A fan will root for a team or two….a fanatic would be doing what I’m doing right now…watching 2 teams I have zero interest in. Ottawa vs Florida. Since I decided to go in for the NHL GameCenter….I can’t stop! I’ve become the guy who surfs hockey games every time a period ends or there’s a commercial. I LOVE IT!
Growing up across the lake from Chicago, I was privy to some of the greatest athletes in sports. MJ, Pip, and the crew in basketball. Grace, Thomas, Suttcliff, and who could ever have a minor interest in baseball and not love Fisk? I still watch both Chi-town teams. Da Bears! I’m pretty sure I still have the “Super Bow Shuffle” on vinyl somewhere. So with that you would think “oh he’s a Blackhawk’s fan”, right? Not so fast. My grandfather was a HUGE baseball fanatic. He played some minor league ball for who else, but the Cardinals. So our television was usually wired to to some St. Louis sporting event whenever able.
So from the beginning I was already divided. I would go to Hawks games and watch them with no real personal investment in either team playing. I just loved the game. I couldn’t tell you anything about the rules or break down systems, but I always had favorite players to watch. These players were inevitably spread around the league. So sometime after I left Indiana for the Las Vegas sun and desert, I was playing 2 man sand volleyball at Sunset Park. Gordon (my teammate for several years) said “hey Goat can’t make practice, I have a hockey game.” I was concerned for his mental health at that point…Las Vegas…Ice Hockey? He invited me out to watch his rec team play. Was a good time, but nothing of note, until he asked me to go skate sometime. I am what you call a skill collector with an absurd competative nature. So I went for a skate. Plastic boots, toepicks…and I was still hooked. So when he asked me to go again, I sported a new pair of Doust 301 Golds. Finding out the hard way skates don’t come pre-sharpened….hockey had me hook line and sinker. My third skate is one I remember the most. So I could half ass skate forwards or backwards, when Gordon asked me if I wanted to skate in a pick-up game. The answer was simple…HELL FUCKING YES! Having not an ounce of gear, I borrowed Gordons. Two things….NEVER borrow someones gear and in the advent you have to…get someone close to your size (me:5’10…Gordon 6’4). Since Gordon wasn’t playing, I was left to my own to figure out how to suit up. Cup….ok that was easy…ok what the hell is this? A freaking Garter belt?…Really? No way….can’t be…am I learning something new about Gordon I really didn’t care to know? So I sat there watching other guys suit up and learned that, damnit, it was part of the gear. Holds your socks up. Enough said…least it wasn’t lace. So I stumble through the rest of the gear, and swim my way out to the ice. Gear too big, stick too long, I was starting to second guess the whole experience. The first time I hit the ice was awkward and painful. Whoever had rented the sheet of ice had put up cones and everyone was lining up to skate through them. With the puck, without it…fowards, backwards, laps, sprints, starts, stops…I was exhausted. Every move I made would translate through the massive gear, oh about 14 seconds later and it was pissing me off! So the cones were drug off, pucks collected, and I was idling skating around when I realized…they’re facing off…and I’m a defenceman! I got my ass handed to me. Which, in all reality, was what made me stick with hockey. No way was I going to go down in a blaze of mediocrity! So I finished the night and twitched in my sleep. Over the next few paydays, I bought gear that actually fit and was ready for whenever I might get the chance to hit the ice again. Come to find out my wait wouldn’t be long. I get a phone call form some guy named big John telling me I had been drafted by the Red Army and the first practice would be at midnight. So I’m siting there , wondering what the hell had just happened. The US had just been taken over by communist Russia and they had drafted me into the army! I don’t watch the news all that often but this seemed like news that would spread pretty fast. To my relief Gordon called and congratulated me on being picked up by a men’s team in the C division.
So I began my career as a rec league hockey player. Now on to the other half of the title. Why I have no particular favorite team. The goalie for our Red Army team was Stu. Lil Long Island nativ that had relocated to Vegas for a career in sports statistics and operations. When I first met him he was working for Vegas’ now defunct CFL team and was starting an internship with the also now defunct Las Vegas Thunder of the also now defunct IHL. He had asked me several times to come help him with stats on game nights. Finally my schedule (19 yr old, full time college student with an assortment of part/full time jobs= zero life) allowed me to join him for a game. Given my recent developments in a playing career, live hockey games took on a glorious new interest for me. I started going to more and more games. I would often help the team pack for road trips and help out the equipment guys. One day the head equipment guy offered me a job…assistant equipment manager! I took the job of course and my immersion into the world of hockey went farther then any rabbit hole you could imagine. The thing with the IHL was that it was where generally players went to rehab,retire, or stay in game shape while their contracts were being sorted (looking at you Cujo!) So the roster was different every week. You’d spend a week or two with a guy and he’d be off to another league (if they were you the AHL if they were older the NHL). As an equipment guy you develop relationships with these guys and since Vegas was a non-affiliated team players would go every which direction. Seeing guys you’ve worked for play for an NHL team was always a sense of pride, since you were there when they were trying to make it. Even though my contributions were small in the grand picture, I always followed the guys throughout their careers. So when you players spread out through the various ranks of pro hockey, how do you not rally for them? It makes their sweater irrelevant. I’ve always followed the players with a weight that far outreaches the over all team. How else could I follow Hull when he went to Detroit? Pronger when he went to Phillly? The business of hockey often makes it far less heartbreaking to follow the talent versus a sweater.