I’ve been wanting to go to a hockey game for a while. I’ve never really watched hockey, for even as I write this, I can hear my father in my head explaining that it’s not football, so it’s not a sport. But I had a deep interest in hockey especially because I’d heard there were a lot of penalties, and I like violence. So when a coworker offered me two free tickets, I jumped at the chance. I got the night off and called my friend Emeka.
Standing outside waiting for my friend to arrive so we could walk into the coliseum together, my instinct was confusion: Why do so many women wear heels to hockey games? Can someone explain this to me? Also, I had been under the misguided and completely unresearched belief that Winterhawks referred to a bird of prey and not a tomahawk, somewhat ingenously mixed with the word winter (I assume due to the fact that hockey is played on ice). Sitting on the lovely steps outside the coliseum in a very Portlandy light rain, I was alarmed by the colorful mascot heads on the red and white jerseys walking by me, and to be honest it took me a while to decide which jerseys were ours. (Okay, so I don’t get the Memorial Cup in hockey knowledge.)
We got inside, and immediately after the puck dropped, I was enamored with hockey. Watching hockey in person is very different from television. It is not a TV-friendly sport. This is how I feel about baseball as well. About two minutes into watching, I said, “I love hockey.”
My friend laughed at me. “That’s all it took, huh?” Below us a player shouldered another player against the wall with his entire body weight, perilously atop two thin blades.
(Note to self: Always attend a new sport with someone who already watches the sport, but not with somebody who particularly cares about the outcome of the game.)
Emeka and I watched and laughed, and sometimes he’d explain things, and we stood on our feet and tried to count the beats to pound our fists in the air at the right time when the Winterhawks scored.
The fight song is my favorite part about hockey. When I was in high school, my dad asked me what our fight song was, and I had no idea. It was a bygone thing, a fight song. Dad still knew his 40 years after the last time he played football. Hockey has a fight song. That’s cool. (The Winterhawks’ song is “TNT” by AC/DC, and who doesn’t love AC/DC?)
My other favorite thing about hockey: the noise. There is an indescribably perfect tonal note that echoes when stick hits stick. There is the off-kilter minor key, there is the precious sweet-spot-on-the-tennis-racket round note. There are the predesigned clips of songs that play for various different events on the ice, several-second clips to pump up the crowd, like pressing the scan button on your FM radio. (One song that is particularly insidious and awesome: “I don’t give a f*** about you” plays without the lyrics whenever the other team scores.) There is the happy, loud crowd between loud cheers and held breaths when the puck is in our defended territory.
My least favorite thing about hockey so far? Three. The number three. My life is based in quarters. Sure, there are nine innings in baseball, but those innings have a top and bottom—they’re split in two. Hockey has three periods? Three? Emeka and I both thought, at the first break, that a hockey game must be only 40 minutes long. Hell, I couldn’t drink more than eight beers in forty minutes. What was the point of this game?
At the first break, the very strangely named Rosebuds (the Winterhawks’ dance/cheer team) performed a routine. I’m guessing it’s rarely appreciated how hard moves like that have to be to perform on ice. Emeka kept wondering what kind of special ice-walking shoes they must be wearing.
Then a second break happened, and it dawned on both of us that it was, in fact, an hour-long game. At the second break, a game called chuck a puck occurs. It’s a fundraiser where people buy pucks to throw on the rink, and if your puck lands in the center you can win a prize. After this, the Rosebuds run around on the ice retrieving the pucks with orange five-gallon buckets. I’m sure this is their favorite part of their job. I thought the name Rosebuds was very weird until research concluded (very short research) that that was the name of Portland’s NHL team in the 1920s. It has historical depth; it just isn’t clear on the surface.
Near the end of the game, because the Winterhawks were up one, and in a move that is common to many sports, the Americans’ goaltender moved away from the goal to try to help the team score. They did get one goal in this way. And then. And then! In the last minute of game time, the Winterhawks scored two points on an empty net. The puck soared through the air from halfcourt into the net. The crowd was insane. It’s so easy to blindly root for your home team when they win so spectacularly.