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For the Love of Hockey
As Canadians, a love for hockey is instilled in us at birth. Whether you’re a super fan or a casual watcher, hockey is the common ground on which we all stand. It's the small talk we make with co-workers and distant relatives. It’s the reason we huddle around a TV with our closest friends, collectively celebrating the wins and mourning the losses. The love of hockey is inside all of us, and in one way or another, it ties each of us together.
For years my love of hockey remained casual. I’d watch the playoffs, of course, and (thanks to my Dad) the occasional regular season Habs game, but that was it. In fact, some years my interest in the sport would fade almost completely, but hockey always found a way to pull me back in.
From the Living Room Floor
It all started on my family's living room floor. As a kid I remember sitting on that floor, arguably too close to the TV, while Dad sat at the kitchen table shouting encouragements and grievances as men in red, white, and blue jerseys skated by on screen. Dad was born in '62 and was around for the days when the Montreal Canadiens ruled the league, so naturally they were his guys, which by default, made them my guys too—even though I knew very little about the sport and its rich history.
As I came into my pre-teen years, my focus was on anything but hockey. I still caught the occasional living room floor viewing, but the games felt too long, and not having a clear understanding of the rules made paying attention even harder. (It also probably didn’t help that the team I defaulted too hadn’t won a cup since the year I was born.) But even still, I was curious. I was hungry for more information.
The 2004/2005 lockout resulted in the entire NHL season being cancelled. It would be the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup would not be awarded to anyone since it was first awarded in 1893. They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, but that was not the case for us. The salary-related issues that led to the 04/05 lockout caused a temporary lapse in my Dad’s fandom, and in turn, I would forget about the Habs, and my hockey curiosity until roughly six years later.
The 2011 Vancouver Riots
It was a Wednesday night in the middle of June. The unbearable Boston Bruins had just landed a Stanley Cup victory in Vancouver and the people were pissed. I remember watching the game in my family's living room—Dad’s old familiar shouting in the back, because while he may not be a Canucks fan, he certainly didn’t want Boston to win. Following their 4-0 loss, the city of Vancouver began to riot, and things got out of hand quickly. People were stabbed, cars were lit on fire, and property was destroyed. So, in the height of what was an embarrassing and regrettable act of pettiness from Vancouver, my interest in hockey was sparked yet again.
The following hockey season would be my first year in college, and sports bars on game nights became one of my favourite activities. I was a Habs “fan” out of habit, but I didn’t really have a team. I was paying attention to the score of each game. For me, there was a winner and a loser—and nothing in between. It wasn’t until years later that I realised you could play well and still lose the game.
The Boy in Blue
In 2017, I was seeing this out-of-my-league, handsome guy; let’s call him Brad. And it was Brad’s passion and his complete unapologetic, in-your-face fandom that finally lit the hockey fire inside of me. Brad introduced me to the Toronto Maple Leafs in all of their Matthews, Marner, and Nylander glory, and I couldn’t get enough. Brad taught me almost everything I know about hockey. He explained every penalty, answering every mundane question I could conjure up. He would go off on these long tangents about pre-season workouts and draft picks he had his eye on. Brad even taught me about how playing on smaller ice as a kid helped develop Auston Matthews unique play style. I could (and did) listen to Brad talk about the Leafs for hours without losing interest.
That year I’d watch many Leafs games from the (dis)comfort of Brad’s crappy orange couch (it was practically a piece of wood covered in a scratchy orange fabric). Surrounded by his equally passionate friends, I fell in love with their hockey rituals, spirit, and sometimes heated debates. But more importantly I fell in love with the players: Auston Matthews, with his seemingly effortless ability to score goals and his humble, team-first mentality; Jake “The Snake” Gardiner, both for his catchy nickname and his impressive ability to move the puck as a D-man; and of course, my absolute favourite, Nazem “The Dream” Kadri for his (let’s just be honest) aesthetically pleasing eyebrows and overall handsome face.
Finally, I had a team I truly cared about. And, although Brad didn’t last (and luckily, neither did that orange couch), my newfound love for the Leafs would continue to develop and flourish.
Waffles, Eyebrows, and Superstitions
I knew I’d reached a new level of fandom when I started to develop these weird hockey superstitions and rituals of my own. I fully believe that the Leafs play better when my coworker is annoyed. So, when we watch games at work together I always try to rile him up first. In October, during that beautiful five-game winning streak, I ate waffles every day for breakfast because I thought they were lucky. I encourage anyone who’s watching the game with me to yell “eyebrows” whenever Kadri scores. And I chant “Mo’ Riley, Mo’ Goals” every time Riley takes a shot on net.
I still have a lot to learn, but I have finally fallen face-first into this fandom. And while it may have remained dull and under the surface for years, my love for hockey was always there. From my parents living room floor, to that horrible orange couch, to sneaking into the back office at work, my love for hockey and more specifically, my love for the Leafs, will only continue to evolve.