It's been a little while since I have posted here, as I get used to my new home over at http://www.nucksmisconduct.com . Today is a day where as Canadians we celebrate the game that draws us together as a nation. Our passion for hockey is something akin to football in the UK. It's a game that can bring a nation to a screeching halt as we have seen in 1972 and over and over through Canada Cups, World Junior Championships and of course, the Stanley Cup.
Today hockey writers and fans all over Canada will flood the net with tales of their hockey lives; the time they scored the big goal, or maybe playing with someone who went on to fame & fortune. My story is a little different, yet it helped build my love for the game that is stronger than it would be if my circumstances were different.
I was born in Saskatoon, and I have flickers of memories of going with my parents to see the Saskatoon Blades play. They tell me I was obsessed with hockey at an early age, but the clearest memory of those days was the summer of 1972. Canada was at war with the Big Red Machine, and those grainy pictures of the men with the red maple leafs on their shirts mesmerized me. Just like fans of baseball can memorize a play by play call of a certain home run, or football fans the call of a touchdown, the words of Foster Hewitt are seemingly encoded in our DNA. "Henderson has scored for Canada!!!" A nation rose to it's feet and in a most un-Canadian manner, roared as we showed the world it was OUR game.
The following spring we moved to Kamloops, BC, and through Hockey Night In Canada I became a Canucks fan. One of my biggest thrills was getting a Canucks jersey Christmas morning, the blue and green jersey with the 'stick in rink' logo, along with matching socks. It's still the best present I ever got. Here's where most would tell you how it changed their season, right? Not me. I suffered from severe asthma as a child, and my parents felt it was better to keep me from playing than getting sick and suffering the disappointment. It was a decision that at the time, crushed me. I didn't understand it, and resented them for a long time because of it.
Instead of killing my passion for the game however, it merely poured gasoline on that fire. Many was the night I would fall asleep to Jim Robson telling me about Stan Smyl and Tony Tanti with my AM radio beside my ear, waking up the next morning and telling my dad I needed a new 9 volt battery. He always got me a new one, too. I remember one of the biggest thrills was when legendary New York Islanders tough guy Bob Nystrom came to visit my best friend's dad. They had played junior together on the Kamloops Rockets, and the neighborhood kids were crazed with the thought of meeting a real life NHL player. We were there, playing street hockey in the middle of a typical summer evening in Kamloops when his shiny yellow Corvette came down the street. We flocked to him, and he was gracious, signing our sticks, that trademark smile never leaving his face. I would meet him again a couple years later when my friend and his dad took me to a game against the Canucks. The Islanders were putting together the pieces of that dynasty back then. They manhandled the Canucks that night, but to this day I may not have hear a noise as loud as when Vancouver scored. The Coliseum exploded, the noise of 18,000 people shaking me to the core. I was torn between my allegiance to the Canucks and those Islanders, something that came to a head in 1982 as Roger Nielson and his white towel lead a rag-tag crew into battle against the squad from Long Island.
I suppose you could say that was a win-win situation, but while I was happy for the Islanders, as a Canucks fan, it still hurt. My teenage years came, and as the Oilers rose to power, my interest in the game began to wane. Perhaps it was the one-sidedness of it all, or just the natural progression from child to teen, but I lost touch with hockey. Music took hold of my life, and the seeds that led to my tv show on Cable 10 in Kamloops were planted.
My rediscovery of the game was funny when I look back on it. I had stopped at 7-11 to get a slurpee, and the clerk gave me a pack of hockey cards. It was a promotion they had at the time, and though I am sure the Pro-Set cards had no real magic, my love for the game was rekindled. Right around this time, Pavel Bure was signed by the Canucks, and suddenly Vancouver had a reason to be excited. He was an incredible player to watch, and the Stanley Cup run in 94 is something that all Canucks fans hold near and dear to their hearts. The Rangers may have skated away with the trophy, but few have ever played a more courageous game than Trevor Linden in Game 7. Forever a hero in my eyes.
I'm much older now, and though the pangs of regret of never pulling on a team sweater still exist, my hockey memories are as good as anyone's. Playing on the frozen Thompson River in Kamloops with friends, and endless nights of street hockey under the light by our house. Being a visiting team stickboy for the Kamloops Junior Oilers the season they won their first WHL title, watching that first NHL game, my first playoff game and then the best part, the look on my son's face as he opened the package containing the tickets to his first NHL game. These are the memories I wouldn't trade for anything. Well, maybe one thing... but I have a feeling that will come soon enough, as the Canucks continue their quest.