Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Hockey, it's a funny ol' game

It’s not uncommon to have special guests at hockey games to make presentations or whatever it is they do.
It’s usually a dignitary of some sort, a special athlete or a celebrity and once I saw a drunk naked guy run across the ice making a (very) small presentation of his own.
While attending a game a few years back, I watched as Big Tom of Survivor fame walked to centre ice for the ceremonial face off.
Having never seen a hockey game in his life (which by Canadian standards is like never having eaten bread before), the big man flipped the puck into the air between the two team captains.
Everyone cheered and he waved to the crowd as he left the ice. He admitted in a later interview he was somewhat baffled by the game, but found it fast paced and interesting.
It is obvious Big Tom was not a Canadian.
In Canada, babies are born with hockey bred into them and before anyone knows it Junior is crawling around the house going, “Goo-goo, gaa-gaa. Pass it to the point. C’mon guys, get some traffic in front of the net. Goo-goo, gaa-gaa.”
Now, I am not a rabid hockey fan who would eat sautéed rat intestine for play off tickets, (OK, maybe if it were the Canucks) but I do like the game, as does most of the country.
I doubt if there is a community in the entire nation that does not have an ice surface of some sort – a frozen pond, arena, a pool someone forgot to drain, whatever.
There are super fans out there who would not miss a game if their leg was cut off. They would casually sew it back on during the first-period intermission so as not to miss any of the action.
Super fans also know every detail there is to know about the players on their favourite team and could probably challenge the player’s mom to a game of who knows more.
There are many customs and rituals to the game, both for the fans and the players.
I overheard one fan say everything was going to be fine because she had her lucky penny, pen and sock. Not socks, but sock - singular. I guess the other sock was evil and helped the opposing team.
But I am glad she did have all that gear, because if she didn’t, the team would have to rely on skill and determination to win. Viva la lucky foot covering.
Throwing a hat on the ice when a player scores three goals (it’s called a hat trick in case Big Tom is reading) is a popular action for hockey fans who didn’t mind spending the rest of the game with hat hair.
Some traditions are team specific as well, such as in Detroit where they throw an octopus on the ice.
How did this unique tradition start? I have no idea. Of course, the octopus probably doesn’t enjoy it and I am sure the Coalition of Octopus Lovers of America protest each time it happens.
Some traditions seem to be getting lost however.
I can remember taking in games years ago and the people in the arena (section H to be exact) were the loudest I have ever heard.
When an opposing player got a penalty, hundreds of people would yell, “You out. You out.”
With that many people yelling at the same time it sounded like “Ooog-Ugg, Ooog-Ugg.”
I did not know what ‘Ooog-Ugg’ was supposed to mean, but I cheered along merrily, just being happy to be out of the house.
Learning it was actually ‘You out’ made much more sense. But you don’t hear ‘You out’ or even ‘Ooog-Ugg’ at all anymore.
The age-old tradition of yelling at the referee is alive and well and sometimes people pursue their chastising of the zebras with a little too much gusto as headlines will attest to.
Then there are the play off traditions. The most common one is nobody shaves for the duration.
When I played minor hockey we wanted to be like the pros and follow tradition, but because most of us were barely able to grow peach fuzz, the shaving thing didn’t work so we had to come up with our own traditions.
One year, someone suggested we don’t wash our undershirts until the play offs were over. Being the braniacs that we were, we thought that was a great idea.
After the first game, the sweaty T-shirt worn under the shoulder pads was stuffed into the duffle bag until the next game. By game two it still wasn’t too bad, at least not compared to what it was going to be like because as luck would have it we kept on winning and before we knew it we were in the finals.
That’s about 15 games without washing the shirts. My dog kept trying to roll on my hockey bag. It was a special feeling to put that wet, clammy shirt on before a game.
However, it turned out to be an advantage during the games because we smelled so bad none of the other players would come near us.
We won the play offs, but had to drive a stake through the centre the offending shirts because they had become their own life form.
Hockey - what a great game.

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