My First Hockey Game in 20 Years

Tonight, I saw my first hockey game in about 20 years. When you’re able to count the last time you did something in decades, you know you’re getting old.

The last time I saw a hockey game, I was about seven years old (I’m taking a guess at this, because I honestly don’t remember). It was between the Maple Leafs and the Chicago Blackhawks (as far as I can remember). I don’t remember who won, nor do I really remember the game. All I do remember is sitting on the east side of the rink, and remarking that unlike Maple Grove Arena, the seats weren’t freezing.

Tonight, I saw Calgary’s WHL (Western Hockey League, for those of you who don’t recognize the acronym) team — the Hitmen — in a playoff game against the Regina Pats.

Who the heck thinks of these names? The “Hitmen”?? Okay, maybe I can let that one slide — they bodycheck (or “hit”) other players. Okay, fine, whatever. But the “Pats”?? What do they do? “Pat” each other on the back for each goal? Despite all the grief I give my friends about the generally poor play of the Toronto Maple Leafs, at least the name is better (despite being grammatically incorrect).

[Editor’s Addendum, courtesy of my friend Joel]
The Regina Pats Hockey Club is the oldest major junior hockey franchise in existence, first stepping on the ice in 1917. Over the past 82 years, there have been several stories as to how the team got its name, but the truth is the name came from both Princess Patricia, granddaughter of Queen Victoria (this is also where the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Regiment, organized at the outbreak of World War I, got its name). A top-level junior hockey team began play in Regina in 1917, and went by the name “Patricias” until 1923, when it was shortened to “Pats”. The hockey club won the Memorial Cup for junior hockey supremacy in 1925 under the guidance of the legendary Al Ritchie.

It was quite an experience, I must say. I barely remember my last hockey game, so it was almost like seeing a hockey game for the first time. (For reasons I don’t care to explain, I never made use of the tickets Radical made available to its employees.) It was probably some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen — Olympics included.

You see, when you’re with the WHL, you don’t play for money. You play to be seen by the scouts who will take you to the NHL, where you do get the money. Even The Great One started out this way. (This I remember from my Owl Magazine when I was a kid.)

The NHL is prone to fighting. It’s basically a glorified version of boxing on ice skates. But in the minors, you play to win. And both teams were out for goals. Although the same problems that exist within professional hockey lurk here — poor puck handling. (I might not know sports well, but I do know a few things.) Luckily, it was mostly during the first period.

There once was a time when hockey was a game, and not a source of entertainment. Well, okay, the game *is* entertainment, but it was only the game. Now it’s contents between whistles and in between periods. People win cars, catch flying sandwiches (courtesy of Subway) and get toys from Toys ‘R’ Us. It’s a spectacle that, frankly, leaves me with a slightly bad taste in my mouth.

Of course, that could be the cheap beer. It’s kinda hard to tell…

The Roman gladiator sports ended by 400 AD, as far as historians can tell. But what history never expected was the sport to evolve into ice hockey. Sure, they say it’s all about the game — but just watch the crowds. They start drooling at the mere possibility of fisticuffs. Should an actual fight break out, everyone jumps to their feet, frothing at the mouth for blood. Despite all our advances, it saddens me to see that we really haven’t changed in 2,000 years.

But even with the odd fight (the last one taking one of the Hitmen out — a cheap shot that Calgarians really didn’t like), the game was extremely enjoyable … even though I was sitting with a bunch of hecklers. ‘Course, that could have been because the four people sitting in front of us were cheering for Regina. The fools … unless you come in force, never wear your team colours in the opposing team’s city. That’s just asking for trouble. Especially when the game draws out all the hicks.

Calgary won 7-2, all of their goals having gone unanswered. The series resumes in Regina, where the Hitmen will try to wrap up their place in the playoffs. Either way, Cory’s aiming for more tickets. And of course, I’m gonna go again.

As the song goes: “And the best game you can name / is the good ol’ hockey game.”

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