5. Neighbourly Love
Growing up in the early 90s, parents weren't as afraid of random creepers preying on their children. It was the time before the age of the internet kiddie stalker. My sister and I would roam our apartment building in Windsor meeting everyone there was to meet (except for boa constrictor guy). One day when I was 8 years old our middle-aged neighbour invited me in to watch hockey with her. I'd never paid much attention to hockey before. Her favourite team was the Toronto Maple Leafs. I remember we played the Oilers to a tie that night. I loved it. Thereafter, my neighbour recorded every game on TV and always invited me to watch them with her when I had the time. My neighbour, whose name I don't remember, is why I love hockey.
4. Hockey Cards
I put my neighbour last, not because I consider her to be the least of the reasons, but because she is also involved in my love of hockey cards. My neighbour was a collector of sorts. Oh, she wasn't into expensive things but she had magazine clippings and pictures of all her favourite players players and a number of hockey cards too. She'd always show them to me and gave me a number of them. Needless to say, I soon became obsessed with collecting hockey cards. I would spend my entire allowance buying packs at the local convenience store, not even waiting to get home before ripping them open. I loved the crinkle as the wrapper tore open. I loved the smell of fresh cards. I loved the pictures and the names. I loved the stats, poring over them, trying to figure out who was a better player than who. But most especially, I loved trading. I remember trading five red wing cards to a classmate for a silver dollar. I then conveniently had "lost" that silver dollar the next day when he declared "tradebacks". I was an ass. But I'm an ass with a silver dollar.
3. Anger Management
Are you a controlled individual? Do you bottle your feelings inside? If so, floor hockey is the perfect sport . Floor hockey, the only time in grade school that you were allowed to shove people, check people, whack people with a stick, all without getting sent to the principal's office. I was a beast. My classmates were afraid of me. They called me cheap. They called me violent. But they always picked me to be on their team. Sometimes I stood in front of the net whacking away at rebounds, sometimes I played defense. But I always played with an edge. Slashing, Hooking, Brawls...we did it all. I remember getting slashed one time, whacking the player back hard and then angrily whipping my stick at the other player like a boomerang. I only got a brief timeout. Have some anger to let out? Don't want to get in to trouble? Floor hockey is a great release and that is one more reason I love it. Good times. Good memories.
2. Dick Irvin Jr., Bob Cole, Harry Neale, Ron MacLean, Don Cherry
I have very little to say here. Anyone who is at all familiar with those names will understand how they might come to symbolize an integral part of the hockey experience to a child growing up who religiously watched Hockey Night in Canada. Hockey just isn't the same without some of them and won't be the same when they're all gone. Great announcer, commentators and personalities are why I love hockey.
I remember watching hockey games as a kid and I'd watch the game and dream of being one of the players. I was 9 years old. There weren't enough kids to play hockey with in my area. So I improvised. The bottom of the couch was the net. I was the goalie. My right hand was my catching mitt. My left hand, the shooter and a tennis ball was the puck. Ever tried to deke yourself? It was amazing. I wore out the knees in so many pairs of pants pretending I was a goalie. Eventually I decided to combine my love of couch hockey with my love of the Leafs. I'd watch Toronto games and every time someone would take a shot on "The Cat", I would take a shot on myself. Every time we'd score, I'd be the other goalie and score an amazing goal on myself. We won and lost together.
Today, I'm 25. And today I still dream. Every day for ten minutes, I'm 19, breaking into the league with the Maple Leafs (with required levels of pugnacity, belligerence, testosterone and truculence of course). And though I won't go into my fantasies for fear of making a mockery of myself, the simple fact is that some dreams never die. And that, primarily, is why I love hockey.