As hockey season
ends, a fan struggles to get a grip on life without
by Jason Cohen
I'VE HAD A GOATEE
since April 1. I haven't left the house after 4pm in
almost as long. I've been pretty productive with my
writing, but, alas, I don't get paid (at least not until
this very sentence) for comparing Eric Lindros to J.R.
Richard or wondering if a twentysomething gal with a
thing for Guy (as in 40-year-old Dallas Star Carbonneau)
has father issues.
But these topics
and many others have occupied my e-mail box of late,
along with the ones that turned up on May 27th bearing
subject lines like "Sorry for your loss."
My name is Jason,
and I'm a hockey fan.
This is not a
hobby. It's a lifestyle choice. Each April, May, and
early June, approximately two or three hundred hours
of my life--call it 10 or 11 full days, if you wanna
keep score that way--are given over to the most intense,
unpredictable, and maddeningly drawn-out drama pro sports
has to offer. I love it all, even if it's only Ottawa-Toronto
in the first round (hey, it's an intense intra-Ontario
rivalry). I'm from Philadelphia, so the Flyers, born
in 1967 just like I was, have always come first. But
living in Austin, Texas, I've also logged nine or 10
thousand road miles traveling back and forth to Dallas'
Reunion Arena in recent years, a commitment made easier
by the fact that in '98 and '99 the Flyers screwed the
pooch in the first round while the Stars made serious
Stanley Cup runs.
So besides my
Flyers sweaters in all three shades, I've got the green
Stars jersey I bought in '98 (the arena was kind of
chilly that night, I rationalized at the time), a white
'99 Stanley Cup Finals replica bearing the name and
number of unlikely minor league call-up Blake Sloan,
and a black #14 Dave Reid, game-worn (real sweat stains!)
during that same season. The Stars and the Flyers only
play each other once or twice a year, barring the finals
match-up that almost happened this season (hence the
expressions of sorrow from my e-mail friends; the Stars,
who beat the Colorado Avalanche in a seven-game semifinal,
wound up playing the New Jersey Devils, who beat the
Flyers in a seven-game semifinal). So it's easy to double-dip.
It puts a serious
strain on your schedule, however. It was one thing to
commit my full attention to the Flyers every other day
while casually following other games--"casually"
meaning I might look at a newspaper during the commercial
breaks or make a phone call between periods--the rest
of the time. And as long as the Flyers exited early
I could just switch my focus. But oy, this year! It.
Just. Didn't. Stop. Almost every day one team or the
other was on the tube. My hard drive bulged with downloaded
articles from newspapers in four different markets (yes,
four--can't just read the Philly and Dallas coverage,
gotta see what the spin is in the opposing team's city).
I guess I should just be resentful--did I say resentful?
I meant grateful--that the NHL had the two teams scheduled
on alternate nights.
WHICH ISN'T TO
SAY I can't miss a game now and then. I mean, yeah,
I once scheduled an interview with Matthew McConaughey
around the 1996 first round (Tampa Bay) Lightning-Flyers
series. But if some sort of business or cultural obligation
comes up, I can deal with that, no problem. That's what
VCRs are for. Now, I'm not so nutty that I scrutinize
every little detail of a game when I already know the
final score. Nor am I one of those boors who is constantly
sneaking away to check out Headline News or ESPN.com.
No, my strategy
has always been tape the game, avoid finding out the
score while I'm in the real world, then watch in blissful
ignorance later, carefully shunning the answering machine
in case someone has unwittingly spilled the beans ("That
was the greatest overtime goal I've ever seen! How come
you're not home!?"). This approach works for me
only because I don't live in a hockey town. The streets
of Austin don't exactly chatter with NHL talk. But I
remember coming home from a concert in New York City
the same night the Flyers were facing the Rangers in
the '97 playoffs. As I went through the Lincoln Tunnel,
which runs right by Madison Square Garden, I realized
that several of the cars around me had Pennsylvania
plates. If I accidentally saw the expression on the
passengers' faces, I would know how the game went. Should
have taken the Holland.
delayed broadcasts have other logistical pitfalls. For
example, last week I flew to Newark to attend my sister's
bat mitzvah (itself a source of several hockey-watching
conflicts, but since the trip home also got me to the
Meadowlands three times I'm not complaining). I scheduled
my flight for a day the Flyers weren't playing and got
my mom to fire up the VCR for Game 5 of the Dallas-Colorado
series. I got in around 10pm. Then the dance began.
See, like baseball,
a hockey game can go on forever, and it frequently does,
especially in the playoffs. Already this year the Flyers
had played in the longest game in postwar postseason
NHL history, a seven-hour, five-overtime whopper. Now,
it's hard to explain to non-hockey fans how five or
six hours of action with absolutely no scoring can make
for one of the greatest sporting events you've ever
seen. But aside from the levels of physical courage
and mental focus involved, hockey is a game where so
much of the really great action revolves around missed
opportunities, writ large by the noise of a crowd's
anticipation--Aaaah-aaah-aaaaaaaah. . . . Mmmmmhhhhhhh!--followed
by the inevitable downbeat Ohh! Susan Shepard of the
Austin fanzine Geek Weekly perfectly captures why hockey
goals are so much more precious than home runs, touchdowns,
or three-pointers with the following analogy: "Goals
are much like the elusive female orgasm: You work carefully
hard to get them and when they come there's a really
loud noise. Sometimes you think that the setup's perfect,
it's gotta come now, and then you're denied! Other times
you aren't even expecting it and boom! There it is!"
Anybody got a
light? Anyway, when you're taping a game, first you
have to make sure it has actually ended. You close your
eyes and turn on ESPN, hoping the sound (is it "Sportscenter"
anchor Dan Patrick or hockey announcer Gary Thorne?)
will tell you what's on without giving anything away.
On this night I waited until 11, heard the dulcet tones
of "Baseball Tonight" and settled in with
the video. Which was all well and good until there were
about six minutes to go in the third and the score was
2-2. I already knew the game had ended, and in a relatively
timely fashion. When the Avs got a power play with less
than three minutes left, I just sat there waiting for
the other shoe to drop. When it went to OT, every time
one team got possession in the offensive zone I figured,
here it comes. The purity of the experience was compromised.
But the Stars
won and eventually took their series. The Flyers did
not, in truly Shakespearean fashion. Being a Flyers
fan these days is a lot like being a Red Sox fan, and
that they came so close this year makes it harder for
me to enjoy the Stars, even if they manage a repeat.
Oh well. Only a hundred-some baseball games left till