Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Me & Hockey

I find the news from Vancouver today to be very depressing. No, not the news about the final score of the last NHL hockey game this year—while I probably would have preferred to see the Canucks win, I really didn't have a strong affinity to either team (even a non-Bruins fan has to admit that the Boston goalie played a great series).

The news I hate to hear is about the rioting and looting in downtown Vancouver after the loss. What does it say about how civilization is evolving (or de-volving, which was the basis for the name of that '80s rock band Devo)? My previous travels to Windsor and Toronto left me very impressed with the people and cities of Canada. I would have been less surprised if Boston had lost the Stanley Cup and rioting broke out there than I am to find out it happened in Vancouver. What a sad statement about how societal norms are breaking down! At least some good citizens are volunteering to clean up the mess.

Rather than ruminate on the decline and fall of mankind, I'll instead talk about hockey. All this talk about the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since the Bobby Orr era has brought back a good memory for me. The very first hockey game I ever attended was in the '72-'73 season, when Boston played a game at the igloo in Pittsburgh. I actually got to see Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Wayne Cashman, and other stars of that famous team play that day. After last night's big win, the sports experts are all talking like that was a long time ago, but it doesn't seem to be ancient history to me.

I got this rare chance because a friend of mine at Hamilton Junior High was Warren Montgomery. His dad worked at BorgWarner with my dad, and Warren's dad was originally from Boston and a big hockey fan. He wanted to take his son to see that game against the Penguins (who were a very weak team during those days) and allowed him to bring a friend. I was fortunate to be asked to go along.

This was my first trip to Pittsburgh, and my first time in a pro sports city (Columbus, OH and Norfolk, VA were probably the only big towns I had visited at that age). I'll never forget my amazement when we came out of the tunnel and unexpectedly the whole city of Pittsburgh filled the windshield. What a sight! It was just the start of a wonderful day. The Pittsburgh Civic Arena, also known as the Igloo, was a fascinating building whose roof could be opened up. Even if you weren't a hockey fan, the experience was very interesting.

Just getting to see a real hockey game was quite a treat for me, because I was one of the only kids in Parkersburg who really knew anything about hockey. NBC had begun televising some NHL games and they caught my interest. Also, in the days before FM radio, I was big on listening to AM radio stations from around the country, including some that carried hockey games or sports talk shows. [One reason why I'd listen to radio stations from St. Louis, Richmond, Chicago, Charlotte, Boston, Ft. Wayne, Cleveland, etc., was that they actually came in better than the three Parkersburg stations, whose broadcast powers were reduced after sundown.] Finally, I think I had a teenager's sense of wanting to be unique by specializing in a sport others did not follow. I read a lot of library books to learn about hockey.

When I started following hockey, I decided that the Chicago Blackhawks were my favorite team. I liked their jersey insignia (I learned all the jerseys from the Sears catalog), plus they had one of the biggest stars of the day—Bobby Hull. I can still recite most of their players names (Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito, Pit Martin, Jim Pappin, Denis Hull, Lou Angotti, Keith Magnuson, Pat Stapleton, etc.). I'll never forget when Ken Dryden and the Montreal Canadiens beat Chicago for the Stanley Cup.

Another memorable hockey game for me was also a Penguins game at the Igloo. While attending law school at WVU in the early '80s, there was a student activities trip to see Pittsburgh take on the Edmonton Oilers, with their young star Wayne Gretzky. I remember being very impressed with #99, as he was quite easy to pick out from the rest of the players because of his skating talents. Fortunately, Anna and I got to see one Penguins game together a year or two ago before they tore down the Igloo (it has been replaced with the new Consol Energy Center).

While working for NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, I was able to do a semi-season ticket package for the Washington Capitals with my friend from the University of Charleston, Chuck Crum. More recently, I got to attend a Caps game at their new arena downtown with Tim Truman during a business trip to DC. I have also attended two NHL games at the Sharktank in San Jose while attending a business conference, as well as a Columbus Blue Jackets game during their inaugural season. The only other NHL team I've watched was after WVU won the Music City Bowl in 2000, the guys I went with walked across the Cumberland River from the football stadium into downtown where we were able to get tickets to watch the Nashville Predators play that evening.

I've also attended a few minor league games in Wheeling, and many more collegiate hockey games in Morgantown (WVU Mountaineers) and Athens (Ohio University Bobcats). It seems I don't get to follow hockey as much as I would like (maybe I should pay for more than basic cable TV), but it is still a sport that I enjoy. I don't really have a favorite team that I follow anymore (although I enjoyed seeing Chicago win the Cup last year for old times sake). I just like to see good competitive games (preferrably without the fighting), and admire the incredible of skating skills these professionals possess. I plan on enjoying hockey for years to come (assuming that civilization doesn't "devo" too far!).

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