I’m a moderate fan of certain sports. It’s quite stereotypically Canadian, even though the nationalism that defines “Canadian” is an increasingly vile concept as I ponder it further periodically. Yet I still insist that only the Canadian Football League is worth following; the American counterpart the National Football League has slightly different rules that I do not approve of. It also has more teams to keep track of and a following of much more obnoxious proportions and behaviours. I loyally stand by my home team in the CFL despite how horrendous they’ve been for the past few seasons and that they haven’t won the ultimate trophy called the Grey Cup in 23 years. (There are 8 total teams. It shouldn’t be that long of a dry spell.)
I play – amateurly, immaturely, and overall poorly – curling, and occasionally follow the bigger national championships for both men (the Brier) and women (the Tournament of Hearts). But as much of a treasure as this ice sport is, inspiring plays like “The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon” (which I haven’t seen but read, and it’s horrible) and movies like “Men with Brooms” and its short-lived spinoff TV show (filmed at the same curling club I played at), it’s not hockey. Hockey is to Canada what global football (what we insist on calling “soccer”) is to the rest of the world. It is crazy.
The National Hockey League is a misleading title and it has been from the beginning since there have always been both Canadian and American teams playing in it. A couple of years ago, fifteen years after the sad departure of our original NHL franchise skated south, we brought another franchise team back up north and gave it the same name as our old one. We’re that big of hockey fans – it’s all nostalgic and we would only accept the name of the team we thought should forever be rightfully ours.
The season tickets for the new team sold out in minutes. A few minutes. No one in my family managed to get any and they were all calling the number and clicking the website right at noon when the sale was open. Fans are very dedicated here. That our population increased by about 100,000 since the original Winnipeg Jets departed for Phoenix and the new Winnipeg Jets migrated from Atlanta made the market more viable. There was a more modern arena to play in since one was built for a minor league team years back, and that arena happens to be down the street from where I live. I’m quite happy it’s in my neighbourhood.
I don’t go to games, since nobody in my family got season tickets and all the friends who banded together to share had full groups of more intense fans. I’ve come across opportunities to see two games that I dared not turn down – one was against our stolen team now called the Phoenix Coyotes and the other against the most hated team in the league who don’t know proper pluralization, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Those were both in the inaugural season. Last year a work stoppage cut the season in half and I didn’t go to any games. That none of the games in the 2012-2013 season were played in 2012 left the neighbourhood that was so lively the season prior quiet until well into January earlier this year. The 2013-2014 season has officially started and our first home game is tonight. I hope we win, and I hope the fans are cheering all the way to their cars, parked in all the highway robbery surface lots I can see out my window.
I listen to the games on the radio, as I don’t get TV and wouldn’t pay $10 a month for the exclusively Jets games channel, but even if I didn’t listen I would know whether they win or lose based on the noise I hear around 10 o’clock after the game has ended and the crowd ventures home. Dudes screaming with half their torso out the passenger window of their buddy’s car, versus meek conversations about any other part of life than hockey (which for some isn’t much). Certain types who don’t care for the sport might cheer against the team just for peace and quiet (but why would you live downtown if you couldn’t handle a little bit of activity?). I like urban noise, I like hockey, and I like it when they’re connected.
Welcome back to the SHED, hockey lovers. I know a lot of you have already returned for the pre-season exhibition games, but I’ll be seeing more of you over the next six months and hopefully with a better record than what went on in September. Stick around for a drink at the pubs. Come early for a bite at the restaurants. If you’re good looking, loiter in the back alley out my window so I can join you for a chat.