I first fell in love with hockey – hard – during the 2012 lockout.
Hockey was never something I was aware of, growing up in the Midlands, UK. The national sport conversation was pre-occupied predominantly with 'soccer' and occasionally with cricket. At home, my Dad's sport of choice was rugby. I was not a person whose experience with sport had been particularly positive, as a small, nerdy, bisexual woman.
Imagine my surprise when, in October 2012, my social media feed, previously dominated by various other nerdy interests, erupted with anger and frustration as the lockout began and the community of dedicated international hockey fans I had accidentally stumbled across came out of the woodwork. In the coming months, these fan friends turned their attention to celebrating and remembering the moments, players and teams that they loved best as an antidote to the lack of hockey. It was as good an introduction to a sport as it was possible to get.
I began as a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, as many of my friends were. As an international fan, the availability of Blackhawks media, fan content and merchandise made them accessible. The phenomenal winning streak and eventual Cup in the lockout shortened season exhibited some of the very best hockey and made it easy to love the sport for the sport. In the following years, however, my love the Blackhawks – and often, unfortunately, NHL hockey itself – became strained. I was struggling with my mental health, stressed about completing my A levels and beginning university, and found it difficult to justify my continued support of a team that I felt had mishandled a number of issues. The occasional hostility that comes with any large community was beginning to wear on my already less than stellar mental health. I thought about stepping away from hockey entirely.
It was at this time, however, that another friend I had made through hockey began to talk more and more about the Coyotes. They were local, and passionate, and despite being separated by almost 5000 miles and an eight hour time difference, I fell in love with the fan community I found, and slowly with the team. I loved the enthusiasm and kindness with which I was welcomed, with the Coyotes media and branding, with the hockey the Coyotes played and the friendship and affection that seemed to exist between the players. I was even drawn, as a non-traditional fan, to a non-traditional market whose existence seemed to be doubted and undermined at every turn.
Lots of things made me an Arizona Coyotes fan. The efforts of my fan friends and their undeniable love of the team. Getting invested in then-Coyote Mikkel Boedker's injury and recovery from a ruptured spleen. Oliver Ekman-Larsson's breath-taking skill and vision. A captain like Shane Doan. The new and exciting group of rookies and the glimmers of genuine magic that seem to be lurking just around the corner. I am also a Coyotes fan in spite of a lot of things – the relative lack of coverage, the predictions of imminent doom and the fact home games start 3am local time being chief amongst them.
Most of all, however, I became a fan of the Coyotes because they – and the community that surrounds them – rekindled my love of hockey at a time when I was struggling, with being a fan and with being a person. They gave me something to look forward to and to care about, and a reason to stick around to see what the future would bring.