This weekend I had the privilege of driving to Vegas with Mrs. Seats and celebrated my father-in-law’s birthday. Have you ever seen those movies where there’s one guy in the room that sticks out like a sore thumb? That wasn’t a movie—that was a glimpse into my life this weekend. It was like the Joy Luck Club needed a sequel so they decided that they’d just take some live footage from my life. There were 40 people in the banquet room—39 were speaking Cantonese and one was a hockey blogger trying to find the bottom of multiple bottles of wine. I’ll let you figure out where I fit into the story.
As much as I’d love to focus on the 7 massage parlors that we passed (all of which were open at 10pm on a Sunday night, by the way), I found that speaking a different language than the rest of the room wasn’t as awkward as I thought it would be. The truth is that it’s a situation that I’ve probably been living for years—I just didn’t know it.
You see, speaking hockey in California is about as foreign as a priest hanging out in one of those massage parlors. But as rare as fellow hockey fans are to find among the general public, we tend to stick together. When I’m talking to someone about hockey, more often than not it’s something like, “what does icing mean?” There are times that it sucks—but it’s simply a lack of exposure. It’s not that they hate hockey, they just haven’t been exposed to it. When they live in a place that is summer 365 days per year, who can blame them? I doubt we’re going to see any backyard rinks constructed in Huntington Beach anytime soon.
Don’t get me wrong, I speak Lakerlish and Trojanese—I would just prefer to stick to speaking my preferred language. But sometimes I wonder—would basketball and baseball be as popular in Southern California if it were the Kings winning championships in the 1980’s and not the Dodgers and Lakers? It’s completely a cultural thing—people like what they know. They grew up with the Lakers, Dodgers, Magic Johnson and Tommy Lasorda. Instead of listening to Hall of Famer Bob Miller, they were listening to Hall of Famers Vin Scully and Chick Hearn. So today when fathers are taking their kids to games—they’re taking them to the 3rd baseline of Chavez Ravine more than center ice at Staples Center. Who can blame them?
It’s a cultural thing that doesn’t have a quick 6 month fix. I know that I’ll be taking my kids to the rink; I know the guys on my hockey team already take their kids to the rink. But how many more are headed to a basketball court?
The problem is that hockey’s lack of exposure in California (or Arizona, Texas, etc) is that people didn’t grow up with their team. A perfect example is me and the Joy Luck moments that I have with my in-laws every so often. For the first couple of decades of my life, I had never even HEARD of Dim Sum. Now, I can order just about anything I want in another language and absolutely LOVE throwing back those little shrimp dumplings. It’s not that I didn’t always love those little bits of shrimpy goodness; I just never knew about them. The same goes for mainstream sports fans and hockey.
Here’s a question that I ask all readers: Have you ever taken someone to their first hockey game? When you did, have you ever heard someone say, “that was bullshit… no wonder hockey isn’t popular?” Ever?
Hell no. You usually hear things like, “that was awesome! It’s so fast! They hit so hard—this is WAY better in person than it is on TV!” Of course, there are other variations that find their way into the conversation from time to time like, “who is that #10 guy on the Ducks? He’s a punk.” But all that shows is that hockey is a sport where ALL people can immediately pick up on the fundamentals.
Another thing that separates hockey fans from the rest of the sports world is how violently we’ll defend our game. There are fewer of us, so we fight harder for it to be recognized, publicized and respected. It’s like when we were young and a new kid from another country would show up at our school. If a new Asian kid showed up at school, they’d be drawn to other Asian kids—because it was comfortable. It was a bit of normalcy in a new and different situation.
Hockey fans are like the new kid that is just looking for some other people that understand us. Others will look at us because we’re different—because we know that fighting has a time and a place. Because we love the excitement of 4 on 4 hockey, but know that it’s not the way to decide a playoff game. Because snipers are fun to watch, but so are grinders. We just want to find other people that understand us.
Even though we might stick out like a sore thumb, we’re still proud of our culture and we’ll defend it proudly. Hockey fans are as loyal as it gets—because we HAVE to be. We stick together—and we’re happy to include ANYONE that’s interested. Because our game is great and we KNOW it.
So next time you see a drunk hockey blogger sticking out like a sore thumb trying to avoid the 24 hour massage parlor, you’ll know what is on his mind…