My earliest memories of hockey are those of my uncle hogging the TV set to watch Hockey Night in Canada every time (it seemed to me) that I wanted to watch a show more appropriate to my age. I first remember the theme song reverberating throughout the house when I was about five years old and I still experience shivers of annoyance at hearing it today. Growing up as a Canadian who is not only indifferent to our national sport, but actually dislikes it often made me the outsider during many of the conversations with groups of my peers. Even today, as a working adult, I find that my coworkers largely speak in hockey lexicon, which might as well be Japanese to me. They swap perspectives on plays and opinions on players that I don’t understand and don’t care to”?their eyes fill with excitement as they speak while I roll mine to the ceiling.
My feelings for hockey are well known amongst any who have made my acquaintance for as long as it takes the subject to be raised (not long in Canada) so it came as a surprise to me when my friend and union co-officer, Dave Veniot, phoned and invited me to see the Vancouver Canucks play the St. Louis Blues in Vancouver’s GM Place stadium. Dave is the same friend that I introduced to Vancouver China Town’s authentic Dim Sum not long ago (The Voice Volume 9 Issue 49, December 19, 2001) and he wanted to return the favour by expanding my life experience. He told me that I wasn’t allowed to go through my entire life without seeing at least one NHL game, as “it would be un-Canadian, man!” I agreed to accompany him with an open mind as long as he bought our seats in “the beer section”.
The game was scheduled for February 26th while the two of us were in Vancouver on union business. After fulfilling our obligations for the day, we parked our rental car near the terminal of the sea-bus and boarded public transit -for the first time since my teens. During the ride across the bay, Dave and I were joking about my ignorance of the game that we were about to see. I said that he would spend the entire time responding to my niggling questions, “what are those things on the player’s feet?” or “why did the teams swap jerseys after the first intermission?” Dave shot back that, should I enjoy the experience, I would proclaim to all that would hear: “What a smashing stick and puck competition that was! Wouldn’t you agree?”
At the sky-train station, we were treated to a pre-game show. Upon entering the platform area, we were confronted by a scene that, at first glance, appeared to be that of a person receiving first aid after having had his head rolled between a train and the platform. It soon became clear that the topless, tattooed “patient” was actually being pinned to the ground by several transit police officials. The person was exclaiming “ouch:hey:now that’s just unreasonable!” We boarded the train and soon arrived at Stadium Station where the crowd was growing thick with fans. Joining one of the long lines of people leading into the stadium I began to feel a strange sense of excitement coming over me.
Inside, I bought two plastic cups of beer and a pretzel for $16.00; Dave did the same, and we made our way toward our seats. GM Place has seating for over eighteen thousand spectators and this game was sold out. The teams were warming up on the ice below as we sat down and fans continued to pour into the stadium like ants to a picnic. I have never been among a crowd so large and I wondered if the experience was similar for an ancient citizen of Rome entering a blood-sport coliseum for the first time. The sounds of pucks smashing against the Plexiglas partition separating the players from the crowd reverberated above the din of thousands of voices and I pictured what I would look like without teeth as I noticed a perfectly puck-shaped indentation in the wall behind Dave’s head.
With help from my hockey guide, I picked up the rudiments of the game fairly quickly. After refreshing our beers at the first intermission, I was feeling rather comfortable and by the last period found myself exclaiming spontaneously with the crowd. The game seemed much faster than on TV and many times I lost the puck. I was very impressed when the Canucks scored two goals near the end of the last period, tying the score at 4 each. The teams played out the “sudden death” overtime and the game ended in a tie.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience: the company, the novelty and the infectious excitement of the enormous crowd. You won’t, however, find me in front of my TV set watching “the game” this weekend; nor will I be taking part in conversations utilizing an abundance of newly learned hockey terminology. I would have been equally fulfilled had the venue been basketball, soccer, or football (none of which I follow) because it was the combined experience that I enjoyed, of which the game was but a small part. I still don’t care for hockey but I understand better how others do and, given the right circumstances, I will attend another live game in the future.