It’s Fall. Pre-Season has started and it’s the time of the year when I am usually taking a hard look at my schedule and finances. My calendar begins to take shape as I plan out which games I will attend and which games I will view. I plot it out; shifting my work schedule, reworking my travel schedule until my calendar is full of all the possibilities and permutations that make up my personal hockey season. But instead of doing that, this year I am sitting in bed, watching a video that Rick Tocchet has posted. It’s an old video, from last year’s NHL Winter classic in my home town, Philadelphia. The music is slow and haunting…his narration is sparse and poetic. The video captures the feeling of pure love for the game, something I began to feel as a child watching the Broad Street Bullies in the paneled family room with my Dad.
I think back to the first time I entered a rink as a child. My new skates are tied together and slung over my right shoulder. The Flyer’s practice rink is dark. And cold and musty. No glass rises from the boards; in this era, the only protection is a long span of twisted chain link fencing. I note the rust and as I tilt my tiny head back, I can see a puck, caught high in the fencing. Even then, I imagine the force it took to shoot that puck and make it stick. I imagine my idol, the toothless Bobby Clarke-did he shoot that puck, stuck so very high in the fencing that there’s no hope of getting it down? I curl my fingers around the rusty links, peering out on to the ice, taking in the long angry scuff marks on the boards. "I like the fighting," I think to myself. There’s something about it that appeals to me; even as a kid, I would sit on the very edge of the couch, leaning forward, my little fists clenched as I cheered each blow. It seems odd now, that I could be a ballerina on Tuesdays and Dave "The Hammer" Schultz’ biggest fan on Saturdays. And when The Hammer moved into a house a few doors down from ours, I would ride my purple banana seated bike past his house hoping to get a glimpse of his hulking frame. Fall always meant hockey season as much as it meant changing leaves. So I felt it and I got it when Krys Barch tweeted his poetic fireside musings last night. It’s sad. It’s worrisome. It’s frustrating. To not have hockey and yet have Fall?
And in this worry, I think about our Coyote team. What will happen to our momentum? The momentum that was pushing us towards finally having an owner, towards claiming a team that is not the recycled Winnipeg Jets; that frozen town finally has their team. This time, this team, was going to be our own. But here we are, stuck and stalled, a place we are sick of and yet familiar with. No season, no team…"It’s looking grim," an NHL buddy says. And I am afraid to see it that way too.
Stuck in this place, I think… what if half of Canada is right? What if we didn’t deserve a team after all?
Half of Canada says that Phoenix doesn’t deserve to have the Coyotes; that we suck as fans because we whine about driving an hour to a game, that we "stole" the Jets even though it’s been like a decade and a half? Well, maybe their right. Maybe we could’ve been better fans. What if we really are going to not only lose part of this season but all of this season? What if we are losing this team for real and for good?
I think back on those ill attended Tuesday night games; the ones that might have had us playing that golf team known as the Columbus Blue Jackets… I was satisfied then to park my ass on the couch, when I should’ve gotten in my car, driven a half hour, paid for my ridiculously cheap ticket and sat my butt in a seat instead.
And all the times I didn’t participate in the fifty-fifty raffle, figuring I’d always get to it next time. Well, what if there’s no next time? If and when this season starts, I can be a better, more charitable fan.
And I’m hearing a lot of fans whining about the mass exodus of players to other leagues. Shouldn’t we love our players enough to let them go? Shouldn’t we be more concerned that OEL continues to develop his amazing talent in the AHL? All that young talent needs a chance to grow. But make no mistake; their growth in the NHL is different than in other leagues. The pace is fast and professional in the big show.
Hopefully, the Portland Pirates have already heard that they need to treat OEL like he’s Cindy Crosby. Noooo touchy. Maybe they should put him in a bubble or one of those silly Samurai suits that we use during our between period shows. Our Ollie needs to return healthy and strong. And next season, I’ll attend prospect camp. I’m sorry I put it off this summer. I won’t take it for granted…just let me have a "next" time.
Boedker left today. His stall sits empty here as he’s taken off to play for a team whose name I can’t pronounce. I’m happy for him. I want him to stay sniper strong. If we get a chance, another season, I want him sniping overtime goals and regulation goals and every type of goal he can.
And the veterans, those older players who figured they had a couple good seasons left in their tired old bones… We all witnessed the magic of the Wizard last year. And even though he’s not with MY team anymore, I was curious to see his season with Dallas. I wanted to see if, as I suspect, his magic came only from being with this team. I’m still upset that I never got to properly say good bye with a glittery sign. I never got to say, "Thanks, Ray. Thanks for all the points." Thanks for doing all that in spite of being practically ignored during All Stars selections. And I never said a proper good bye to any of the players. I just assumed I’d see them again in the Fall. If we lose this entire season, teams will have some vets quietly retire. They’ll go out in a blaze of "blah" instead of a blaze of glory. What about the vets that will be affected by the lack of discipline and conditioning if we do return? Let’s face it, we’ve got some old guys on this team. They’ll have to stay well lubed or they’ll get creaky. What will we get out of them next season if we leave them to rust? And worse, what if our team is gone for good, off to become the Seattle StarBux? If I get one more chance, I’ll cheer a little louder for the vets, I’ll stop calling them old during the games, I’ll appreciate the quiet leadership that they provide our team and our little pups.
Today a hockey great called me passionate. It was a beautiful compliment and yet he doesn’t know the half of it. I wish he could’ve seen me last week. I was talking hockey with a Canadian customer and with said passion, I decided to get down on the floor to demonstrate my favorite Smitty save from last season. You know the save; I’ve cart wheeled on my back, my legs raised just so, my head tilted back in my imaginary helmet, eyes on the puck, my left glove reaching out, the puck flying toward me, my hand reaching up, up, over, snatching, snapping, closing…I look up to see the Canadian laughing at me, he’s reaching down to help me up. As he pulls me to my feet he says, "Nice save. I never knew there were fans like you in Phoenix."
"There are," I reply, huffing a bit from my rolling glove save, "Just give us a chance."