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I love hockey. From the time I was about eight or so, I would occasionally watch games with my dad (if they were before my bedtime). I was born into a Habs-loving family in the center of a Maple Leaf-centric city, so when I was given my first piece of Canadiens merchandise, I quickly understood the taboo of it, but still wore it proudly, claiming I was my elementary school’s biggest Habs fan. My favourite player was (and still is) P.K. Subban, so I was notably devastated when he was traded from my favourite team, and that his "bromance" with Carey Price was being censored. Among my friends, who are largely not hockey fans, I’m something of an expert on the game. How could I not be? I can name more than five players in the NHL, I understand the rules, and I actively cheer for not one, but two teams (the second being the Nashville Predators, naturally). But not that I would ever admit this to another fan, I’m a poser. I really don’t know that much about hockey, aside from the league’s biggest moments, and I don’t follow it religiously, save for a few key players on the most popular teams. My hockey knowledge is conversational, but has absolutely no depth. This has led me to develop a feeling of inadequacy when it comes to discussing Canada’s game with literally any hockey fan outside of my small gaggle of hockey-ignorant friends. Why is it that every NHL fan can spit stats or discuss plays from across that league for the last 10 years at the drop of a hat? And I’m left to stumble my way through playoff bracket conversations.
Now, in all fairness to myself, I did get a late start. I’ve only seriously been following hockey for four years or so, leaving me trailing behind my peers who seem to have had the entire Leafs roster memorized before their multiplication tables. I witnessed my first Stanley cup playoff at 16, and am only now (at nearly 18) realizing the joys of pummelling my friends in the NHL video game. And I’m still yet to attend my first league game. Sadly, after four years of putting my nose to the grind stone to take in as much hockey knowledge as possible, I still can’t even name all the players on my favourite teams. Being this closeted NHL “fake fan” is a burden that I live with everyday. I fear that the 2012 Calder Trophy winner may come up in casual conversation, or that I will have missed that amazing play and everyone will be talking about it. Keeping up the charade is exhausting. It takes a toll on the soul.
I know, I’m not the only one who feels this way—trapped in the unforgiving and compromising position of fake fandom. There is a stigma surrounding fan culture that suggests that people who are not die-hard fans are not worthy of fan status at all. That knowing stats makes you more of a fan, or not tracking every win, loss, draw, or trade makes you less of one. In my thus far short, but oh so sweet, love affair with professional hockey, I’ve been hesitant to even consider myself a fan because I could never prove myself if my title was challenged. Not to mention the simple embarrassment of having your ignorance towards something you claim to love put on display to be gawked at and held over your head for seasons to come. I find, however, there’s something awesome about being able to experience the game with a relatively unencumbered view. Once you eliminate biases, history, and statistics, you’re left with the excitement you feel when your team takes the ice, the fun you have with friends and family while watching, and a feeling that you are experiencing something larger than yourself. And I believe both fake fans and die-hard fans, alike, can attest to that.
I’ll probably never be able to win a Bar Down quiz, or dissect a controversial trade made by any team outside of Montreal or Nashville, but I feel hockey. We feel hockey. Any person who tears up when their favourite team gets eliminated in game seven in overtime, names their first-born child after their favourite player, or paints the home team’s logo across their chest is just as much of a fan as someone who can name every league captain for the last five seasons, and you’d have a hard time convincing the former otherwise. Our knowledge of the game may be fake, but our passion for the game is very real, and isn’t that what really matters?