The Makings Of A Fan

Michael Card

 Pure white snow reflects 90% of sunlight. Bald white heads reflect 97% of arena light. (Michael Card Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I attended my second Leaf’s game in Toronto last month. I can’t really tell you much about the first Leaf’s game I attended, I spent the evening sitting on the floor of our cushy box playing Mancala with my sister. Eleven and nine respectively we peaked our heads up only once to observe the arena below us. Our contribution to the hockey discussion? “Wow, look at all the bald guys.”

My father was not impressed, it was the first and last hockey game we were taken to. Fast forward seventeen years, I’m sitting next to my husband, way up in the nosebleeds of the Air Canada Centre. I’ve now lost count of the number of hockey games I’ve attended. NHL, OHL, AHL, I’ve been to them all. Upper row, balconies, boxes, I’ve sat everywhere. The last hockey game I saw before the Leafs was an OHL game. Roscoe my husband had bought us seats right next to the boards. I jumped in terror every time the players slammed into the seemingly insubstantial pieces of wood and metal in front of us, certain that I was about to have a brawling six foot two athlete in my lap the next moment.

Having been afflicted with both ants in the pants and itchy feet for most of my life, my husband and I have an agreement at sporting events; I need to sit for the first half and then I may wander away to explore the arena and return in time for the last five minutes of play.

My primary attraction and love of attending sporting events stems from one thing: peanuts. Where else in the world can you shell then consume an entire bag of peanuts without looking like a glutton or a really poor houseguest? Outside of sleazy bars I mean, but seeing as I am married and fall asleep no later than 8:30 PM most nights, those aren’t places that I frequent.

Before every game Roscoe buys me a bag of peanuts, we find our seats and then I sit happily shelling my snack for a good forty minutes. Longer in the states, I swear their bags are larger. In return I am supposed to stay in my seat for the first half of the game, cheer when I am supposed to cheer meaning when other people around us are, pretend that I know or at the very least recognize the Hockey Night In Canada song rather than asking “What is everyone singing?” and finally not get upset and feel badly for the other team when they’re losing and then cheer for them. Up until last weekend this was what I thought of and looked forward to every time Roscoe gleefully announced that we had tickets: peanuts.

However this night was different, although I still loved eating the peanuts I didn’t get up out of my seat at intermission, I actually sat and tried to understand the game. After three years of marriage, and thus sitting through countless games I’ve picked up on a number of vital rules in hockey.

  1. There are five players on the ice per team at any time, plus a goalie.
  2. People get very excited when there is a fight, it is important that your team gets the most punches in.
  3. The buzzer only sounds when the home team scores a goal.

Please note that last rule is SUPER confusing for someone who had no idea where the puck was and now can’t figure out why the crowd is upset.

 

Last month I discovered that if I focused, I was able to follow the puck. I still might lose it occasionally but I was no longer scanning the entire rink trying to figure out what was going on or what I had missed.

English: View from the back row (standing room...

Our fabulous view from the nosebleeds. We paid a couple hundred dollars  and signed in blood that we would hand over our first born child for these seats. This sounds unreasonable but the people two rows below us promised two decades of indentured servitude for their seats. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Leaf’s scored three goals that night, and I saw every single one of them. Not only that but I saw the numerous close saves Reimer made. For those of you who are new to hockey Reimer is the Leaf’s goalie. Also, in sports players are referred to by their last names. Suddenly I was no longer relying on the loud guy in our section to know when to take a sharp intake of breath (Will they score?)  or a small cheer (Great save!) or a really loud cheer (Goal!). I actually understood the whole thing.

Roscoe of course was mystified, all he saw was his normally full of beans wife suddenly sitting stock still next to him. “Are you ok?” he poked me in the shoulder. “Yes” I replied curtly, his question made me completely lose track of the puck. Then later on a nervously posed “Are you getting tired?”  “No, I’m fine.” Once again I was equally curt, but only because I’d just realized that players pass the puck to one another. Before that night the movement of the puck had seemed completely random to me, just a small black dot traveling in a series of bizarre zig zags across an expanse of white.

