In Defense of Hockey
Hockey is so misunderstood. When it comes to hockey, you either love the crap out of it or you loathe it. If you follow me on Twitter (which, if you aren't, you should be because I'm awesome), I pretty much tweet about five things (in reverse order): 5) Reality TV 4) the Maryland Terps 3) the Baltimore Orioles/Baseball 2) the Baltimore Ravens/NFL and the thing I tweet about the most is the Washington Capitals/NHL. I'm obsessed, really. But I wasn't always this way.
Let's take a trip back to 2005, shall we. I had been a casual hockey fan. I had never been to an NHL game before, but I had attended Baltimore Skipjack games as a kid and thought hockey was pretty cool. I would watch a Caps game on TV if my dad had it on, and I knew a few players, but I couldn't tell you the teams record or if they were any good. (sidenote: I do remember watching the Caps get swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals in a Vegas Sports Book at the ripe age of 15.) My dad had been talking about this "superstar" that the Caps drafted first overall in 2004 who looked like a caveman. Of course, he didn't get to play his first season because the NHL was locked out.
But this is the fall of 2005, and the NHL was about to get back in action. My dad's friends had season tickets for the Caps and offered him a pair of extra tickets they had for opening night. I had never been to an NHL game (my bratty sister got to go to games because I was away at college), so my dad promised to take me. We had seats about 20 rows behind the goal, just far enough up to see what was going on and feel the action. We got to MCI Center (haha), and I was freezing my butt off! Who knew it was actually cold at hockey games?
The atmosphere was pretty cool, different from other sporting events I attended, but nonetheless cool. People were really into the game and genuinely excited that hockey was back. Most people couldn't wait to catch a glimpse of some Russian guy named Alexander Ovechkin. He'd never played in North America before, so this would be everyone's first glimpse at a future star. Was he going to live up to the hype? Was he going to save the franchise? To give you the short answer, yes and yes. Ovi, as he's now lovingly referred to in my household, scored two goals that night, and the Caps beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2.
I had never experienced anything like that before. This was a pro sporting event that I had never had the opportunity to see live and it was mesmerizing. The way the players skated across the ice with such precision, not teetering one bit. They skated like a normal person could walk or run. Hell, they skated better than I could walk or run. This was a sport that required more than just one skill. Not only do you have to stand upright on less than 1/2" of steel, you actually have to move around and play a game while doing it. The players made it look effortless. I had a new found respect for these guys playing this game that I had pretty much previously ignored.
Let's just say after that game, I was hooked. Luckily I was working a job where I pretty much got paid to watch sports, so I had the luxury of following along more closely. I didn't get to go to an actual game again until a couple years later. Dad hates paying for tickets, and no one else would go with me, so I really didn't have the chance to go again. In 2007, my sister started dating this kid who thought he was a hockey player, so she really started to get into hockey. Finally, I had someone who I could go to games with! I would pick her up from school, we'd head down to Verizon Center and buy student seats for $25 in the lower bowl. Sometimes, we'd get stuck with the $10 center ice upper reserve seats, and we'd totally be bummed.
Now we wish we could buy those seats at that price. The Caps got really good that season my sister and I started going. They sucked early on, but fought back and won the Southeast Division. That following season, we opted to get an 11-game plan where we got to go to the really good games. The Caps began limiting student nights, so, if we could, we'd go to those games, as well. The Caps continued winning, and there were rumblings about ticket prices going up, student nights going away, and the odds of grabbing day-of tickets pretty slim. I made the bold move and decided I was getting season tickets. It was the best risk I ever took. Now, my whole family goes to hockey games. Our schedules somewhat revolve around "the game" but we like it like that. It gives us something to do on a boring work night.
Hockey has also given me friends I never would have had. I've met so many people through my love of hockey. I have a "hockey family"! The people we sit with at games are an extended family now. We see them more than we see our actual family. We've been to their weddings and birthdays. They're our Caps family! The game has become apart of me, even a defining characteristic. I love the label, "hockey fan". We're a different kind of breed, but I'm cool with that. Even in the middle of typing up this post, I've been getting my Caps gear ready as I prepare to make the trek to DC for the Caps/Panthers game tonight. For those that hate on the game, I ask you to give it a try. TV does not do it justice. Nothing beats a live game, feeling the cold of the ice, hearing the skid of skates on the ice or the sound of someone getting crushed against the boards. The fact that grown men glide effortlessly around a rink while controlling a small rubber puck with a stick takes more skill than you think. And the best part? (Listen up ladies...or men, not that there's anything wrong with that) The guys are pretty hot, too!