Sunday, April 13, 2014

First Game Back

As a fan, I've endured three lockouts that have wiped out 150 regular season games and one entire post-season.  After the first two lockouts, I ran back to the NHL with open arms, and more importantly to them, screaming "take my money, all of it."  I bought tickets to games, video games, jersey's, hats, and t-shirts.  At one point in the early 2000's, I was probably rarely without one piece of hockey related garb at all times.

My attitude during these lockouts has also changed.  In 1994 I put a photo of Gary Bettman on my dart board as I vilified him as the culprit (without understanding the spectrum of the issues of the game).  In 2004-05, I found myself taking the owner's side and was hopeful that the salary cap would bring parity and prevent rich teams like the Rangers and the Maple Leafs from backing dump trucks full of money up to UFA's who could never match the hype.  Well, at least the former happened.  Meanwhile, if any NHL GM's are reading this, you might be able to get a slightly used David Clarkson for a pretty reasonable price from Toronto if you ask.

My view from the cheap seats.  And 'Murica.
The last lockout made me strongly question how much NHL hockey meant to me.  As Ken Dryden had warned during the 2004-05 lockout, you don't want to give fans a chance to see if hockey is a passion or a habit.  I decided that this abusive relationship needed a break.

So while I watched a handful of games on network television, I didn't purchase anything NHL or NHLPA related, or go to any NHL games.  I felt if enough fans did what I did, the NHL might be wary of a fourth lockout.  They didn't.

April 9th, 2014, I went back for my first game sine before the 2012-2013 lockout. By my best guess, I hadn't been inside an NHL arena for two years.  I was lamenting that the place I used to have dinner and beers at before the games had stopped stocking good beer, but I figured with the local baseball team starting to carry Craft Beer that it wouldn't matter.

Walking in, there was that familiar smell of the ice and the mix between the cold brisk air at a regular ice rink and the comfortable conditions expected at NHL arenas.  The Ducks still give away free game programs and I noticed there'd been some substantial additions made to the Building, as they added on to the front.

I go to Ducks games because Honda (Civic) Center is close to where I work and live, not because I'm a fan.  This actually helps because I generally don't care who wins, I just want to watch a good game and I can cheer for great plays.

So I ascended the few flights of stairs, passing a few sherpas on the way, to get to the upper concourse (which sounds better than "cheap seats").  I then did two laps looking for beer.  If you love the American generics, there's plenty.  If you're a fan of the Craft, it was brutal.  Unless you consider Stella, Heineken, or Newcastle craft.  They did have a local brewery Hanger 24's Orange Wheat, which is a orange hefeweizen.  I'm not a huge heff-head but it was that or Miller Lite, so there you go.

The game was pretty solid with the Sharks and Ducks playing a spirited game that felt closer than the final 5-2 score indicated.  There were plenty of fans for each team so when one team would start a "Lets Go Sharks!" the other would respond "Let's Go Ducks!"  This came out sound like "Let's Go Shucks!"

I was also reminded that while I generally enjoy a game quietly or pointing out minor details to my friends there's a lot of fans who get enjoyment out of destroying their vocal chords.  As someone who used to cheer himself hoarse in college, I understand.  As a grown up, I look back and realize I was annoying as a college student.  I'm just glad I never brought a duck call or a cow bell to an event.

It was fun watching people scoot out before the first period ended to go the facilities or to get in line for beer since nothing ever happens in the last minute, right?  I was about to comment that it looked like both teams were just mailing it in for the last bit of the period when Corey Perry got the puck along the wall, broke into the zone, and buried a shot from in tight with 2.1 seconds left in the period.  Then there was minor kerfuffle at the next face off.  But those people in line for beer have a great view of the zamboning of the ice, which is why I used to attend games.  Zambonies forever.

As expected after a game that had division title implications on it, the fans were engaged in various levels of trash talking.  Some fun.  Some less so.  Fans, like the disturbing individuals who were threatening April Reimer because her husband had a rough few nights, actually make me not want to be a fan.  Not just of the Leafs, but of sports in general.  (I might cover this in another post).

My take away was, while it was fun and I do enjoy attending games, I don't think I need to go as often as I used to.  I think I'd rather put that money towards concerts or other forms of entertainment.  It took three lockouts, but I've been cured.  I guess it was a habit after all.

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