After all these years, I'm ready to become an NHL fan
Posted: Monday November 21, 2005 12:29PM; Updated: Monday November 21, 2005 12:29PM
Players like Jaromir Jagr make the NHL an exciting prodcut.
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Growing up in the South, there was no hockey on TV, and with no NHL team in town, there was very little about the sport in the newspaper. I had only two hockey experiences in my formative years:
1) When I was in middle school, my Dad took me and a friend to an NHL exhibition game played at the now-demolished Omni. Boston was playing someone -- possibly Philadelphia -- and all I recall was the transcendent play of a Bruins enforcer named Bruce Shoebottom, who, rather than a hockey player, appeared to be an ultimate fighting champion who just happened to skate. And he had a dope surname.
2) I went to a game in 1995, and while the coach of the Cincinnati Cyclones, Don Jackson, was leaning against the glass that separated the bench from the stands, the mascot of the Knights (named "Sir Slapalot," I swear) bumped the glass. Jackson spun around, leapt over the glass and began pummeling him.
While I always suspected hockey must be pretty fun to watch, there was no repetition, no reinforcement for me. Atlanta didn't get an NHL team until I'd moved to New York, and I've spent the last five years immersed in the NBA, with soccer, football, baseball and the PlayStation 2 filling my remaining free time, which made hockey a great punch line for me and this column. Other writers used soccer, I had hockey. Not because I hated it, but because I didn't know anything about it.
So, Saturday afternoon I went to my first real NHL game. And what better place to go than Madison Square Garden, the World's Most Famous Arena, to see one of the "original six," the New York Rangers, against the Carolina Hurricanes. Walking into the seating area at The Garden, seeing that huge expanse of gleaming ivory ice, it was a breathtaking sight. Well, it was a mix of the sight and the cold. I was guessing the arena would be chilly, but I also figured by now they'd have a way to cool the ice and keep the building warm. Guess not.
The game began, and within minutes, there was a fight. Hockey rules! Two guys -- Boulerice and Strudwick, though don't ask me which guy was on which team -- squared off, and everyone jumped from their seats. "Why are they letting them fight?" my wife asked me, as the referees (are they even called referees in hockey?) allowed the combatants to circle one another, before they finally grabbed each other and started punching. "I think it's because they figure if they break it up now they'll just fight again later," I told her. At least, that was the rationale the teachers used when I was in middle school. What I particularly enjoyed was the way the other guys on the ice just stood around and watched, casually leaning on their sticks as though they were taking a break from raking the front yard.
The Rangers scored early on, and by the end of the first quarter they led 2-1. (I guess it's not called a quarter. A third, maybe?) The Rangers added a second goal in the next thingy, and held a commanding 3-1 lead going into the third thingy. I decided to get some nachos during halftime, before realizing that it couldn't be called halftime, either. What is it, intermission, like on Broadway? How about if they just called it "Snacktime." Obviously, I'll need to buy a rulebook if I'm going to continue watching hockey.