Where Were You When… The Hockey Edition
Everyone remembers their first hockey experience. Their first time seeing hockey live. Their first time feeling the indoor chill and the electric thrill of anticipation. Everyone remembers the teams that played and where they were. I remember my three first hockey experiences. I want to tell you about them, but it’s the third that really counts as my first. I think of it as my rebirth in hockey.
In 1981, I was six years old. My family lived on the Air Force Academy and we were regulars at Air Force Falcons football games — frigid affairs that were interwoven with blankets and hot cocoa. One night, we went with another family to see the Air Force Falcons hockey team play. No one in my family was a hockey fan — perhaps the other family was — but this was as close to professional hockey as one was likely to get in Colorado Springs in the 1980s. I don’t remember the opposing team, but I do remember the building. It was a glowing cube of glass and white concrete. It had passages and wide walkways like any arena, but it also felt more compact. I guess it must have been pretty small. I don’t think I watched any of the game, because my clearest memory is of walking around the concession area with my friend. We played hide and seek and window shopped and listened to the mix of rock and pop and funk that played during the intermissions. I wasn’t ready for hockey…yet.
Fast forward to 2008 in Anaheim, California. I was visiting my dad with the rest of my family. Somewhere in between Disneyland and pools, my dad and I used my grandfather’s season tickets to see the Ducks play the Phoenix Coyotes. This was my first professional hockey game, and what a game it was. Wayne Gretzky coached the Yotes — a thrill even for a newbie like me. Most important, though, is that Ducks won convincingly. It was an awesome game, but little did I know how good a hockey game could get. I had one more first experience ahead of me. Now THAT would be a memorable game.
My third first has a special sort of legitimacy to it — it was the first hockey game for my wife and two sons. Also special, it was the evening of the day I had been discharged from the hospital. I was recovered, but encumbered with a portable IV bag and still weak from living in one room for a week. Despite my physical limitations, my spirit and my excitement could barely be contained. We even had a room at the Hotel Monaco, across the street from the Phone Booth. After checking into the hotel, a blur of hallways and upholstery, we were in Verizon’s lower level for warm ups. As amazing as that was, the real thrill came during the game. We sat in the Club level, now our favorite section, and ate our dinner out of cardboard trays and cups. We also watched a fast-paced hockey game. The Capitals squared off against the Phoenix Coyotes (who knew they would factor so prominently in my hockey life?). While I don’t remember the score — 4-2 — I remember cheering ridiculously during all four of the goals. Then there’s the Brooks Laich tee that my wife bought so she could rock the red — he scored a goal. I remember the glow that continued long after the sirens had sounded and the frost had left my skin. Looking back, this game was as good as a first game for me.
It always takes practice before you master something. I’ve been to a bunch of games since that third first, and each one has a special place in my memory — from the shootout win over the Canes after Thanksgiving to the horrible loss to the Kings before Valentine’s Day. But there’s only ever one first. Or three, but who’s counting?