Yesterday, the Thrashers finished their tenth regular season (ninth without a trip to the playoffs) and, for once, I feel like a hockey fan. Why? I'm not entirely sure. I think it's because the boys gave an awesome showing, Moose not the least of whom, as they shut out the 2009 Stanley Cup winners and their hated captain, the Penguins. They made Atlanta proud for once in what could/should have been an otherwise ghastly situation: there were probably as many Pittsburgh sweaters in the crowd as there were Atlanta, and Pittsburgh is a superior team. The moron next to me in the Crosby jersey didn't have much to say as Hedberg made miraculous (and probably unnaturally lucky) saves and the clocked wound down to leave the Pens scoreless. None of the Pittsburgh fans had anything to say when Evander Kane, an 18 year old rookie who had been harassed throughout the game, gave one of their scrappers the fiercest right cross I'd ever seen. I followed the play, saw when the Thrashers were controlling the temp of the game and when they were reeling. I kept up talk with my dad. It felt good and it felt fun.
I am, admittedly, a pretty bad hockey fan but I'm trying to be a better one. I've never cared much for sport in my many years; I've been more or less occupied with fiction, video games, faith, and schooling. The playing of such sports as football and basketball were always fun to me, though it was never a set of skills that I sharpened. I functioned enough for the odd neighborhood game and that was about it. I am also in and out of shape quite frequently. When the weather is nice and I feel so inclined (or noticed I've gotten more pudgy than I should like) I'll start jogging on a more-or-less regular basis. Then the weather gets cold or other circumstances (including sloth) interfere and I'm back to my dormant, indoor ways. All of that is to say that I enjoy being active and I even enjoy spectating most sports, especially live, but I've never been "in to" sport as such. I don't often watch SportsCenter or slave over stats or the latest trades. I somehow pick enough in casual conversation to sound like I know what I'm talking about: that's about it.
In comes the NHL. I freaking love ice hockey. It is the metal equivalent of sport; fast, rowdy, full of energy, nonstop, and very exciting. My father is quite the hockey fan and has had regular seats for our Atlanta Thrashers home games. I had been attending these for several seasons, with interest waxing and waning, until recently when I feel like I have crossed the threshold into true fandom. I can't say exactly what put me over the top, save the sheer joy of being interested in something new. I like finding closet NHL fans at work and elsewhere and talking about our favorite teams with them. I love learning new things about the game: how plays or made, what makes some players and coaches good, others bad, and most just plain underappreciated.
I'm also in the middle of Ken Dryden's excellent memoir The Game. It provides such deep insight and thoughtful reflection on life on the road, youth spent as an athlete, the lives of players, how human they are, and the inner workings of a professional sports team. It's like being a fan of typing and then watching Helvetica: you never knew there was so much that went into your favorite font, you just liked the way it looked and knowing more gives you a deeper appreciation of the thing.
So what is the next step? The playoffs! I've already got my playoff beard so I can check that off the list. Until next season, when the hometown boys hopefully procure their heads from their collective arses, there is much hockey to go. It's time to wait and see, to hope the Canadiens can capture some of their former glory, if Ovechkin can live up to the toothless hype or if the Sedin twins can pull something miraculous out of the air. Basically, it's time to watch anyone but the Penguins win the Stanley Cup.