Ahhh hockey, the one topic I can really talk about without end, albeit with varying degrees of accuracy. I love hockey too much to follow just my own team or even just the local team. I have to find a reason to choose one team in a match up over the other but who I’m rooting for at any given moment can be tricky to determine. It depends on who is playing. Is this an NHL game or an international game? What is the history at play, i.e. who spit water at whom? Which team still harbors that beast that took out one of my boys’ knees? (Matt Cooke you’ll get yours someday!)
There are players we love and players we love to hate. This has always been a big factor for me. For instance I was born into a Toronto Maple Leafs household, so I loved them and hated Montreal. Cause that’s what you do. You have to hate the biggest rival of your team. It is sports law. But I also was a goalie fan which made hating Montreal in the nineties a tricky thing. There was no denying that Patrick Roy was one of the best goalies in the league in the 90’s. He also had personality. He talked to his goal posts. He refused to skate over the lines. His pre-faceoff rituals rival any twitchy pitcher in baseball. I adored him because he was weird and he was good. No matter what team it was against I cheered inside every time he made a save. It wasn’t that I wanted Montreal to win, it was just that I didn’t want anyone to score on him. But I wisely kept it inside. After all, my bully had Roy’s hockey card at the center of his dart board and I didn’t want to end up in a similar puncture type situation. Suffice to say when he was gifted to Colorado in “Le Trade” of 1995 I put on that maroon and blue tuque so fast I got hat burn!
They made good on their acquisition and went on to win the Stanley cup that year, making them the first team I backed that ever had success. They were known for having a roster full of stars but simply played as a team. Guys like Forsburg, Sakic, Foote and Blake became the guys I worshiped but more than that they were my team, the first team that I chose. I have not stopped loving them since. The Avs are still my team through up years and down years, with new faces but still the same team mentality. Due to the way players tend to move around the league and my original allegiance to Toronto I do have peripheral teams that I care about but that shifts too much to really mention without a flow chart.
In terms of international play you would think it’s straightforward. As a Canadian obviously I should cheer for my country and sure, I do but… There are so many good players that what I really want in an Olympics is a good tournament and for everyone to see some kind of success. Plus, and there is no way to say this without sounding egotistical so I’m just going to say it; Canada wins a lot so it can get kind of boring. This year I was more excited to see Finland beat the US, honestly, enemy of my enemy etc. The women’s gold medal game was incredibly enjoyable though. That was a nail biter of a game.
But despite all the love I have for my own country, and that which I save for Finland, another team sits at the top of my loyalty depth chart, The Czech republic. What? Sometimes it confuses even me. For starters I wasn’t that much of a Jagr fan back when the Penguins were winning. I was aware of Pittsburgh the way you would be with any successful team but he was pretty and scored a lot and I couldn’t be bothered. *facepalm* Nagano, however, changed that. It was the first Olympics after I moved to the US (under protest I might add.) I was homesick and didn’t want to be ridiculed at school any more than I already was over Olympic loyalties. On the other hand I was sure as shit not going to calmly assimilate and cheer for the US. It’s still more likely that I would wear a Habs sweater every day for the rest of my life than that I would ever chant “USA.” As a consolation to my American family and friends the same holds true for Russia… So what was a sad little hockey fan to do? Well I watched the preliminary rounds very carefully and one team stood out to me. They passed the eye test. They were skating well, playing smart and scoring at the right times. When I posited to my father, “I think the Czech Republic might beat everyone”. He responded with confidence that they could never beat Canada. At that point I actually had something on the line and when they proved me right they moved to number one in my heart. Suddenly Jaromir Jagr was very important!
In the early 2000’s I drifted away from my roots as players I recognized started to retire. It was hard to get televised Avalanche games on the East coast and I was embracing a newer artsier me. Then the 16th anniversary of moving to the US started to creep up on the horizon. July 2nd of 2013 marked the point where I had lived in the US as long as I had “at home” I realized this in 2007 when I reached the ten year anniversary of our move and identified the milestone as the reason behind my summer depression. Combining my core identity pre-move with all I had discovered about myself since became a goal. I needed to reunite with my old self. I watched hockey here and there and followed headlines but it was one embittered Detroit sports writer that jolted me back to life with the phrase “mercenary Jagr traded to Boston”. My response: “Fuck you, asshole! When you’re forty you’re just lucky to be playing anywhere!” And just like that I was following the Bruins. The following summer everything came full circle when Patrick Roy was named head coach of the Avalanche. Jagr signed with New Jersey and my allegiances were set. God help me when the the Devils play the Avs! Then I really don’t know who to root for.
From following these two men in the past year I have picked up these great life lessons. If you love what you do and are willing to work hard you can keep doing it forever. *knock on wood* (Jagr) Trust, respect and preparation are the foundation for a winning partnership. (Roy) This feeds into my final thought. Regardless of what team I’m carrying a torch for, certain rules of fandom remain the same in my mind. Our job is to support, edify and elevate our team. Always assume that your team is working hard. Never boo your team regardless of the score. Personally I don’t boo the other team either. Never sieve your goalie, ever. Again, I wouldn’t sieve their goalie either. I don’t care how many goals they let in. Unless you have ever strapped on pads and stood in the way of a frozen piece of rubber only to have it find a way into the net, you have no idea how hard it is. If you have I don’t think you can find it in you to boo or sieve. Stand with your goalie! Love your team(s) because love is what separates the true fans from the rabble.
“I know that you love winning as much as I do and you know that I love winning but we need to be patient with this group…” Patrick Roy before game five April 2014.
“Love is the greatest power, love is the best drive, love knows no limit, with love can do everything what you wish for.” Jaromir Jagr (Translated by BING) Check out the full post at 68Jagr on facebook.