Thursday, January 28, 2016

I am a hockey fan

Dear NHL (and Mr. Bettmen),

I am a hockey fan, an actual, real-life hockey fan. I grew up going to Rochester Americans games. My parents were season ticket holders. My dad and his best friend would take me to games and we'd go to Nick Tahoes for garbage plates. I grew up with stories of Olie the Goalie, Jody Gage, and Wayne Gretzky. My dad is a die-hard Blackhawks fan. When they won the cup, he asked me to reach out to friends in Illinois to get the regional Sports Illustrated with the Blackhawks on the cover.

As I got older, my friend/fiance/now husband would take me to games. He and his aunt were season ticket holders for a few years. We'd go to Dinosaur BBQ before or after games. He even made friends with a beer vendor and got special pricing on beer. My husband learned to skate and play hockey as an adult, and my respect for the game grew even more. Who knew how hard it is to skate, use a stick, position yourself, and contribute to a team?

I'm such a big hockey fan I joined a Never Ever Adult League. I bought all my own gear, including mostly youth men's stuff but also a women's chest protector. I wrapped my stick in pink tape to differentiate it from my husband's. My love for the game grew even more from that experience.

We've also bought some type of TV hockey package for at least three years. I ask almost every night if there's a game to watch, even if the Sabres aren't on. I like it as background noise, it's soothing. I like it as entertainment. I'm in awe of its athletes.

But I'm not always an NHL fan. I've watched countless rules changes, tried to understand off sides (I have a Master's degree for heaven's sake, I should be able to understand off sides), and see the arguments about boxing matches. And now, this season, I've watched you make a fool, of not just yourself, but of your fans and of a player. You wanted the fans to vote for their All-Star Player. You said you would hold true to the votes. You said this was to allow the fans to have more stake in an otherwise worthless game.

And then you took it away from a player. A player who may not be the best hockey player ever, but one who tries, one who is what I have always loved to watch in a hockey player. A player who bought into the joke, tried to convince us to vote for his teammate, and then one who got excited to play. And through some magical act, he was traded away and put into the AHL. You took it from him, from his family, and from the fans.

I swore I wasn't going to watch any of this weekend's All Star shenanigans. I wasn't going to be sold any of the commercials or watch any of the skills competition (which is the best part).  And then I read this letter by John Scott. Now I want to watch, I want to see the skills competition and the game. I want to see all of the hokey alumni stuff and hear all of the nonsense about the players and the league. I want to remember what hockey has always been about for me: go on the ice and try your hardest to win.

So, I'll watch. I'll root for Scott. I'll be awed by Toews. I'll be amazed at the goalies' saves. But you damn well better fix the voting system for the game next year.


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