Please Welcome Me Back to NHL Fanhood

Title: Please Welcome Me Back to NHL Fanhood
Date: September 25, 2009
Original Source: The On Deck Circle
Synopsis: After a 5-year hiatus from playing the game and letting NHL hockey fall to the back of my mind after the lockout, I found myself back in hockey’s icy-warm embrace.

Hockey…I’m back. No, seriously this time, I mean it. I’m back again…for the very first time.

Allow me to take you back to give you a better grasp of just how grandiose a statement this is. And it is, trust.

As a kid, I was 100% hockey all the time. And I don’t mean just for sports – for everything. I did nothing but play hockey, road hockey, and hockey on Sega, I re-enacted games, watched every Saturday night, and talked about nothing but hockey. Hell, I honestly learned how to do math as a kid from crunching hockey stats.

From birth right up until about 17, I was nothing but hockey, all the time. High-school kind of opened my eyes to more sports, but I still primarily played hockey and watched hockey. At 17 or 18, basketball and baseball became pretty obvious interests, but hockey was still held above all else.

I was, basically, a normal Canadian when it came to sports.
 More after the jump!
Well…the lockout happened. And I know it’s cliché and kind of bull-shitty to blame the lockout, but I can’t help but feel it was the root cause of the dissolution of my relationship with hockey. Foremost, I went away to school that year. I had no hockey equipment with me and therefore didn’t have playing the game to maintain my interest. Additionally, Saturday nights were devoid of hockey, replaced instead with partying. I got a glimpse of what first year could have been like during international play, where groups of freshmen gathered in residence to cheer together…I imagine this would have made for a lot of great Saturday night pre-drink sessions had there been an NHL season. I felt robbed.

But more importantly, I didn’t really miss it. Basketball became my go-to game, baseball (summer) and football (Sundays) took a pretty strong seasonal hold, too, and I didn’t miss hockey much at all.

When the NHL returned from the lockout, I hardly noticed. I didn’t watch any. None. I felt at once guilty and free. Guilty because it seemed like I was turning my back on my childhood, my friends, and Canada by not watching (this is no exaggeration, I actually felt traitorous), and free because I had found other sports that I enjoyed as much or more, without feeling the intense grasp hockey has on Canada. Basketball was my own now, baseball and football were strong passions, and hockey fell by the wayside.

In the two years that followed, I watched hockey only socially (enough to compete in fantasy leagues, basically), and enough to talk shop with my Dad during World Juniors. Last year I followed a little closer, thanks in part to my Dad, some deadline coverage I did, NHL 2009, and my yeah-everyone-has-it-but-I’m-still-calling-it-mine man-love for Alexander Ovechkin.

My relationship with hockey had, it seems, transitioned from “serious high-school sweethearts,” to “she hooked up with my best friend and we didn’t speak for two years,” to “long-distance limits us to occasional hook ups,” to “hook up on drunk nights after the bar or when nobody else is around.” And now, it has come full circle, and hockey and I are kind of seeing each other again. Casually, of course.

Because this offseason, something has clicked. I’m not sure what happened, when, or why, but I followed along much closer to the going-ons of the league this summer. I have renewed my love for the Toronto Maple Leafs, having fallen for Brian Burke’s vision of a hard-nosed team of youngsters to grind out victories. I find myself anticipating the fantasy season, the first drop of the puck next week, and every Saturday night from there on. I’m excited about hockey for the first time since high school.

Maybe this is a Jordan-Wizards kind of return, and hockey simply won’t be able to compete with the NBA and NFL on the level it did before. Maybe this is a Gretzky-coaching kind of return, and the fit just isn’t right anymore. But maybe, this is a Jay-Z-Blueprint 3, “yeah he’s still got it, but not quite at the level he was at before” kind of return.

And hey, y’all can hope, because the NHL needs me back. A league with an entire country as a fan base but little attention outside its borders can use every hardcore fan it can get…and hey, I have a keyboard and a website, too! Not that this matters…I’m but one fan, and I’m not even sure how this happened.

I can’t explain this. It is likely because I was raised on the game, and the fact that hockey is a great game, but I’m back. I’m not sure if this will translate to more hockey writing, or even more hockey discussion on my part, but I’ll certainly be watching more. Most importantly, I’ll be caring more.

What? Hell yeah I self promote and cyber-stalk celebrities via Twitter! I sign on like twice a week, ya! You can follow me here.

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