my favorite team. At least I’d been there and liked the city.
When I started watching hockey, the sport was at a nadir in the US. Gretzky was breaking records left and right, Lemieux was beginning to establish himself as a superstar, but in Cincinnati, Ohio, we were lucky to get the NHL box scores. Then the NHL left ESPN for Sportschannel, rendering my new obsession even more obscure. Fortunately I had parents who collected antiques, and as such, the detritus of the last hockey boom in the 1970s was mine to pick through in the flea markets, used book stores and thrift stores of the Ohio Valley and beyond. From this collecting and reading, I learned the history and trivia of the sport, even if I couldn’t watch it live myself.
Then Gretzky went to LA, roller blades became the new black, and real hockey began to creep back into my orbit. Minor league teams in Indianapolis and then — yes! — Cincinnati came into being. I became a proud ECHL season ticket holder. If you’d asked me my favorite NHL team at the time, I’d have said St. Louis, but my heart was already with these exciting new minor leaguers. How did Mark Turner and Doug Melnyk never make the NHL, you tell me?
I then went off to college in Upstate New York and to a brief stint as the worst player on the best team in D3 women’s hockey. My limitations as a player evident, I returned to my perch as a spectator, and discovered just how much fun college hockey is to watch. And I was there when St. Lawrence beat Clarkson in their very first match-up in Clarkson’s new rink.
Around the same time, I discovered a new NHL favorite, as the Ottawa Senators had come into being an hour up the road from my college town. Had my wandering fandom finally found a true home?
I graduated with a degree in, among other things, Canadian Studies and then moved to Canada to pursue graduate studies. Despite being in the heartland of hockey, my interest level actually took a dive for a time, as I became more preoccupied with politics, music, ‘zining and other Generation X pursuits. I still tuned in when the Sens were in the playoffs, and went to the occasional OHL game, but my fanaticism was quite reduced from my younger years.
Then I moved on to do a Ph.D. in poli sci at Queen’s University (in Don Cherry’s hometown) where I found myself in a community of smart hockey fans who played shinny every week and talked hockey at lunch every day (much to the chagrin of some of our more uptight colleagues). I threw myself back into following the sport and playing it, eventually discovering that I enjoyed playing goal most of all.
Around this time, the NHL awarded a franchise to Columbus, Ohio, the hometown of my grandparents. I was deeply immersed in the traditionalist hockey culture in Eastern Ontario at the time, and scoffed at these new ‘Blue Jackets.’ As puck drop in 2000 grew closer, though, I started to warm up to the idea of hockey in Ohio’s capital. And then the Jackets signed Ron Tugnutt, my favorite ex-Senator, and it was clear I would have to give this team a chance. I started lurking on the late, lamented ‘O Board’ on the CBJ website, posting once or twice.
In December of 2000, while home in Ohio, I was able to take in my first Blue Jackets game, against my beloved Senators even. I admit, I wore my Sens jersey to the game and cheered for Ottawa. But I was taken by the beautiful arena, by the large and passionate crowd, and most of all by the never-say-die work ethic of those expansion Blue Jackets. After that night, I had to admit that the Jackets were at least #2 in my heart.
I started posting on the O Board and other Jackets boards and found another community of smart hockey fans. I made it to more Jackets games when I could, and found myself more and more into this ragtag team from Central Ohio — at least 50/50 with the Sens. Then I moved back to Ohio in 2002, and in 2004, I moved to Columbus, and before long, the Jackets were alone as my team.
They’re a damn frustrating bunch to cheer for much of the time, but for the first time in my life, I have a real hometown NHL team, and that’s still pretty damn cool. When I walk out of my house and can see Nationwide Arena, that’s pretty damn cool as well.
This is my second attempt at a blog. My old blog was sometimes about hockey, but more often about politics, music, TV, library book sales, and my observations on life. I grew tired of it after three years, and finally let it die in 2006. Then in February 2007, more or less on a whim, I decided it might be fun to start blogging again, but this time to concentrate more on hockey. And thus the blog you’re reading was born.