All at once when Roscoe made an annoyed comment of “The Leaf’s are playing poorly.” I could understand why. The Leafs are a team, teams have to work together in order to accomplish things, when the Leafs play well, they pass the puck to one another and don’t give it up to the opposing team.

Now to a seasoned hockey fan all of this sounds very basic, but to a person who has never once played a team sport with any sort of regularity and skill it was a breakthrough. I found myself enjoying being in the seats and not just because the nine year old in front of us wearing a Bruins hat decided to yell “Leafs suck!” in response to the chorus of “Bruins suck” and was promptly flicked in the ear by her Dad. My enjoyment was from realizing that I could actually see who the Bruins could pass to and when there was an opportunity to shoot on the net.

As the third period drew to a close and the Leafs lost their two point lead, I was absorbed by the excitement and tension in the crowd. When the Bruins scored their second point although I didn’t boo because in my mind that is always rude and the least Canadian and sportsman like thing to do, I did feel a drop in my stomach from disappointment. The whole arena was awash in blue and white. In my own blue “Gilmour” jersey, I became one of them.

Pulling on jerseys had almost been an afterthought as we left the house that day. Roscoe was wearing his white jersey signed by Eric Lindross. He had held up another white jersey to match his but the men’s size medium had swamped my tiny frame. Sitting at the bottom of the drawer was a blue child’s jersey Roscoe had received for his eighth birthday. This of course fit almost perfectly when I wore it over a sweater and another shirt. Now standing in the sea of blue and white jerseys which I was a part of, I suddenly wanted desperately for this group of fans to experience the elation of a win. Silently I willed Reimer to be vigilant, for the defense to pass pucks away from the net. As the clock buzzed signaling the end of the game, cheering and shouts of joy swept across the Air Canada Centre. My husband stood next to me “Yes! Yes!” He pumped his fists into the air. Dejected Bruins fans filed out as Leaf’s fans high fived one another, reliving the last minute saves of the game. Although I couldn’t actually comment on the number of bald men in attendance, I enjoyed this Leaf’s game possibly even more than my first.

Advertisements

Birthday Wish List: Violence and Misery

This isn’t a funny story. It’s more the type of story where you think it can’t possibly get any worse and then it does. There’s an element of humour in there. There’s a lot of humour if you don’t like me.

For Roscoe’s last birthday he had a very traditional Canadian request; he wanted to go to a Leaf’s game. So I acquiesced and purchased tickets for him. That’s a lie. I would have had to use the internet to do such a thing. So Roscoe purchased the tickets, but I paid for them.

I digress so it’s the day of the hockey game, Roscoe and I drive up to Buffalo. The two of us often attend NHL games as a part of either his education because the med class enjoys going out together or as a part of my Dad’s Christmas gift to Roscoe. We cross the border just fine, check into our hotel then walk to the game and everything is good.

But the problem is I’ve purchased the tickets, not my Dad or another person from the med class with equally deep pockets so we get to the game and start climbing to our seats. And climbing. And climbing. Then two rows away from the very top of the arena we stop and sit down.

I’ve worn one of my nice skirts for the evening, it’s a favourite of mine by a designer from Montreal who has the silhouette of a curvy woman on her labels. I’m also in heels. This seems like a poor decision at the moment because of the stairs and the fashion choices of the fans around us. Many people are in sweatshirts and jeans and one man is in a Frosted Flakes cartoon costume.

“Why is he dressed as a cereal mascot?” I ask Roscoe.

“The Leafs are playing the Sabers, he’s a saber-toothed tiger.” Roscoe is already into the game and his beer, thus he is very focused and does not appreciate my questions.

