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You may have noticed that the NHL playoffs are in full swing.
Or, if you’re a typical American, you may not have noticed.
I am embarrassed to say that I’ve lost interest in the NHL over the years.
The NHL has managed to chase away a good portion of its fan base. A season-ruining lockout, TV contracts with obscure carriers, outlandish ticket prices and general disregard for fans is a good formula for ruining a sport.
The NHL has managed to check all of those boxes.
Note, I didn’t state that I’ve lost interest in the sport. No, hockey will always remain near and dear to me.
Rather than rant about the state of the NHL, I’d rather share some fond thoughts about hockey.
The wife and I like nothing better than hitting the Roanoke Coliseum for a Virginia Tech game. (We’ve also been to LaHaye to see Liberty.)
When we lived in Richmond, we loved going to see the ECHL Renegades.
The wife became a huge fan of one of the ‘Gades, Richard Pitirri. Of course, I fed into her fandom, even buying her a pin with the player’s photo on it. It went well with her ‘Gades jersey and earrings.
What didn’t go over so well was when another fan asked her, “Oh, are you (Pitirri’s) parents?” Talk about popping the balloon.
My love of hockey extends back to the days of my youth. The only hockey I played was on frozen ponds. Sometimes we wore skates, sometimes we played in boots. And, no, I’m not going to give you some cock-and-bull story about growing up so poor that my mom would send me out to play hockey barefooted.
Frankly, however, I was more interested in playing basketball during the winter.
Short and slow, with an inability to jump and a poor shooting eye, I was singularly unfit for the sport. My decision to pursue glory on the hardwoods was akin to Eminem deciding he’s going to become an etiquette guru.
No, I take that back. The rapper has a much better shot at becoming Miss Manners than I did of becoming a decent rec league hoopster.
Anyway, my futile pursuit of hoop dreams came back to haunt me in graduate school.
The University of Minnesota looks at hockey the way that Virginia Tech looks at football. Everybody takes it seriously.
Wanting to be a good egg, I signed up for the University of Minnesota Carlson School intramural hockey team.
Boy, was I in for an adventure. Make that: My teammates were in for an adventure, especially since I could barely skate, let alone handle a stick.
So, in my first game, not knowing how to apply the brakes, I cleaned the clock of some unfortunate opposing player, in spite of the fact that this was a no-contact league.
The ref looked at me with pity and asked, “You couldn’t stop, could you?”
So, at least I didn’t get sent to the penalty box.
We had a player on our team named Peter Sawkins. He had been drafted by the NHL’s L.A. Kings, and had actually played a couple of games for the Kings before deciding to go back to school.
One time, Peter “lobbed” a pass to me. Hitting my stick, the force of the puck caused me to do a complete 360 degree spin. My teammates marvelled at the maneuver, telling me I might want to consider dropping hockey for figure skating.
Or just dropping hockey, period.
Because we were short-handed, however, I got to play quite often, in spite of my obvious deficiencies.
I was in decent shape, but hockey is a demanding sport. Many times, realizing I was winded, I’d wave over to the bench for a substitute.
There, my entreaties were waved off by a teammate who hadn’t yet finished his cigarette break. Honestly, some of my mates would grab a smoke on the bench. Those were different times, obviously.
I share this story because I want you to understand my deep love of the sport.
I can separate what the NHL has become with what ice hockey can be. While I have fond memories of the sport, they are not enough to lure me back to the NHL.
They may, however, be enough to lure me back to the ice. Perhaps there’s a class reunion in the near future?