I was in the bar at the Animal Kingdom Lodge in Walt Disney World when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010. I had a passing interest in hockey because Jim and Becky had been going to games together. It was a terrific father-daughter bonding activity for them, and Jim turned his little girl into a lifelong Hawks fan. He had been trying for years to do the same for me, but I just couldn’t get into it. But by the time Jim and Becky started attending games, I started paying attention more and learning a little bit about the game. So of course when the Hawks started having a stellar year and were on track to win the Cup, I was interested in seeing how the story would end. (As a side note, I wonder if that makes me one of those bandwagon fans I always hear about……) I sat next to Jim at that bar in Disney World and watched the game, but I also watched my husband stress out over that game. When it went into overtime, he looked at me and said quietly, “I dont think I can handle this.” I just patted his arm. I didn’t know what to say, and I didn’t feel this the way he did. When Patrick Kane scored that crazy goal in OT to win the Cup, at first, Jim was stunned, he didn’t react outwardly. Then he burst into tears and cried like a little boy who dropped his ice cream cone. And I just put my arm around him and let him cry on my shoulder. I was happy the Hawks won, but it wasn’t the emotional experience it was for Jim.
I paid more attention to the Hawks after that. I started to watch games and I started to ask questions, trying to learn about the game. (Yep, pretty sure that makes me a bandwagon fan.) Jim and Becky kept going to games, but as happens with teenagers, they start to get involved with other things and Becky couldn’t go to all the games, so I said I’d go to a few. By the time Becky was in the end of her senior year and she went away to college, I had become Jim’s hockey game date, and I was hooked on the game. Jim taught me how to watch the game (although I still lose the puck at times) but more importantly, he introduced me to a group of people who really love the game like he does and I have spent a lot of time quietly listening to all of them discuss games we attended or watched or read what they say on Twitter and Facebook. At some point, I managed to assimilate myself into this hockey family and everyone accepted me as the new Becky.
So, now I am a Hawks fan, and it happens the year they season starts with a lockout. I was just frustrated as anyone else because I finally had a grip on the game and I wanted to work on my game-watching technique. The winning streak the Hawks were on at the start of the season energized my interest and before I knew it, I was fully emotionally invested in this game and this team. I started having favorite players and players I didn’t like, and I had REASONS for it, not just because someone was cute or not. I was getting frustrated at things like losing face offs or the power play (but let’s not get into THAT right now) and talking to people about it. And I discovered just how unfun playoff hockey is. It was a roller coaster, to say the least. And when I went to India, I found myself getting up at 5:30 in the morning to watch the games I was missing online (I am still indebted to Bryan Eitz for getting me a website where I could watch the games — my NBC iPad app didn’t like streaming in India).
And then we come to yesterday. June 24, 2013. I watched the hell out of that game. I ended up taking out my contacts because my eyes were so dry — I refused to blink for fear of missing something. I apologized more than once and am still apologizing to Amy Jacobson for grabbing her arm every time that puck got anywhere near Tukka Rask. By the time there was five minutes left in the game, I couldn’t sit anymore. In my head, I was trying to tell myself if the Hawks lost this game, there was still one more chance at the Cup, but I didn’t (and still don’t) want to think about what a game 7 Stanley Cup final game at the United Center would be like. When the game was tied, I momentarily thought, “Okay, I guess I have to mentally prepare for the hell that is known as overtime,” but I barely got the thought completed when one more goal was scored and suddenly we were in place to win the game. When the clock stopped at zero, I found myself jumping, screaming, yelling crying, laughing, cheering with a huge crowd of people. It was loud and joyous and energizing and exhausting all at once. This time Jim cheered and he hugged me like I had hugged him in 2010. It was a great connecting moment for me.
Now, maybe you think, “Get over it. It’s just a game.” And I would reply with, I know exactly how you feel and I know exactly what you mean. I said that to Jim plenty of times. I remember a fight we had when he bought a plane ticket to come to Chicago from Disney World in 2010. He bought it in case the Hawks could win the Cup in Chicago. He was actually going to leave a family vacation in Disney World to go to a hockey game! I told him, “it’s just a game.” There were times even after the 2010 win I shrugged and said it was just a game. But now I realize why the game is more than a game. It’s because the game is a bonding experience. Yes, it is exciting that the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Any fan of the team would find that thrilling. But to me, what made the win so emotional is the investment I made in the game, which involves much more than money spent on tickets or time watching the games. It’s the common thread that hockey provided me through my husband and my daughter and all these wonderful people I now refer to as my Blackhawks family. Getting this group of fans together to watch this game formed a critical mass. We had all come together throughout the season to watch hockey and talk about hockey while being weaved into each others’ lives. I saw this clearly in two ways last night. One way was through my own personal experience. I would have enjoyed sitting at home to watch the game last night. But it was special because I was with so many of the people I have come to care about (I can’t name all the names because I will surely forget someone!). Not everyone I call my Hawks family was there; not even my whole regular family was there (Becky was watching from Edwardsville, hopefully celebrating the victory loud enough for all the Blues fans to hear). But there was enough of a personal connection there last night with everyone that made the victory an emotional experience. The other way I know that it’s more than just a game is because of a man I never met. Everyone there mentioned TBird at least once. His jersey showed up for this game. He had a reserved seat at our tables. And as we were celebrating the win, I heard his wife, kids, and friends all tell him, “This one’s for you! Wish you were here!” If this was just a game, we all would have stayed home to watch the game. But everyone came together to experience something that has connected them — some for many, many years, some for a shorter amount of time.
My friend from high school, Danielle, commented on some pictures I posted of friends drinking from a replica Stanley Cup last night, saying, “It’s like Communion.” My dear friend Larry, replied, “Not like — it IS.” And how true both of those statements are. No, I’m not being sacrilegious. But what I am saying is that we all came together — in body and in spirit — for this team and this game. And if that isn’t a communion, I don’t know what is.
So a personal, heartfelt thank you to everyone who is counted among my Hawks family for making my first Stanley Cup win as a dedicated fan so memorable. I look forward to many more!