Wild Thing

When I met Nick twenty-plus years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about hockey, except that it was played on ice and a black disk was involved. And sticks. But only sometimes helmets, because back then, helmets weren’t yet required. (Say what?!) Knowing Nick meant that it was inevitable to not hear about hockey; he was even the mascot for our college’s hockey team, which meant that he skated around the tin can of a field house in a life-sized camel costume. Let me just reiterate that: a camel. On skates. One time, he removed the head of his costume and scared the coach’s (toddler-aged) daughter so much, she hyperventilated.

As luck would have it, my inauguration into the world of hockey couldn’t have come at a more precipitous time, because the New York Rangers were headed for a playoff run in the spring of 1994. In fact, they were actually poised to win the Cup… for the first time in fifty-four years (I don’t normally keep sports stats like that in my head – that space is reserved for far more important information, like the years that “Like a Virgin” and “True Blue” were released – but Rangers fans were so hungry for the win, I’ve never forgotten it).

rangers tix 1995

Living an hour outside of New York City, the Rangers were a logical team to root for, and an especially fun team – given their chances at taking home the title – if one had only just been introduced to hockey. I fell for the team hook, line, and sinker. Nick and I were tremendously fortunate that my dad, who worked in midtown, was able – through his company – to get us tickets to game five of the Stanley Cup finals, with the Rangers up three games to one in the series, and thus poised to win the championship that very night. We watched with depressed resignation as the Canucks were ahead 3-0 several minutes into the third period, then felt the floor reverberate (I’m not exaggerating; the stands at MSG actually moved) as the Rangers soared back to tie it 3-3 — the Cup was ten minutes away!! — only to have the Canucks refuse to back down and win the game 6-3. GAH, THE HEARTBREAK.

I turned down a ticket to game seven (Nick was back in Minnesota and it was a single ticket; I was nervous that, as a solo eighteen year-old female, I might not quite make it out of the arena in one piece, regardless of the game’s outcome), but watched – on the phone with Nick – as the Rangers finally “beat the curse” and won the Stanley Cup. If you’ve got to be indoctrinated into a sport, I highly recommend falling for a team that wins the championship ten minutes later.

nyrangers 1994
Lousy photo of an already super-lousy photo, but still… We were there, man!

Over the years, I’ve come to not just tolerate hockey, but to really enjoy it. Nick and I have seen NHL games in Manhattan, New Jersey, Long Island, Hartford (so long, Whalers!), Boston, Montreal, Columbus, Denver, and St. Paul, and each one has been a thrill (although my all-time favorite game was actually the AHL Frozen Frontier game we shivered our way through in December). I am fully able to follow the games and understand what’s going on, even with the refs’ hilarious hand gestures (I think “tripping” is a particularly ridiculous movement) – and, despite their often bumpy noses, I’m more than happy to root for players from all teams who are particularly easy on the eyes (Mike Modano and Patrick Sharp, I’m looking – happily – at you). I’m more than a little proud to say that it’s gotten to the point where, when we take girls to games, I’m able to answer the majority of their questions (correctly, thank you very much) and can narrate what’s happening in language that they actually understand. I’d probably make a great color commentator. Now that my long-term sub job is over, perhaps I should look into that.

It’s no secret that Nick lives, breathes, and sweats the Minnesota Wild. He dreams in dark green and red. He knows every player’s position, alma mater, height, weight, and whether or not they prefer iPhones or Droids. (This is an exaggeration. But only slightly.) It’s been a tradition of ours for several years running to try to catch the Wild in person somewhere across the nation – this year, saw them play in Buffalo – but Nick watches the rest of the games at home.

And when I say “the rest of the games”… I do mean ALL OF THE REST OF THE GAMES. Every game. All of ’em. Right in our living room.

I’ve heard the term “football widow” used to describe women (or, perhaps, male partners of gay football fans?) who are essentially left alone on Sundays during the NFL’s season – which runs for, what, five-ish months? Sixteen games in the regular season, plus a few weeks of playoffs, right? So, we’re talking, like, twenty days devoted to football, plus some Monday nights too, maybe. Let’s bump it up to thirty just to be crazy. Thirty days spread out over five months. SUCH HARDSHIP.

