I have trouble explaining my love of ice hockey. People know me as a liberal, feminist, schmaltzy-mom peacenik more likely to take in a wounded sparrow than deliver a elbow to the jaw in the neutral zone that puts some winger in the hospital.
I understand that’s the reputation hockey has -- one thinks of a hockey player as a goon with no front teeth, and pictures constant game interruptions when players start beating on each other for no reason. Even worse, you might be familiar with the fact that most of the time a fight starts on the ice, it has been pre-negotiated.
“You’re an overrated @(*!.”
“Oh yeah? Well, you wanna go?”
“Sure. I’ll go. At the face-off, #&*!”
And when the puck is dropped, the players turn to each other, drop the gloves, and the refs stand watching, punches flying, until they finally step in to break it up -- either because someone is going to get hurt or it’s about to get boring.
Sure enough, the fans go nuts for a fight. People sitting by the glass start pounding on it, as if they could vicariously cold-cock the other team’s player. The decibel level in the arena skyrockets. This reaction holds true for the calculated fights like the one I dialogued above. It’s spectacularly escalated in a situation where a spontaneous, unscripted scrum breaks out, especially one that involves a star player or a situation in which the goalie needs to be protected, like a queen bee. Sometimes there have been multiple insults -- a cross-check here, a face-wash there -- between two players that have built up over a game or a series and finally they erupt into a heartfelt brawl. Those kinds of fights usually draw in other players like the gravity field of an asteroid, until the whole thing is one big, spinning pile of space junk, and even the refs get folded into the mess until it finally freezes up. TV time-out.
The reaction of the crowd to an intense fight is as contagious as an emotion can be. I’ve sat by the glass and pounded on it; I’ve been in arenas, especially during the playoffs, and found myself screaming for some guy’s head. Over the course of a very long season, in which a team finds itself repeatedly playing division rivals, a really genuine loathing of individual players, or even whole teams, has plenty of time to germinate. By the time the season progresses to multiple seven-game series, in which that hated rival can knock you out of the hunt for Lord Stanley’s Cup, even the forty-something mom in orthopedic athletic shoes is dying for the opportunity to smash in Scotty Hartnell’s face.
For some people, I’m sure it’s just bloodlust. For me, it’s maternal instinct. I love ice hockey the most, I think, because the players are completely different than those in other professional sports. They are humble boys from small towns all over the frozen parts who go back home and eat Cheerios out of the Stanley Cup when they’re lucky enough to win it. And yet they’re incredible athletes. They play more than 80 games a season and perform amazing feats, all while on skates. A goalie stopping a shot rifled from the blue line must be performing the fastest move in all of sports -- there must be statistics on that. They call each other nicknames: Staalsy, Geno, Flower, The Kid. And they call each other “boys.” They’re my boys, too -- I feel motherly toward all of them. That’s why I wince when I see a fight, but it’s also why I shout at the TV. (“They can’t hear you, mommy,” the Little One says.) I guess what it boils down to is that I am a Mama Grizzly and a hockey mom.
This year my team lost on their way to the Cup. It’s a long time until next season. Right now, I’m thinking of my boys, wondering whether they’re okay after a painful loss. I wish I could have gone out there and blocked a shot myself. They don’t need me, but I wish they did.