I love hockey!!  Love it!!  I’ve loved it almost my entire life.  In fact, when I began watching hockey, there were only six teams: the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs.  (You can all now oooh and aaaah at how old I am!)  🙂  I didn’t live in one of these cities.  I lived in Omaha, Nebraska,  an unlikely hockey town.

But our Omaha Knights were the farm team of the Montreal Canadiens, who have won the Stanley Cup more often than any other hockey team.  That meant that any player there, as well as any other players in the Central Professional Hockey League at that time, was NHL quality, and there were many players who went on to be stars in the NHL.   Since the arena was relatively small (maybe about 5,000 seats, if my memory is right), the only bad seats were behind some pillars, which were later removed.  The team came in across an open space where people could stand right next to the mat laid on the floor so the skate blades wouldn’t get dulled and  could talk to the players, encourage them, even reach out and touch them.

The players were a bit awkward walking on the mat, but when they hit the ice, they became magic.  They could fly, changing directions as easily as birds swoop and turn, but on the ice, rather than in the air.  Until you’ve been close to the ice, it’s difficult to imagine how fast they can go, how instantly they can change to skating backwards, then spin back to skating forward.  Not only can they do this, but they can do it while using a stick and directing a round piece of frozen rubber called a puck…and while dodging, at least most of the time, the nine other players (not including the goalies) on the ice at the same time.  It’s truly a thing of beauty, a ballet on ice, albeit a muscular ballet.

When we first went to the games, there wasn’t glass around the rink but wire mesh.  Sometimes when there was a fight,  fans would throw their chairs over the fence onto the ice.  This was obviously also before seats that were attached to the floor!  When a fight broke out, it was as if the ice had sprouted hockey gloves, as all the players dropped their gloves to the ice, grabbed a dance partner and paired off while usually just two players tried unsuccessfully to punch at the each other, hampered by jerseys pulled up over their upper bodies, and sometimes heads, and all the underneath garments.  Once one of our players took an opposing player’s glove and tossed it over the fence where the fans kept passing it along as the opponent climbed up, trying to reach over and get it.  No players wore helmets then and goalies didn’t wear masks.  Wonder who thought that was a good idea??  Eventually, Jacques Plante started wearing a mask, although it looked nothing like the works of art you see now.  A lot of fans love fighting. That, to me, isn’t the essence of hockey.  Stick and puck handling is what distinguishes hockey; any yob can fight and no one should ever swing a stick at another player.  Speed and dexterity are the beauty of hockey.  Another fun thing about being a hockey fan is learning the names of all sorts of small Canadian towns.

We went ice skating on Saturday mornings at the rink and some of the players were there with their little children who could barely walk.  No wonder they could skate so well.  My brother and I got to know one of the players, Gary Sabourin.  To us, having a professional hockey player know us, say hi, talk with us, was one of the best things in life.  When Gary went into the NHL and played for the St. Louis Blues, we were able to go to St. Louis twice to see games.  Each time our family went very early and stood where the players came in and Gary remembered us and spent time talking with us.  Years later, after he’d retired and returned to Parry Sound, my brother visited him while on a motorcycle trip and said Gary was happy to find that we remembered him.

One of the things I like the most about hockey is the Stanley Cup, both the name of the trophy the winning team gets and the name of the playoffs—the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Some of the greatest sports traditions, in my mind, center around the cup, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Cup.  First of all, the cup looks like something worth winning and it has the name of every player, coach, management person and club staff of the winning team engraved on it.  What other trophy can say that?  Secondly, when the last game of the championship playoff series is over (best of seven), the winning team skates the cup around the area, taking turns holding it above their heads (usually after kissing it), but in almost all cases, hoisted and skated first by the team captain. Family members come out on the ice and a festive celebration ensues.  Even if the cup is won away from home, the opposing fans generally stay and cheer for the winning team, as well as the efforts of their own team, the way it should be.  Finally, each player of the winning team gets to have the cup for one day.  What could be more fun if you’re a player.  My husband said that when Chicago won the cup, one day a guy was driving along and looked over to see two Black Hawks driving next to him.  Being a fan, he waved and the players motioned him to pull over.  Turns out they had the cup with them and took pictures of all of them with the cup.  How great is that??

Skating the cup

I loved walking into Ak-sar-ben (the name of the arena in Omaha—Nebraska spelled backwards) and smelling the cold, moist air of the rink.  It still brings a smile to my face and joy to my heart just to remember the feeling.  In 2010, my husband was given two tickets to a first-round Stanley Cup playoff game in Chicago, one of the best gifts he’s ever given me.  The Black Hawks came from behind to tie the game, won it in overtime and went on to win the Stanley Cup.  If you love hockey, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Comments
  1. billgncs says:

    I remember the first time we went ice skating, me wobbling and uncertain, and you shot from a cannon as you flew across the rink.

  2. billgncs says:

    agreed, holding hands with me is dangerous when skating!

  3. janet says:

    This game is in the third overtime and I’m fighting to stay awake…not because it’s boring…far from it, but because I’m SO tired. I can’t even imagine how tired the players must be as they’re nearing two hours of play!

  4. Ice skater says:

    Who do you remember skating on Sunday morning? Do you remember the organ music? And if you tried to change the music to something a little more hip, then the old folks would complain.

    • I do remember the music but not all the players who skated. We skated on Saturday mornings (church on Sundays.) Are you from Omaha? Aksarben was a great place. I loved watching the horse racing, too, although from the stable side. I didn’t get betting at all then (still don’t, really) but I loved the horses. I even got a “job” for a bit, helping clean out stalls in exchange for breakfast. Loved it!

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