Last night my daughter and I attended the first Stanley Cup Playoff game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers at the United Center on Chicago’s west end. The Hawks won, 6-5 in a free-for-all contest where the lead changed several times. It wasn’t a good game to watch if you don’t like stress, but Hawks fans were elated when the time finally ran out with their team on top.
This was my first Stanley Cup game, made possible only because I took a “flyer” (no pun intended, Philadelphians) on 4 cheapo, nosebleed season tickets a couple of years ago when nobody wanted to go to Blackhawks games. Turns out that my daughter and I ended up buying tickets for what was going to be one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League. If only I could only pick a hot stock on Wall Street!
Of course, I realize that this blog will fall on a lot of deaf ears because most of you have little interest in ice hockey. Relegated to the fourth most popular sport in the US, behind football, baseball, and basketball, hockey is America’s step-child professional sport. However, for the few of us who played the game as a kid and have followed it over the years, this Canadian-invented game is like no other.
Ice hockey is correctly billed as the fastest game on earth. Nobody moves faster than people on skates. No object moves with more speed than a hockey puck, which regularly reaches speeds of 90-100 miles per hour.
As Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks found out last week, no sports object is more dangerous that a frozen, solid-rubber hockey puck. Hit in the mouth by a puck last week, Keith’s mouth guard flew 21 feet before it hit the ice. Keith lost seven teeth in the incident, one of which he coughed up in the locker room as they were stitching him up. Oh; I forgot to mention that less than ten minutes later Keith was back on the ice. After all, you don’t need teeth to skate and shoot.
Hockey fans are a diverse breed. Next to a union pipe-fitter you will find a business executive who played the game while in college at Yale, but both of them will high-five each other after the home team scores. Fan use of profanity during games is common and sometimes collective. While ice hockey fans seldom turn violent, a lot of beer is sold at hockey games and some of the folks have a hard time masking their exuberance during and after games.
After last night’s game I was standing in line in the men’s room. A young man, about 12 years old, was next to me in line waiting for his turn at the almighty urinal. Meanwhile a ridiculously drunk guy, in this room with about 100 men, was loudly waxing UN-eloquent about every subject (politics, women, football, etc) on earth. The guy was so drunk and his statements so nutty that everyone in the room was giggling, as was this innocent young kid. I’m thinking I was that kid about 48 years ago, standing at the “trough” at the old AK-SAR-BEN hockey rink in Omaha, getting my first doses of real-world humanity. Like ice hockey, that kid will learn that life sometimes isn’t pretty, proper, or fair. But, sooner or later, he’ll take his own son to the big hockey stadium on Chicago’s west end.