The Hockey Game

I watched the crowd pour into the arena. Some wearing suits, some wearing jerseys. A few women, even. I kept a close eye on the drunkards. Especially the two meatheads that stumbled to the arena doors with open beers in one hand and not yet open beers in the other. They pounded back the open beers with a fury. Then they pounded back the reinforcements in less than a minute. They let out a loud cheer, threw the cans to the ground, and went in yelling. As a good a way of enjoying a hockey game as any, I guess.

The hotdogs were rotating and smelling fine. The overpriced burgers were warming in their little foil wrappers. The seven-dollar beer was slurped up. The king of all game-time snacks, the mighty and oft-underappreciated corn dog, was in full disposable wrapper regalia. Buying food at a hockey game is always an interesting experience. There is a tangible suspension of reason that occurs. It suddenly seems alright to pay $20.00 for two burgers and two cups of coke. $5.00 for a fudgicle seems…decent, all things considered. The $7.00 barrel of popcorn outdid even the multiplex as one of the biggest and most heartily embraced ripoffs of all time. Alas, I forked over the money gratefully and with no regret. For me, and for the few times that I get out to games, dropping a twenty on really terrible, greasy food is acceptable. The demolishing an overpriced corn dog is an experience that should be savoured to the last battered bite.

When I go to a hockey game, I don’t care who wins. It’s nice if the Oilers pull it off, but I really don’t give a hoot. I just want to see a good game. I just want to see professionals do what they’re best at. That’s the attraction for me. I’ve always found the concept of “home team loyalty” faintly specious. After all, half or most of the players on any given team don’t hail from the city whose team they play for. They live there, obviously, but next year they might live somewhere else. I don’t think that matters much in the end, because it’s the speed and physicality of hockey that make it truly compelling. That and the corndogs, of course.

The arena was packed. Completely sold out. This surprised me. After last season’s players strike/lockout, I heard a lot of tough talk from fans, along the “I won’t be back” lines. I thought that some permanent damage had been done to the league. So much for that, I guess. If anything, it seems like the lockout actually strengthened game attendance (In Canada, anyways. I understand that’s not the case in the States) and interest in hockey. Hockey fans. Loyal to the end.

One of my favorite parts of the game is the rising for and singing of the national anthems. I always get chills. Hearing the crowd roar during the last verse of “Oh Canada” is something that must be experienced by everyone. It’s one of those drippy “togetherness” and national pride type moments that feels good at the time, but fades quickly outside the din of the arena.

A fight broke out in the third period. Gloves were dropped and jerseys were hauled over heads. Call me a conservative, but I found it slightly unsettling that a fight produced almost as much crowd noise as a goal. I’m not against hockey violence, but the roar of the crowd just seemed a little too “Ancient Roman” in a bloodthirsty kind of way; like the potential for bloodshed was one of the main reasons why many people bought a ticket. Maybe it was, I guess. Turned out that there was no bloodshed, just a heap of gloves and jerseys and some tousled hair. No damage, save a five-minute major for both teams.

The game ended with an Oilers win, which had the lager louts all abuzz and swearing and crashing after the game. I overheard one guy say, “(the other team) are a bunch of homos!” Homos. Homos. I had to stop and think about that. It’s an insult that I hadn’t heard since grade six. Then his friends joined in boisterously: “Yeah, HOMOS!” They all started a bit of a chant, “HOMOS! HOMOS! HOMOS!” I had to guffaw loudly. The whole scene was just too ridiculous. Nothing like buch of drunk men shouting “HOMOS!” after a hockey game. Not painting your insecurities too boldly are you, gentlemen?

In the past I’ve been guilty of being overly sentimental when it comes to hockey. It’s easy to get that way – the game tugs hard at every Canadian heartstring. The reality is that hockey is entertainment. Nothing more. Players are heroes only to those too young and innocent to know any better. To the rest of us they should be viewed as hired guns that make millions to play a children’s game that exists in professional form only to take our minds away from the toil of daily life. The same could be said for actors. Or authors. Or pop stars. There is an all too human beauty, and a deep truth, in that surrender. We need those diversions lest we go crazy. And at the end of the game, we need to go back to our lives, lest we forget that we need the toil and grind of everyday life in order to appreciate the game.