By contrast, the NHL regular season lasts for SEVEN months, with each team playing 82 games. EIGHTY-TWO GAMES spread out over the course of SEVEN MONTHS. Or, to be more specific, that’s eighty-two nights, afternoons, and evenings where Nick was watching the Wild play. I’m not so good with the math, but that appears to be a crap-ton more hockey than football.

EAT MY JERSEY, FOOTBALL WIDOWS.

To be fair, although Nick makes us all recite the Wild roster every night before dinner, he does not require that he be home for each game. It’s not that he’ll skip them (don’t be absurd), but rather that he’s absolutely willing to “miss” a game to do something else – spend a holiday with family, coach soccer, have a conversation with us that doesn’t involve the words “penalty” or “icing” – and then watch the DVR’d recording at a later time. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer hours are devoted to the Wild, but rather that watching the Wild live rarely gets in the way of anything else on our calendar.

nmh 2 of 52 rink
Our backyard rink last year.
Helmets are apparently not required here, either.

When the calendar is empty, however, all bets are off (unless you’ve bet that Nick will be watching the Wild). The good news – for me – is that I really enjoy hockey (see above). The other good news is that Nick is one of the most amazingly fair-minded sports fans I’ve ever encountered. I don’t just mean that he’s a good sport – although he is certainly that – but that he always, always roots for the good game — the fair, evenly-matched, well-called, proper-sportsmanship-displayed game. He’ll be the first to say when the Wild has played badly, or to admit it when they score a goal that shouldn’t have been allowed. He also can’t stand what he calls “homer” announcers – the ones who call the games as though the Wild are the second coming of Christ and the opposing team is Satan – who cannot be objective and even. I mean, he wants the Wild to win, of course… but if the other team beats them fair and square, if they were truly the better players, then so be it. They deserved to win. The Wild did not get “gypped.”

Basically, while Nick may be a fan of the Wild (maybe their biggest fan, like, ever), he is an even bigger fan of the game of hockey. And, actually, of sports – and sportsmanship – in general. We have watched as our favorite baseball teams (Yankees for me, duh) lose, but if the other team’s pitcher is throwing a perfect game, we’ve cheered for the perfect game. Because as Nick has taught me, sport transcends teams. Even the Yankees or the Wild.

Last night, the Wild’s season ended. They had made it into game six of the second round of the playoffs, but couldn’t quite pull off the win against the Blackhawks. Throughout the game, Nick yelled, loudly, each time the Wild had a good scoring opportunity – which was often, with pucks bouncing off goal posts and coming *this close* to going in. But the Hawks’ goalie was on fire, making seemingly impossible saves time and time again, and every time – alongside the anticipation that the Wild might score and the crushing disappointment when, yet again, the puck didn’t enter the net – Nick would proclaim it a good save.

He’d said all along he’d be satisfied with the season if the Wild made it to the playoffs. They did, and then some, so I know he’s pleased. He’s also readily acknowledged that the Hawks were the deserving winners of this series. But I know he’s bummed that the Wild won’t be playing game 7 – or any games thereafter.

Well, at least not until October, when the 82-game madness begins all over again.

For my part, I’ve got mixed feelings about the end of the hockey season. On the one hand, it’ll be nice to not begin family meetings with a rousing rendition of “The Good Old Hockey Game.” Plus, now that the TV won’t be dedicated to hockey, maybe I can finally catch up on the dozen “Modern Family” episodes on our DVR. On the other hand, I love how much Nick loves the Wild – how fully invested he is, how much it psyches him up – and I’m sad for him that those days are over. Also, now that he’s more available to hang out in the evenings, some of my Pinterest time may have to give. *sigh*

home rink
First skate this year. It was really, really cold… so Nick’s wearing his Wild hat. Of course.

———–

Because Nick is out of town today, I was the one to have the following conversation with Ella this morning:

“Mommy, did the Wild win last night?”

No, sweetie. They didn’t.

“Oh, that’s too bad. Daddy’s going to be bummed.”

Yup.

“But did the other team play well?”

Yes, they did.

“That makes it better, then!”

———-

Like father, like daughter

p.s. Go Rangers!!

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