Well, I think it shows amazing restraint that I waited until my fourth post to address my passion for ice hockey. After my L.A. Kings gave a great account of themselves in their post Stanley Cup Champion year, and my second favorite team, the Chicago Blackhawks, just engineered an amazingly quick change of fortune to take the Cup this year, I’ll probably sit back and reflect for all of, like, two seconds before getting antsy waiting for next season to start.
A bit strange? Maybe. Especially considering I’ve lived in the comfortable climate of the west coast all of my life. But regardless, it’s really not my fault. Love of hockey is an inherited trait in my family – one passed down through generations along with the color of my eyes and my preference for mint chip ice cream.
It’s in the genes.
The hockey DNA clearly comes from my mom’s side of the family. My grandpa Jack (“Grandpa K”) started taking Mum to Chicago Blackhawk games beginning in the 1930’s when she was seven. Mum loved watching her favorite player, Earl Seibert, and everything about the old Chicago Stadium – except for the jarring sound when balloons that were released before games were burst by fans who touched them with their lit cigarettes.
My grandma was concerned over Mum’s delicate ears – but not because of the popping balloons. So passionate was Grandpa K about his Blackhawks that, even when the family moved to Detroit, he would still make his allegiance clear with language every bit as colorful as when he’d been in his own building and not been been vastly outnumbered. An alarmed Grandma K would warn him either to clean up his act or go and sit elsewhere. Grandpa would consider, then opt to go stand by a railing and continue, well, railing at the Redwings.
While Mum never expressed her devotion for the Blackhawks in quite the same manner as her dad (well, almost never), my own gene for hockey wouldn’t be expressed at all for many years. This was in spite of my getting a thrilling introduction during the 1980 Olympics when we all huddled around the t.v. and witnessed the Miracle on Ice. But my teenage sensibilities were more preoccupied with the dreamy, earnest eyes of goalie Jim Craig than by the great skill that’s sometimes overlooked amid the raw physicality of the sport.
Alas, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area during the years after the departure of the Oakland Seals but before the arrival of the San Jose Sharks. Mum continued carrying her torch for the Blackhawks through those years, and passed it on to my big brother Rich, even though neither print nor t.v. offered much of a chance to keep very detailed tabs on the NHL. Grandpa K must have encountered the same problems trying to follow his team when work as a building construction superintendent took him to L.A. in the late 50’s. For me, it wasn’t until 1993 when I’d lived in L.A. myself for a year and a half, that I finally realized I should always listen to my mother.
Yes, of all things, it took moving to Southern California to hook me on hockey. I confess I was a total bandwagoner that incredible playoff year when the Kings met Montreal in the Stanley Cup Finals and suddenly the city became wired for hockey. What captured my imagination the most was the thought of Edmonton greats Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri’s teaming up as veterans to try and hoist the Cup once more as they’d done four times together in their youth. It was not to be that year (nor for almost 20 more) – but my fate was sealed anyway. I’ve never been a fan of the fighting, but I still became intoxicated by that strange brew of grit and grace. I’ve been a Kings fan ever since.
It amazes me sometimes that my life has wound up so wonderfully full of all things hockey. I even took up recreation hockey, traveling everywhere from Vegas to Nova Scotia to stumble around on the ice for an hour at a time and make some of my dearest friends in the process.
But I shouldn’t be surprised. It was inevitable – and I feel I have proof.
Several years ago, I got a look at a few minutes of home movies Grandpa K took in the 50’s. There was footage of Mum’s college graduation, snippets of family life, but most of it – most of it – was of Blackhawk hockey. Each shot is aggravatingly brief – but there in black and white could be the answer to why on earth I’ve become so invested in hockey rather than in tennis or ballroom dancing or bridge or, frankly, in anything else.
Would Grandpa K have been disappointed that I became a Kings fan unlike Mum and Rich? I don’t think so. He cared very deeply about his Blackhawks but he also must have just plain loved the sport – enough to have saved a program from the first regular season Kings game ever (on October 14, 1967). I’d really like to think that means he was there (yelling from some railing perhaps).
And what about the next generation of my family? Sadly, my brother Rich passed away before seeing his beloved Blackhawks take the Cup in 2010 – but not before instilling that same love in his own son (also Rich), who sported a playoff beard all the way through this season’s playoffs in support of his team. And on a Mother’s Day visit to my niece Jez’s house, she was kind enough to let Mum, my nephew Rich and me drop out to watch a playoff game that would decide who our teams would meet in the next round. (We in turn kindly allowed Jez to believe she’d actually had a choice in the matter.) Did her son or daughter take an interest? Or did they decide this branch of the family is definitely bonkers? Only time will tell.
But, again, we’re just part of a legacy passed from my grandfather, through my mother, to my brother and me, and on to my nephew. I got behind my second favorite team for the finals – and on Monday night, three generations of my family shed tears of joy on seeing the Blackhawks become this year’s Stanley Cup Champions.
Well played, m’ dear Grandpa K. Very well played.