Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Love of Hockey

The NHL has long been an important shaping factor of my life. People often ask me how I got into hockey and in particular why an Ohio boy roots for the Anaheim Ducks.

Growing up, I unfortunately had to spend a lot of time at my Father's house. I say unfortunately not because of my Father's presence during that time, but rather the lack of it. From the ages of 8-12, I would go to his house every other weekend for visitation. However, owning his own business meant that he was off most of the time working on construction sites. This resulted in my being forced to spend most of this time with his second wife, Teresa.

The Barn
Teresa was mean and cruel in the truest of sense. She would tell me I was unwanted, she would call me fat, make fun of my acne, and she would directly tell me that I was what stood in-between my father and his new families happiness. She even gutted my bedroom, painted it with trashy-country stencils and redecorated it with creepy-as-fuck homemade dolls and pictures of her family (the bitch even owned a stuffed cat, only in Ohio right?). My point of explaining all of this is not for dramatic effect, but rather to explain that when I was forced to visit, I wasn't able to take refuge in my own room or even elsewhere in the house. I was forced to retreat to the barn and spend my days with my dog, Bullet.

I'm one of the few who enjoyed FoxTrax
The barn was a steel-building with a few rooms covered in saw-dust and a cramped little office area where I would hang out. In it was a TV that got 5 channels, a small refrigerator, some long-abandoned file cabinets, and an office-chair who's best days were 10 years prior. Sometime in the winter of '96 my dog and I were in there huddled around a space-heater when I came across hockey for the first time. It was a Pittsburgh Penguins game on channel 19 and FOX had just began using their glowing puck (FoxTrax). Having nothing better to do, I sat there mildly amused while attempting to decipher the rules of this game when something amazing happened... a fight broke out. 

The two guys had enough of whatever their issue was and went toe to toe, wailing on each others face. I couldn't believe it, I had never been a sports-guy, but I had no idea this was possible. The fight eventually settled down and no one really paid it much mind. My brain raced. How did they not make a bigger deal of this? Two men just fist-fought during a game and the announcers immediately moved past it like it was nothing? Is this what hockey is? It was at that moment that I fell in love with the idea of the game and it became my refuge. No longer was it painfully boring to sit in the office with just me and the dog... it was now enjoyable. Hockey gave me something to look forward to whenever I was stuck trying to avoid the pains of life.

One weekend not long after, I was hanging out with my aunt Teena* and we eventually got onto the subject of hockey. She wasn't entirely familiar with it either, so we both decided we should take a trip north to see what it was all about. Two weekends later we took the trip up to Cincinnati to see the Cyclones. We walked into the massive arena and I was immediately spell-bound. These people zipped around fast on my little TV, sure, but actually seeing the size, strength and speed of these guys in person was spellbinding.

Towards the end of the second period, we sat there in our seats about 10 rows up and a puck came flying into our area. The puck zoomed about four feet above my head, and as I turned to see who's face it would inevitably impact, a mammoth of a man reached up with his bare-hand, caught it like it was tossed to him, handed it to his girlfriend and continued watching the game like nothing had happened. At that moment, both on and off the ice, hockey came to symbolize to me a place where men are men.

*Bonus Story: One day my Aunt Teena had enough, showed up on Teresa's front door and beat the shit out of her!

For the next few years, I would continue to watch hockey whenever I could catch it on TV, but without cable and having no source of a TV Guide, that was harder said than done. However, when I turned 16 one of my friend's mothers started working at the local radio station 105.9 The Rebel. The channel had four season tickets to the newly franchised Cincinnati Mighty Ducks and would regularly give them away as promotions. The cool part was, whenever a listener didn't pick them up or they happened to not be gave away, my friends and I got them.
My leg

The Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, for those of you that aren't familiar, were an AHL team that acted as the farm-team to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (and strangely enough the Detroit Red Wings as well). During the following two years, we regularly attended games at the Cincinnati Gardens and I fell deeper in love with hockey. If you think that NHL games can be brutal, the minor leagues are twice as fun. Tempers flare a bit more easily when the rules of fighting are relaxed. Hits were harder, punches were tougher, and the team was more ambitious. There for the first time I saw young and hungry players such as Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Jean-Sebastien Giguere fighting for their right to be moved up in the ranks. These were amazing games and to this day I proudly wear a Cincinnati Mighty Ducks tattoo on my leg.

Around 2003, on top of having just graduated, I was also running a quickly-failing custom-guitar shop, working full time as a clerk, and prepping for my inevitable move to Fullerton, California. Thus, I once again fell out touch with hockey.

However, by 2005 I had my roots firmly planted in Fullerton, was attending school, and being a broke college-kid, had stolen basic-cable. It was there that I truly discovered (the team now known as) The Anaheim Ducks. Having ample free-time and nothing to do, I popped on a game. Low and behold what did I discover? The players I had watched in my High School years, Perry, Getzlaf, and Giguere were all playing on the same fucking team. In what was basically my backyard, no less. From that moment on, I was a die-hard Anaheim Ducks fan for life. I'd sit in front of the TV for every game I could catch and watch the amazing lineup of Selanne, The Niedermayer's, Getzy, Perry and more conduct clinics on how to play hockey. The next year I even watched them win the Cup.

Me and Brando
About this same time I helped form the original lineup of the band Piss N' Blood (in which I played bass). I didn't have a lot of friends in the area yet so I began to hang around with my band-members. At one of their parties, I met an arrogant, smart-mouthed guy in a Ducks jersey who just happened to have extra tickets to the next night's game. Of course I went with him, but the tickets weren't in the same seating area so thankfully I didn't have to see him the entire game. When we met back up at the end, for the life of me I still couldn't recall his name, but we went out drinking anyway. Somehow, this piece of shit hung around me long enough until he weaseled his way in and became my best-friend. We still go to games together and the bastard is like a brother to me (though to be fair, probably not one he wanted).

Hockey has done a lot for me. It provided an upset little kid some form of sanity, it provided a rebellious high-schooler with something to do that wasn't self-destruction, it provided a college-kid with a free way to pass the extra time, and it helped me connect with my best-friend. Even today, my wife and I watch every game together.

The wife and I
These days I live in North Hollywood and reside among Kings fans. This makes it really fun at bars when I wear my Ducks jersey and get to shit talk with the locals. We don't have cable at my place and thanks to local black out restrictions I'm forced to pay for NHL Gamecenter and forward my signal to another country to watch games happening an hour south of me (seriously in a world where even the government deregulates blackouts and knows it's a dated concept? Catch up NHL!). But all in all, it's a small price to pay to view my beloved team, especially when The Ducks swept the first round in four games! It's amazing to have your team on such an amazing swing, but, win or lose, I'll be here again next year and every year after that.
Go Ducks!!!

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