Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Okay, so long as we're on sports... hockey!

OK, so long as we're on sports, I thought I'd say a few words about one of my favorites - ice hockey.

I suppose I first caught hockey fever in Buffalo. I lived there during my impressionable teen years and there was nothing bigger in town than the Buffalo Sabres.

First day of school, teachers and students wore SabreJaks (special blue and gold jackets from Penney's with the Sabres emblem on them) and had hockey-stick pens at the ready. I remember seeing Mrs. Levine, my-formerly-ancient math teacher, down at one of the games and instantly she changed in my eyes to pretty-darn-cool math teacher. Mr Kohler, my science teacher, wore a Sabres sweater after every win.

And I had won an autographed hockey stick from the new cable company in town, with signatures by Robert, Martin, Pierre and others! (Though I never had a SabreJak or hockey stick pens - we were a little tight on money in those days)

Buffalo was a hockey town - and Memorial Auditorium was our home.

And I grew to really really dislike the Philadelphia Flyers (hate being too strong a word).

Then, we moved.

To California. Just outside San Jose.

There were no San Jose Sharks in those days. There was no hockey within several hundred miles. And watching hockey on TV, even when you could get it, was just not that much fun anymore.

So, I kind of fell away.

Twenty odd years later, I was back in Buffalo. Working just down the street from the brand spanking new Marine Midland Arena. I mean, three blocks down the street, the Buffalo Sabres skated - and two blocks in another direction, the Buffalo Bisons played baseball. Two blocks the other way, was Canada.

Wonderful times.

The best was when I got to have first row seats behind the glass. Let me tell you, it's a whole different game. Man, that was awesome!

Then I moved to Chicago.

And fell away again.

Wait a minute, you say. Don't you have the Chicago Blackhawks? The Chicago Wolves?

Well, yes... but the owner of the Hawks had decided that no games would be seen on TV, to avoid killing attendance (as opposed to the Sabres, whose every game was on TV).

Well, having had that little rule in place for the last twenty years killed hockey in this town. Seating prices went up, attendance fell to pathetic levels. The Chicago Wolves appeared (minor league hockey) and even won a couple of championships (like this year! Yay!) but for the most part hockey was dead.

Then, this year, the owner died.

His son took over the team operations. We had little hope.

Oh, ye of little hope - rejoice!

The new owner went to town. He brought in fresh young players, he lowered ticket prices, he brought in hockey men to run the team itself, he put all 84 games ON TELEVISION! He brought back the Hawks' 25 year announcer, who the last regime had fired, and brought back former stars into the fold and showered them with respect and actually LET THEM MAKE DECISIONS HE HAD NO BUSINESS MAKING.

AND he signed on the biggest station in town, WGN, to carry all the games on radio! The station's been going nuts, playing the old "Here come the Hawks" songs and hockey goal horn sounds before announcements -

This town is hockey crazy again!

A year and a half after it was practically dead in the water, this city is looking forward to hockey like it looks forward to football! Unbelievable! Even I'm looking to get tickets to some games!

It's not just me getting excited. It's the whole city.

Amazing what one man can do, isn't it?

Oh, I almost forgot. New Year's Day, Maggie and I curled up on the couch and watched the Buffalo Sabres play OUTDOORS - in a snowstorm, in twenty degree weather. Over 82,000 people showed up to watch.

See, in Buffalo, we actually go out in the winter. :) Friggin' Chicago wimps complain if there's more than a few inches on the ground. Constantly. Learn what real snowfall is, ya wusses. :)

And next season? The second NHL outdoor game is gonna be held -

In Chicago.

You bet I'm going to go!

1 comment:

Martin said...

KC, I remember going to Sabres games as a kid - and watching them on TV too. Very much a big hockey craze in all of western NY (remember I grew up in Dunkirk).

I found as an adult I prefer games in person rather than on TV. When we lived in Raleigh, we went to quite a few Carolina Hurricane games. Now, talk about oddities - being in the south, tailgating in the parking lots before hockey games. Definitely not what we did in Buffalo. But it was awesome! My whole family each has 'Canes jerseys and we wear them with pride whenever we get back up to Raleigh (every other year - to take in a game for old times sake).