Sunday, February 28, 2010

The joy of hockey

I've always been a huge fan of sport. Not playing it, really, except for the occasional game of beach football or cricket - watching it.

My parents are the same way, and together we watched every single summer and winter Olympics, Wimbledon, Grand National, and every England football and rugby game ever played. (I never could get into watching golf or cricket, but my Dad can watch those games for days at a time). I have very fond memories of my Mum shouting "stop him, tackle him, KILL HIM!!!" at the English rugby team, of going to my first few Newcastle United games with my Dad, and of being allowed to stay up way past my bedtime on a school night to watch France play Brazil in the world cup, against my Mum's better judgement.

My love of sport continued when I left home. I remember the only girl on my corridor in halls of residence who had a TV cramming 12 people into her tiny room to watch England play Scotland in the six nations rugby. I remember Michael Owen scoring against Argentina, and hearing the cheer from every house on the street. I remember going to a pub in Glasgow with a Greek friend to see England beat Greece, and my friend not buying a single pint all night after all the Scots realised he was from the country playing England. I remember barely sleeping during the early stages of the 2002 FIFA world cup, choosing to watch the 11:30 pm, 1:30 am and 4:30 am games and then go to the beach to drink a coffee before work instead. (I slept between 6 pm and 11 pm. I do not recommend this).

I remember the sense of unity and common purpose from a living room or a bar or a stadium full of people supporting their team, collectively holding their breath before rising to their feet with a mighty cheer.

I moved to Vancouver on Superbowl Sunday, 2002. I flew through the States, and the American Airlines pilot provided frequent score updates over the intercom (with warnings to cover our ears if we didn't want to know). I didn't know the names of the teams and the players; I didn't understand the pilot's terminology; I was clueless as to the progress of the crucial Newcastle vs. Manchester United match that was also on that day.

I felt a long, long way from home.

BUT!

The Salt Lake City winter Olympics started in the first week of my new job. I watched the events on TV on my lunch breaks, and found it to be a great way to break the ice and meet my new colleagues. I quickly realised that hockey is THE sport in this town, and that if I wanted to feel the familiar unifying power of sport in my new home, this was the one to follow.

Now, I really do not like being lost and confused in a sea of unfamiliar rules. I need to know what's happening, and why. I didn't have my own computer and therefore had no opportunity to read up on the rules of the game, but I picked up little bits and pieces between flat hunting and getting into my new project. I still couldn't follow the puck (too damn fast), but felt that I was ready to watch the gold medal game (Canada vs. USA) with my brand new flat mates.

Well, I was wrong.

About halfway through the second period, my new roomie couldn't take my questions ("How does the offside rule work? Which of these guys play for Vancouver? Why was that a penalty? What does icing mean?") anymore.

He threw me out to walk the streets.

Well, technically, he explained that this was too important a game to be spending so much time explaining the rules to a n00b, and suggested that I explore my new neighbourhood, with the beach as the ideal destination. "It's really nice down there, eh? Just think how you'd feel if this was the world cup of soccer with England playing and a Canadian asking you too many questions".

He had a point, and so I wandered through the eerily deserted streets to the beach. The sad-looking people clustered around a radio in Starbucks were astonished to see a customer, but understood when they heard my accent and laughed (but then sympathised) when they heard my story. I had the whole of Kits beach to myself, too, and really did have a very pleasant time in the sunshine.

Until suddenly, there was a roar...

Hundreds and thousands of people burst onto the streets! They were wearing Team Canada shirts, waving hockey sticks, and hollering at the top of their lungs! Six strangers hugged me within ten minutes! A guy dressed as a beaver in a hockey jersey was standing on his head in the middle of the road, kicking his feet in the air! I was handed a beer! Ten more people hugged me! We started jumping up and down and singing! The police arrived, and people high-fived them! We shut down traffic at a major intersection for over an hour!

Even though I didn't see the whole game, I will never forget my first ever Olympic hockey final in Canada. It was the first time I realised I was going to feel right at home in Vancouver.

