The NHL proper has been back for a couple weeks now, and ever since the season kicked off, I’ve been reflecting on something, and that is: how great is this?
As a fan in the Southern Hemisphere, I’m lucky enough to get virtually year-round hockey. This year, the NZIHL started** literally 15 minutes after Alec Martinez scored to win the Kings their second Cup in three years. Half the Auckland streaming team were clustered around a tablet watching as the game hit its second overtime and wondering if we were going to actually see the end before our own game started. The NZIHL finished its originally scheduled events calendar with Skate of Origin the weekend of September 13th — and the NHL preseason started a week later.
**For me, that is. The Swarm had a bye in what was technically week one. But roll with me here, okay?
So here I am, on my couch with my feet up, cider at hand, fish and chips for dinner, the ranch slider door wide open for a warm almost-summer’s evening and even though it’s not even 9pm yet, I’ve watched two hockey games today — and I have a whole three day weekend ahead of me to watch a bunch more.
Those of us down in the Antipodes can tend to be a little salty occasionally about how the time zones work out for us, and with some justification – I’m sure my co-workers at least would prefer that the majority of Blackhawks games did not, in fact, start at 1pm NZ time, making me prone to being rather short with anyone who tries to talk to me when I’m listening to the radio call. I’d also absolutely love to be able to actually watch more games live, rather than just the ones that happen to be scheduled on a Friday or Saturday in North America.
There’s a natural flipside to that, though: none of the games ever start too late for me. (Call it a West Coast Bias? :D) The odd midday-on-a-Sunday game is kind of weirdly fun to get up early to watch part of before starting work on a Monday morning. I’m generally too cheap to use my mobile phone data to stream video at work on my lunch break, but if it’s an actual-west-coast game I’ll usually get home in time to watch the third period – and then have the rest of my evening free. Honestly? It’s a pretty sweet deal.
…and let’s face it, yelling at the TV when my team is failing to clear their zone, turning the puck over, or clownshoeing it up on a powerplay is probably a whole lot less disturbing to our neighbours when that’s happening mid-afternoon and not at midnight.
And while I can’t make any pretensions of playing myself yet — trying to learn how to skate when you’re over thirty and not terribly coordinated is, uh, an experience — there’s also something really satisfying about walking into a rink in the middle of summer.
For those of you who’ve never experienced it, summer in Auckland is humid and sticky and frequently either blisteringly hot or pouring with rain. Or sometimes both at the same time. Which makes stepping out of that into a cool, dry rink just about worth the price of admission all by itself. It also makes the five minutes after you leave the rink a study in pleasant contrasts.
I’m looking forward to the Women’s League games later this year because, well, it’s hockey, and because I have a whole lot of feelings about how awesome our female players are and how much more support they deserve. I’m also looking forward to what’s essentially some free air-conditioning while I get to watch hockey. (Thanks, Paradice!)
In a lot of ways, being an NHL fan downunder means being caught between two worlds – there’s all those establishing shots of arenas surrounded by snow around New Years, and the Winter Classic happening while we’re considering heading to the beach; there’s discussion about how patio weather makes watching hockey feel weird, but for us it’s when the weather starts to turn cool that it means it’s the playoffs and then the offseason – and if you’re lucky enough to live in an NZIHL or AIHL city, your own season starting up. There’s a little cognitive dissonance there sometimes.
In the USA, I would only wear the jersey of a team (or player) I was seeing on the ice to a game, but here a lot of fans will wear NHL gear to local games, because it’s an easy way to find like-minded people. Local friends and I tend to logo-spot like it’s an amateur sport in its own right; the guy in the Whalers hat you see on the tram, the woman wearing a hand-knit Oilers jersey in line for public skating, the young guy standing outside a bar on Cuba St with drink in hand and Coyotes t-shirt visible as we walk by.
I got a 1987 copy of the NHL Rulebook for half price because the guy at the secondhand bookstore in Hamilton is a Blues fan and we wound up emoting about how tough the Central is for twenty minutes. (The illustrations in it are hilarious, btw.) The weird and wonderful connections that the two degrees of separation factor of New Zealand can generate within our ice hockey community can be hilarious and awesome and occasionally beggar all statistical odds.
There’s a lot to like about being an NHL fan half a world away, and there’s even more to enjoy about hockey in the summer, hockey all year around. I’m looking forward to another year of having fun with all of it.