When I was nine years old, my family moved to Atlanta, GA for a couple of years, settling into a lovely little apartment complex called Windy Hill Village, notable for nothing much but its proximity to downtown and the newly built Omni Center. The Omni Center was the home of the then-Atlanta (now Calgary) Flames hockey team. Because of its location, Windy Hill Village boasted not only the Rubin family as its residents, but also most of the Atlanta Flames hockey players. Somehow, my parents became friendly with a few of the players and next thing I knew, we had become hockey fans. I could name all of the players (to this day, I remember Captain Keith McCreary, Ernie Hickey, Jacques Richard and goaltender Dan Bouchard) and loved boasting to my classmates that I actually knew these guys personally! For the first time in my young life, I felt the excitement of attending a live sporting event, the bonding that occurs with a crowd of people all chanting the same thing in a great big arena, the emotional connection one develops with a local team – particularly, when you know the players personally.
Cut to many years later, after living in a hockey-less San Diego for most of my teens, attending UCLA where football and basketball were front and center, finally settling down to love, life, marriage and kids with a Swede who played hockey growing up. The fires were rekindled a bit and then, when our oldest daughter went off to college, befriending a couple of Canadian hockey fans (yes, I recognize that’s redundant) and realizing that she also enjoyed the game, it was time to really reconnect with the sport and our local team, the L.A. Kings. It didn’t hurt that the Kings were experiencing a resurgence that would soon lead to a 2012 Stanley Cup win – just in time for us to remember what it was like to be part of an entire city rejoicing over a shared victory.
Cut to this year when after watching nearly every game either from our couch or at Staples Center, after heated rivalries with friends and colleagues, Twitter wars, Facebook posts and many evenings of bonding over the details of a game, our beloved Kings have just been pushed out of the play-offs, after a valiant effort to win game 5 against a powerful Blackhawks team. There is a sudden empty feeling now that our team’s season is over – not just sorrow for their loss, but a definite void where it feels like something more important than just a hockey series is missing. It made me wonder what this hockey passion is really all about. What is it about this weird, emotional investment we humans make in a sports team that is so compelling and at times, all-encompassing? Is it as simple as sharing a common interest with other humans? Is it living vicariously through the players, being competitive in a way that you might never get to experience on your own? Or is it deeper than that, the thrill of being part of something larger than ourselves, a connection to humanity that sometimes goes missing in our everyday lives, particularly now that connections are less face-to-face and personal, and more online and distant.
Even if you have no passion for hockey, football, baseball or any other sport, you may still understand this urge to be part of something larger than yourself. If you have a favorite band, think of how it feels to be in a crowd of people at that band’s concert, all singing the same words to the same song, surrounded by a shared connection that seems to transcend a simple concert performance. (Anyone who has seen U2 live must know what I’m talking about, right?)
I’m sure in a few days, I’ll go back to “life before hockey season” where I am not racing to finish up my work so I can don my jersey and join my hubby on the couch or pick up our younger daughter early from school so we can battle the freeway traffic down to Staples Center to make it to our seats before warm-up starts. There are plenty of things to occupy all of us until the fall and soon, the normal routines will again take over and my Twitter and Facebook posts will not longer be all about that bad call or that amazing goal in the last 10 seconds of regulation. But I’ll still be looking forward to the next season, the next game, the next opportunity to share in that connection to something bigger than me – a way to share an experience that is all at once exciting, emotional, aggravating and compelling with my family, my friends, my team, my city, with the other humans who share the planet – and a passion for hockey with me.