Over the years I've learned the rules, the players, the terminology, and yes, I can now follow the puck. I've been to one or two Canucks games a year, a couple of Giants games, and (last week!) two Olympic hockey games. I've even operated the scoreboard and timer at a friend's amateur game. We watch games in living rooms and in bars, but almost always with friends. On a dark and miserable November Tuesday, there's nothing like getting together to watch a Canucks game on the TV. And when the playoffs or the Olympics are on, the whole city shuts down to watch.

I love this game.

On Friday, we watched Team Canada hang on by the skin of their teeth in the last few minutes against Slovakia. We groaned and sweated and gasped and swore and watched from behind our hands as the puck ricocheted around in our zone with five seconds left... four... three.. two... one... and then the whole room exploded in a cacophony of air horns, whistles, shouts, and cheers.

Today, we play the USA for the gold medal.

The 2010 winter Olympics have united this city like never before. The atmosphere on the streets is simply amazing; there's a positive energy in the air that even those of my friends who are hardened cynics, and were against the games until the day they started, have noticed and enjoyed. The city may well have changed - for the better - for good.

But really, it's all about the hockey. We have more gold medals than any other nation... but it's all about the hockey. Everything has been building towards, everyone has been waiting for, today's game, and if Canada wins, this place is going off.

The USA have already beaten us once, fair and square. BUT we didn't have Luongo in net for that one, and this time it's for all the marbles. The extra game against Germany seemed to help us gel as a team, and the comprehensive destruction of Russia in the quarter final was a beautiful thing to see. With all due respect to my American readers, you have a great team and an outstanding goalie, but this story has Hollywood Ending written all over it and I think the home team has the edge.

Unfortunately, almost my entire core group of friends was struck down by what was probably a norovirus this week. I'm taking forever to recover fully, and Mr E Man only just got sick yesterday, so the party will be more sober than expected. BUT we are all still hugely excited to get together at a friend's house and cheer for Canada at the top of our lungs. We might even hear the roar from the stadium through the window!

If we win, and if we're all feeling well enough, we'll do our best to join the party that is sure to break out on every street!

GO CANADA GO!

17 comments:

  1. The only fitting ending to this Olympics is an American win over Canada. It would be the just payback for the loss to Canada at Salt Lake. Home soil defeat for home soil defeat and we'll call it even.

    Go U-S-A!

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  2. It's amazing, I've found out that the people I knit with every Sunday are HUGE hockey fans. So beer, knitting and hockey - interesting combos! If you hear a roar coming from Main street, it's us!

    I can't get over how nuts this city is. Friday night, when the game was on, we were walking to find a place to have dinner where we could watch Canada vs Slovakia - and everytime a goal was scored, entire condo towers would burst out into cheering. I mean, the cheering was literally coming from the sky! it was not uncommon to see people run out onto their balconies and holler down on the streets of downtown. I was out at Robson and Burrard on Friday night when Canada won over Slovakia, and I've never, ever seen anything like it. I have a few photos, but I've never seen that much red and white! We wandered down Granville, and at one point, I was pinned in by cheering people on all sides and *couldn't* move. It was awesome. If you want to see how nuts it was, see my photos here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87966879@N00/sets/72157623306229095/

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  3. Oh Thomas I know you want to whip are our buts, your women's team was especially PO'd when they lost. Unfortunately, I think you have a good chance of paying us back. Fingers crossed that you won't though!

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  4. I'm wearing my Team Canada jersey, with a Canucks t-shirt underneath, and we're about to leave for our friends' place, where about 10 people are waiting for us.

    LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!

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  5. YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I may or may not be crying right now...

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  6. Total heartbreak of a game. After regulation, I thought momentum was on our side, and hoped that if we could at least get through overtime, Miller would make the difference in a shoot out. Alas, it was not meant to be. *sigh*

    Congratulations Canada, and while we leave with the most medals, Canada certainly owned the top of the podium with a record setting number of gold medals. You hosted a fabulous Winter Olympics, and you should be proud.

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  7. Congrats! You'll have to tell us what it's like to be there. :) Must be quite the party.

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  8. The whole of Canada is now drunk.

    -antipodean

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  9. YEAH CANADAAAAA!!!!
    AMAZING! AWESOME! WAAAAAAHH!!!!