For the record, during the game you are supposed to look at the ice. Not at the stands. This is a part of hockey that Roscoe reiterates to me often.

For the record, during the game you are supposed to look at the ice. Not at the stands. This is a part of hockey that Roscoe reiterates to me often.

 

The tension in the arena was incredible. Judging by the number of Leaf’s jerseys in the rows in front of us, we were not the only Canadians who had driven down. The roar when a goal was scored got progressively louder as the game went on. Jeering comments were shouted back and forth between groups in the stands. Roscoe and I watched as an older man started a fight with a fellow fan in a section below us. Their yelling escalated and the large security guards just stood idly by.

Finally it was the end of the game. Roscoe and I stood up getting ready to leave when all of a sudden we see a young man with a bloodied face tearing towards us in the row above. And not two feet behind him was a three hundred and fifty pound man, his face red and screwed up with rage. The young man tripped and fell to the ground, partially over the seats that Roscoe and I had just vacated.

I bolted, not wanting to become a target for the larger man’s rage or his girth which I had no doubt could break at least a few of my ribs if I was to break his fall. I turned around expecting to see Roscoe right behind me.

“No!” I screamed as I watched Roscoe dive into the fray. For the past three years while my husband was in medical school I’ve been the primary breadwinner. By my estimation I’ve poured about ninety thousand dollars into his head and had no desire to see his educated mind mashed or knocked about on the arena floor. Panic rooted me to the spot and I started to cry from fear and the feeling of being completely out of my element as I watched Roscoe attempt to restrain the obese man’s powerful arm. By this time the men who had been sitting around us jumped in, helping pin the punching, furious limb to the ground.

Seeing that there was no longer any danger, security rushed in removing both of the ruffians from the section swiftly. The smaller man’s face was completely bloodied by now. Roscoe picked up his jacket and walked over to me.

“I didn’t want you to get hurt!” I sobbed into his pea coat. “I know but the larger one would have mangled his face. He just kept throwing uppercut after uppercut” Roscoe said while hugging me.

After five minutes of having my hair petted and soothing words whispered into my ear I was calm enough to walk. The fan’s energy and anger still flowed through the crowd as we moved out of the arena towards the hotel, heated exchanges were shouted as Leaf’s fans passed Saber’s fans. On our walk we saw a large art installation and I ran over to hug it, believing it to be the only piece of beauty left in Buffalo.

In turbulent times even art needs love.

In turbulent times even art needs love.

Just as I had wrapped myself around the giant Christmas ornament and was about to wish some good back into the world a voice barked at me, “Hey lady! Don’t touch the art.”

Back at the hotel, I spent twenty minutes trying to rinse the blood out of Roscoe’s cream coloured sweater. His coat had been splashed with blood too and would need to be taken to the dry cleaners.

“Happy Birthday?” I said to my husband as I handed his damp sweater back. Shortly after, just before eleven we climbed into bed and fell asleep to the sounds of revelers celebrating the Saber’s win.

“DANGER. DANGER. FIRE. Please make your way to the exit. DANGER. DANGER. FIRE. Please make your way to the exit.” In the darkness of the hotel room, it took me a moment to remember where I was. And then a glance at the clock confirmed my sinking realization. We were at a hotel, and someone had pulled the fire alarm at three in the morning.

The voice coming from the ceiling was so loud it interrupted my thoughts. Roscoe was already out of bed pulling on his jeans and blood stained coat. The voice continued to boom it’s urgent message in the hall and then down the stairs.

Shivering in the parking lot, I turned to Roscoe. “I’m sorry, I will never ever buy you a birthday gift ever again.”

The next morning we both woke before six after freezing in the parking lot for half an hour and returning to bed at three thirty am. To say that we were both grumpy would be laughable. We were the kind of disgruntled that leads people to sacrifice goats and other small farm animals with their teeth. We drove back to Canada in silence, not stopping once for coffee or breakfast until we were safely two hours away from Buffalo.