Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
My Favorite Hockey Fan
I’ve been a hockey fan for thirty-three years now, and I’ve met quite a few fans in that time. Fans of The Great Game are a unique breed, dedicated to a pastime which remains just outside the mainstream; the punk rock of major league sports. Of all the hardcore hockey nuts out there – kindred spirits all – one stands out in my mind: my son.
My son graduates from high school today. He turned eighteen last October. How the time has flown! Just a few months before he was born, I watched my beloved New York Rangers hoist The Cup. Was it really that long ago?
The Prodigal Fan grew up in the Dallas area. I remember taking him to Reunion Arena for his first hockey game, a preseason tilt between the Stars and Coyotes. He was not quite four years old, and couldn’t sit in his seat because he wasn’t big enough to keep it from folding up on him. He looked up at me, unblinking, with his feet up around his ears, waiting patiently for Dad to extract him from his predicament. I pulled The Boy out of his seat and set him on my lap. From the opening faceoff, there he sat, transfixed. As long as the game was on, he was completely absorbed. Between periods, a figure skating couple took to the ice. Son turned to me and asked, “Daddy, why aren’t they playing hockey?” All these years later, I still don’t know the answer.
From that point, my son was hooked on hockey. We bought a pair of little plastic nets and sticks and played…and played…and played. In our game, there was no clock; we played to a goal total. Once, when he was barely four, I asked him what we were playing to. “Fifteen,” he said. Out of curiosity, I asked him how many hat tricks were in fifteen. He stopped playing, deep in thought for almost half a minute, then authoritatively stated the answer: “Five.” That’s right – my four-year-old son had just solved 3x = 15. In his head. He scored a couple on me while I was picking my jaw up off the ground.
In addition to his mad algebra skills, The Boy could not only name every NHL club, but he could also tell you, for example, that the New Jersey Devils used to be the Colorado Rockies. Oh, the bets I could’ve won, were I the sort of dad who shows up at the bar with his kids in tow. I never would’ve had to buy my own drinks.
Though my son was quite knowledgeable, his pronunciation of player names was on par with your typical pre-K kid: Jere Lehtinen became “Larry Lehtinen,” Eric Lindros was “Leric Lindros” (my son sure did love his “L’s”) and The Great One was “Wayne Wesky.” “Keef Uhchuk” (Keith Tkachuk) was another favorite. Curiously, he could pronounce both “Pat Verbeek” and “Darcy Wakaluk” correctly.
Like many other boys growing up in the Dallas area, his favorite player was Mike Modano. His first jersey was Mighty Mo’s #9, and he wears a much larger Modano jersey to Stars games today.
When The Boy finally laced up the skates at the age of thirteen, I was an assistant coach for his team. I’ll never forget his first goal. Typical of his style of play, it was a smart, hard-working goal: crash the net, screen the goalie, wait for the shot, tuck in the rebound. I wish I had video of his goal celebration – the kid fairly danced from the crease out to the blueline, where he was mobbed by his teammates. In that, his first (and to date, only) season, my son’s team won the area championship. Though he hasn’t played competitively since, he still loves the game.
Over the years, my son and I have bonded through hockey. We collected hockey cards together, played in fantasy leagues, went to games – not just Stars games, either; we’ve traveled to NHL contests in New York, Washington, Boston, Tampa, Columbus, St. Louis and Atlanta. Those hockey roadies will long be remembered by both father and son.
As he progressed through the teenage years, mealtimes were often filled with tension and awkward silences. When we couldn’t talk about anything else, though, we could still talk hockey. It was, and still is, our common ground. My son is graduating high school, and will head off to college soon. He’s entering adulthood, starting a life of, and on, his own. We won’t see each other very often from here on out, and I reckon that’s the way it’s supposed to be. When we do get together or talk on the phone, though, I know hockey will be there, a part of our conversation. It’s our touchstone; it’s in our DNA. Though we may be separated by hundreds of miles, through hockey, my son and I will always be close.