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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Confessions of a Hockey Addict

We hockey fans are really good at holding grudges.

For example, I personally have not forgiven Claude Lemieux, formerly of the Colorado Avalanche, for slamming Red Wing Kris Draper's face into the corner of the players' gate during a shift change in the 1996 playoffs, resulting in considerable injury. Draper may have forgiven him, but I sure haven't.

And from what I've heard, hockey players themselves keep a mental tally of who has hit them, when, how hard, and under what circumstances, and are in a perpetual state of seeking vengeance. One might expect this on a per-game basis, but the particularly vindictive players have memories spanning whole seasons and even multiple seasons.

In addition to the Red Wings-Avalanche feud spawned by the aforementioned infraction, there are numerous other inter-team rivalries to keep the sport interesting; one I would like to illuminate briefly here is between the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers - neighbors make the best enemies, don't they? If you listen closely to the chanting in the stands at an Islanders home game, you'll frequently hear, in the familiar three-beat refrain, " Ran-Gers Suck! Ran-Gers Suck!" --no matter which team the Islanders happen to be hosting.

We're currently in the high holy days of hockey, the playoffs, which last just about as long as the regular season, typically spanning about three months, from April thru June, and give pretty much any average or better team a shot at the venerated Stanley Cup. The two teams I'm following are the Washington Capitals and the Detroit ("Hockeytown") Red Wings. I'm mainly a Wings fan, having lived most of my life in the Detroit area, but am developing an attachment to the Capitals, the nearest NHL team to my new home in northern VA. Plus, the Capitals have a couple of my old favorite Wings playing for them now. Actually I'm only following the Wings now; the Caps were eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers (with substantial help from the referees) in game 7 of the quarterfinals. I'm not too bummed out about this though - it was a small miracle that the Caps even got into the playoffs this year, and they wouldn't have gone much further than round one. For that matter, I'm not expecting the Flyers to get too far either.

I played hockey a bit as a kid. I wasn't any good at it, but did manage to develop an understanding and love of the sport at a young age. I have fond childhood memories of watching the Wings play at the venerated Olympia stadium in Detroit. For most of my developmental years, the Red Wings were known as the "Dead Things," not putting together much of a team for most of the 70's and 80's. But in the 90's, they got smart about recruiting, put some commies on the rink, and got themselves two Stanley Cups, in 1997 and 1998, then one more time in 2002.

I listened to the winning game in 1997 from my flat in Cologne, Germany, where I was living at the time. It was broadcast from Armed Forces Radio in Frankfurt, and of course it was on in the middle of the night, Germany being 6 hours ahead and 20 years behind the United States of Walmart. I ordinarily would have just waited till the morning for the results, but the wife of Bruck was up sick that night, so I was up too, and had my own quiet celebration of the win.

Needless to say, I'm a big Wings fan. but there are other NHL teams for which I have strong (good or bad) feelings; let's start with the non-Wings teams I like to see win:

- Washington Capitals: team of my new home town, plus they're a young, growing team - expect big things from them in coming seasons.

- Chicago Black Hawks: I have some friends and relatives in Chicago. I've been there several times; it's a good place. I know they're a traditional rival of Detroit, but for me this only applies when the teams happen to be playing each other.

- Toronto Maple Leafs / Montreal Canadiens: a couple of the original 6 NHL teams, plus I like to see Canadian teams thrive vs. getting bought out by American investors and moved to American cities.

Teams I like to see lose:

- Colorado Avalanche: see paragraph 2 above.

- Philadelphia Flyers: for inventing clockwork-orange-style violent hockey.

- Anaheim Ducks: for originally naming themselves the "Mighty Ducks" after a Disney movie.

- Dallas Stars: because they're in the same city as the Dallas Cowboys. Besides, the idea of playing hockey in TX is just plain unnatural.

- New York Islanders and Rangers: I love New York and have several friends there, but the arrogance of the New York Yankees have soured me to any New York sports team. OTOH, providing the exception to prove the rule, I was thrilled when the Giants upset the Patroits in this year's Superbowl.

Teams I'm staunchly ambivalent toward:

- Florida Panthers

- Carolina Hurricanes

- Minnesota Wild (sounds more like a variety of leaf lettuce than a hockey team)

- Columbus Blue Jackets (not a real intimidating team name here, either)

Teams I've never even heard of:

- Atlanta Thrashers

- Phoenix Coyotes

- Tampa Bay Lightning - Florida has two NHL teams now? When did that happen? Why does Michigan, where ice occurs naturally, have only one?

I am also, to a smaller extent, a fan of college hockey. My alma mater, the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is home to the Wolverines, who nearly won the NCAA championship this year. Teams I also favor are the Lake Superior State Lakers and the Michigan Tech Huskies. And of course, as a loyal Wolverine, I like to see any team from Michigan State University or Ohio State University lose. Here in VA, I quit asking about the local college hockey scene after the third person said, "They play hockey in college? I didn't know that."

A couple of weeks ago, I asked a brother-in-law-in-law of Bruck (BILILOB), who moved from the Detroit suburbs to Atlanta ten years ago, if he was still a Wings fan. "Of course," he replied, "how could you not be?" That pretty well resonates with my sentiments. I can't imagine ever not being a Red Wings fan.

…unless they hire Claude Lemieux!


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