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  10. I live out in the sticks - the nearest neighbour is 0.5 km down the road (ie before it turns to dirt). We don't watch sports at all, and I haven't been following the games. But after reading your post, I was moved enough to 1. live-stream the 3rd period and overtime and 2. read your post out loud to my husband, who came into the kitchen to catch the OT and winning goal. There were no shouts from the sky nor people pouring out to the street. No beer, no facepaint, no cackling excitement of hundreds of people packed into a bar to watch on the big screen.
    Just two people in a tiny kitchen, hugging in relief and celebration. Go Canada Go.

    Thanks Cath:)

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  11. Yahoo!!!! We had people over, and my poor cat had to run for his life several times when the cheering and yelling got too loud. Wonder if the new neighbours were watching, or if they are now wondering about it.

    I particularly liked how the cheering continued for hours. Every person walking down Cambie with a Canada scarf or jersey on got honked at by passing cars :).

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  12. Congratulations on the win! I watched the game and it was sooooo exciting at the end, everyone in Canada must have had a wild party afterwards!

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  13. Oh man, that was amazing! What a great game - so close, with the last second US goal and then Sid the Kid in O/T... what a game! When we won, we all leaped to our feet, jumped up and down, hugged each other, ran to the front door to holler at the neighbours (they all came out and hollered back)... then we drove up Commercial Drive honking the horn (practically compulsory), then went downtown to join the party! After days of being sick and not eating much, plus four beers during the game, I lasted only 3 hours of walking around before coming home, but Mr E Man and a couple of his friends were out until midnight. And people were driving up and down honking their horns much later than that, even on our street, way out of the downtown core!

    Crazy crazy day.

    Kyrsten, I'm delighted to hear that you've enjoyed yourself so much you've caught the hockey bug! Let's get together for a weekend game, or for a weekday evening game when this road trip is over and the Canucks start playing home games at a time I can watch them again!

    SM, I am soooo glad your prediction was wrong!

    Chall, thanks!

    Thomas, thank you - and, well, what can I say? You almost had us there, it was one hell of a close and exciting game. Miller is awesome and he'll be around for another Olympics or two, so you might get your revenge pretty soon... although not home ice for home ice. I guess the difference is that Salt Lake City is not a hockey town. Vancouver? Hockey is everything in Vancouver. Come up some time and see :)

    As we walked into town across the Cambie bridge yesterday, we passed lots of dejected Americans coming the other way. We tried to persuade a couple of them to stay and enjoy the party, but understandably they were too sad. There were some American fans down there, joining in the fun - I heard one of them on the phone shouting "this is awesome! There are 200,000 drunk Canadians waving hockey sticks! It's off the hook, dude!"

    HGGirl, thanks! It was the biggest party I've ever seen, and I've done Hogmanay in Edinburgh so that's saying a lot!

    Antipodean, pretty much, yeah. And now we have a collective hang-over! Poor Mr E Man was suffering this morning... he's picked up a few days' work tearing down some of the huge tents in the LiveCity celebration sites, so he has a long hard day of work ahead of him today. I can see the site he's working on from my office window; I should have brought binoculars so I can check that he's OK!

    Nina, do that for another four hours and you've just experienced what last night was like! I tried to make you a video downtown, but the batteries died... we'll see what I can salvage!

    Natalie, that story makes me incredibly happy! I'm glad you were able to share the moment!

    Mermaid, our friends' cat, dog, and baby were terrified too! That kid's first words may very well be "Luuuuuu!", "CROSBY!", or "Fuck you, Kesler!"

    I'm sure your neighbours were watching too. Apparently they're estimating that 90% of the country did. Even people at work who've never watched sport in their lives, watched yesterday's game.

    Pika, it's so great that you got to watch the game! My parents and sister called halfway through and then at the end to say that they were watching in London, and cheering for Canada! My sister had been subjected to a game before, but it was the first game my parents had ever seen, and they are now hooked and want to see more!

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  14. I'm not usually much of a sports person myself, but even I watched a lot of that game. As an American, it obviously wasn't the ending I was hoping for, but it was a heck of a game on both sides!

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  15. Glad you enjoyed it, despite the outcome!

    I saw kids out playing street hockey on my way home last night. I've never seen that on my particular route before. Nice to see - that's what it's all about!

    I wonder how many kids had arguments yesterday about whose turn it was to be Sidney Crosby?

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