My relationship with the NHL Playoffs began in my youth about age 10 to 12. My mom and I would sit on summer nights and watch the mighty New Jersey Devils and their goaltender Marty Broduer as they conquered the NHL and won two Stanley Cups in three years. My hockey fandom, at that point, was kind of an enigma. I loved the game, but only when it was playoff time. I thought the energy was so exciting. You could see the energy pulsating from the fans and onto the ice, almost as an invisible sheet. I also had no one to root for, which only furthered my issue.
You could be thinking, oh you’re from South Florida, why didn’t you root for the Panthers? Here is my answer to you. It comes in a few parts.
First of all, being from South Florida, do you really think, as sad as it is, that anyone around these parts cares about the Florida Panthers, much less any other sports team? No. They don’t. If they can only show up for the 3rd and 4th quarters of a Heat game and from the 4th to the 7th inning of a Marlins game (I kid you not, I was at the Marlins game a few nights back. The new shopping mall, I mean baseball stadium, is exciting by the way.), do you think they will be willing to even attempt to go to a Panthers game?
Secondly, Cleveland didn’t have a hockey team, which made me unable to seriously follow hockey. I pledged my loyalty and my allegiance to Cleveland before I was able to truly communicate. That meant that any team that had no ties to Cleveland, in professional sports at least, had no true ties with me. I could root for other teams, but I couldn’t truly be a fan. I remember the Cleveland Lumberjacks before they were ultimately dismantled. I liked them, but I wasn’t able to follow them as they weren’t written about or shown on television in the South Florida area. The Lake Erie Monsters, in sort of the same boat as the Lumberjacks, are hard to follow simply because they’re not an NHL franchise and are hard to watch anywhere but in the Q. I guess you can hate on me for this, but for some reason, I find it extremely hard to be a fan of minor league teams in any sport. When you care so much about the big guys, it can be hard to spread your fandom to the farm.
Finally, comes the Columbus issue. The Columbus Blue Jackets are an NHL franchise located in the heart and soul of Ohio State Buckeye country, and are therefore always going to be the second most followed team in their city. It’s not a good thing when your professional sports team follows a collegiate program in terms of number of fans. I’ve tried for many years to become a Blue Jacket diehard. Something just can’t get me over the hump. Maybe it’s their lack of success. Maybe it’s the fact that hockey season overlaps with the end of the Browns season and the beginning of the Cavs season. I try and I try and I try, but each year my attempts become unsuccessful. It is my hope each and every year, however, that the Blue Jackets win the Stanley Cup. Before they win a Stanley Cup, however, they must become competitive.
So there, there is my enigma for you. A passenger without a vessel. No team to take me to the land that is true hockey fandom. It stinks, it truly stinks. To enjoy the game so much but to feel as if I’m an outsider. Ugh.
Today, in spite of being a hockey pariah, when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I am hooked.
After my Mom and I spent a few years watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it was quickly and wholeheartedly overshadowed by the Tribe, as I finally convinced my parents to order the DirecTV Major League Ticket Package.
I give credit to my good friend Ben Arkin for getting me back into the swing of things. You see, Ben is a true Florida Panthers fan, but even more than that, a true hockey fan. As I would visit his house and we would “chill”, (I hate that word that’s why I put it in quotations), he would often have the Stanley Cup Playoffs on, and remembering the times my Mom and I had, I would watch somewhat closely. Within a few games, I instantly remembered why I loved it so much. Ben and I watched just about each and every game. We would flip back and forth: Canucks vs. Blackhawks, Bruins vs. Canadiens, Detroit vs. San Jose. No matter who was playing, the excitement was always there. The players were in it to win it. There was no bullshit here. The aggression, the tenacity that these guys had was tangible. It’s unlike any sport there is. When the games weren’t on, Ben and I would often plug in the XBOX 360 and play some NHL 11. The competitive edge in our NHL 11 battles mirrored that of the playoffs. Me, being a lot like the Columbus Blue Jackets, would usually never come out on top.
As a non true hockey fan, I can’t really tell you much about the ins and outs of the game of hockey. Sure I can throw some names out there, tell you who the best goalies are, and understand most of the rules, but as for strategy and team-building I have not a clue. I can’t tell you why a team should or shouldn’t win. I can’t tell you who is the favorite to win the Cup with anything other than their seeds in the playoffs. What I can tell you is, if you’re not watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you are missing out. The atmosphere of a Stanley Cup Playoff game is incredible. It’s difficult to even describe. The pace, the aggression, the speed, the beards, the missing teeth, the fights, the goals, the excitement, they all just make it so entertaining.
As I now watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs by myself in my dorm room, as Ben and I, as well as many other friends who are also hockey fanatics, happen to be at different schools, I often get this look. The “why are you watching hockey?” look. I just tell them to watch the game and they’ll see. Most of them just walk away and shake their heads. They don’t know what an amazing game and amazing time they’re missing.