For the Love of Hockey

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I think I was Canadian in a different life. Not because of my love of French, though strong, or my craving for maple syrup, though incessant; no, this Canadian lifestyle manifests itself through a kind of hockey mania. While my friends enjoy watching baseball and eating hotdogs or tailgating at football games on Sunday afternoons, the American sport fetish skipped me completely, leaving a puck-shaped hole in my heart.

Of course being born and raised in the South makes this love a forbidden one. As we play yet another round of h-o-r-s-e in P.E., my soul yearns for the crack of a slapshot, the whistle of a perfectly timed wrister. The coach tells us to pick up the pigskin, we’re headed to the field. No, my heart screams, not another touch football game! You’re smiling! How can you enjoy this? We march to the stadium anyway, the others oblivious of the superior game waiting for them on the ice. Our team gets the ball first and runs it past the blue line, ahem, the fifty yard line. Stop, start; stop, start. Fifteen minutes later and we’ve advanced exactly zero feet.

This madness does not exist in hockey. There is no mass-tackling, blitz-faking, backtracking nonsense. Just the smooth sound of sharpened blades gliding over polished ice, the smack-crack-clang of a deflected shot hitting the post, the deafening silence of an entire arena holding its breath during the pressure-riddled penalty shot, the blaring siren of the puck finally meeting the twine.

A certain camaraderie runs through the veins of hockey fans. Unlike the plethora of basketball/football/baseball fans running amok, the population of the hockey fan is much like that of the dwindling polar bear. Once while at a restaurant (by the beach, no less) my family had a waiter who divulged to us that he was a Flyers fan. I could have cried a) because it was like being one of those poor polar bears, wandering solo, thinking you’re the last of your kind, when all of a sudden you round a snow dune to find out it is in fact not a snow dune but another polar bear and you are no longer alone in the world and b) out of pity because, come on, really, a Flyers fan? You traded your captain away to the now two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions and for what? An undisclosed draft pick? The back-seat GM in me rages like an inferno, but I digress.

The glorious, nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat turmoil of hockey stems from the setup, not the goal. Sure, the siren is a relief to hear, but convincing the P.E. coaches to try a two week street hockey unit that turns into a three month ultimate tournament is what breathes life into my pseudo-Canadian spirit. Whether the score is a zero-zero stalemate in double overtime or a seven-one blowout in regulation, the game always offers something priceless, even if that’s just getting to know the kindred polar bear chanting next to you in the bleachers.

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