Though I follow the MLB, NFL and NBA (and most college sports) like a fiend, I never took interest in the NHL. The sport of hockey just seemed so...out there to me. Who in their right mind would say to themselves "You know what? Playing a game of football on a friction-less surface (with sharp blades to guide us) with giant sticks and a rock hard puck sounds awesome"? Whoever that guy was (Wikipedia tells me it was a bunch of nutjob Dutch, Germans, etc) was wildly delusional.
But he had some guts.
It's because of the danger of hockey that I always respected it. That respect first came when I was in middle school, when every kid was starting to truly understand their role within the world of sports. I played baseball, but I joined the roller hockey league because all of my friends were in it and without any experience, gave it a shot.
Needless to say, I was GOD awful. I had no idea what "off sides" meant, I didn't know what any of the lines meant and I couldn't tell you the difference between a center, a left wing or a defenseman. Quite frankly, I still can't. I wanted to be cool though and playing hockey was probably the only way I could come off as tough. As the shortest, scrawniest kid in my entire class, this was no easy feat. But hockey was the only sport I knew where fighting was not only allowed, but encouraged. So I started a fight once after a game and immediately got beat up. This sport was not for me.
I quit midseason blaming a "devastating" finger injury. This was acceptable in every other sport I played where I was too lazy to go on - but not in hockey. Kids at 12 years old were playing with dislocated shoulders, broken fingers, even concussions. I was in a different world.
Throughout the years following, I'd ignore hockey and even make fun of my friends who watched it and cared about this foreign league called the NHL. My friend Jake and I would join our friends fantasy hockey leagues only to mock it. Up until last year, I didn't care about hockey and never intended on doing so. It wasn't until one of my best friends Mike asked me to come along to an Islander game that I felt an appreciate for the sport, it's fans and the absolute absurdity of it all. More than anything though, it was the badge of honor for that absurdity it's fans wore that turned me on to the scene.
Mike is the inspiration behind this blog. He loves the Islanders more than anyone on this earth loves anything. His passion, enthusiasm, sincerity and profound love for the Islanders and the game of hockey inspire me daily. It was Mike who made it so clear and simple why staying up late at home to watch West Coast road trips are the best thing in sports: "There's nothing more liberating than watching your team in your underwear."
We drove to Nassau Coliseum, a familiar site to those living in Nassau County, even more familiar for those like myself who had gone to community college just around the block. Everyday I drove by it, never paying it any attention, never caring about the crumbling piece of "stadium" just yards away from me. Though I felt so disconnected, it reminded me of Shea Stadium, former similar crumbling piece of garbage/home to the New York Mets, the team that I live and die for; and in that tiny resemblance, I was sympathetic to the causes of the Islanders. That, and the Islanders were from what I was told by my Islander die hard friends, an absolute nightmare to watch and one of the worst run organizations in sports. Just like the Mets! I was apparently in good company.
We pulled up to "The Old Barn" as Mike calls it and immediately spotted some HBO cameras. HBO was following the Penguins for 24/7 and Sidney Crosby who even I understood was one of the leagues best players, was in the midst of attempting to set a record for a point streak. I walked in assuming the Islanders would get blown out by one of the best teams in the league and that would be that. I came in with extremely low expectations, like the rest of the 12, maybe 13 other people at the game. I don't remember most of the actual game itself. I remember tasting the local fare (a Subway turkey sandwich) and getting a feel for the place. I remember the crazy song and dance (and Rick Flair screams) after the Islanders scored a goal. Everyone went nuts when they scored and I realized how refreshing it felt to scream in a stadium again - Citifield, unlike Shea is full of rich people who hate it when you cheer. Here, fans could be themselves and let loose. I loved it.
The Islanders won. They proved everyone wrong and stopped Sidney Crosby who I had arbitrarily begun to hate over the years for being the face of the sport I didn't understand. I went to a few more games after that and began to enjoy being an Islander fan (even if I didn't understand what was going on). I picked a player I thought was fun to watch and decided he would be my favorite. Andrew Macdonald. He's a defenseman and I still don't know how to tell the difference between any of the positions on the ice. But I'm trying. And that's the point of this blog.
The NBA looks to be locked out and now is the perfect time to learn about the sport that intrigued me so much just a few months ago. I'm going to follow the Islanders through the 2011-2012 season and try to learn about the sport, the Islanders, the fans and hopefully myself. I encourage hockey fans (and especially Islander fans) to follow me and guide me along the way.
This is my journey into a world I know very little about. Tonight, the Islanders start their season and I shall join them.