Monday, May 3, 2010

The Best Game You Can Name...

Ever since I left work my interactions with clerks, cashiers and waiters have improved considerably. I was always civil to them before but now I find myself becoming downright chatty with people again. It think it has a lot to do with the fact that my conversations with the general populace before often involved listening to how six paper clips were missing in a box of a fifty thousand and how my outbound courtesy calls were often greeted with the same welcoming enthusiasm as a promise of verbal syphilis. I think I was loosing my faith in the human race there for just a bit.

But things are much better now. I'm reminded that I actually like people again. The other day I'm at "Shoppers Drug Mart" buying a keg of milk and here's my conversation with the cashier:

CASHIER: (clearly in a good mood) "Hey! How are yo doin' today?"

ME: "Good, sir, good. How 'bout yourself?"

CASHIER: (obviously surprised that I'd asked) "Uh, well, yknow..."

ME: "Yeah, but you're still walkin' under your own power and that's the main thing."

CASHIER: (acting as if he hasn't heard this before) "HA! HA! HA! Yeah...though sometimes even that's, kinda, y'know..."

ME: (filling in the pause) "A bit 'touch and go', huh?"

CASHIER: "Some days. That'll be $6.48, bud. Do you have an 'Optimum Card'?"

ME: (patting myself down for something I've never owned in my life) "Ah, no, not with me..."

There's a slight pause in the conversation as I dig for my cash.

CASHIER: "So, are you following THE PLAYOFFS at all?"

EEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRKKKKK!!! (in case you don't recognize this, it's the sound of a record being scratched)

Well, it's at this point in time the friendly little chin-wag I'm having is about to derail. I'm about to make one or possibly all of the following gaffes:

(1) Discount my worth as a Canadian by exposing my lack of attention to the most important collective spring event in my nation.
(2) Open myself up to confrontation and abuse for admitting what team I've followed on and off for about thirty-three years.
(3) Lend considerable evidence to the prosecution's case that I am a mere bandwagon jumper when I reveal my woefully anemic knowledge of my favorite team's current roster and/or stats.

Crap. I've gotta act quickly. Can't let this guy think I'm just a poser. I take my receipt and watch helplessly as I begin a defensive scramble around the net.

ME: "Ah, no, not much. I know this might sound stupid, but..."

Too late.

ME: "My Dad brainwashed me as a kid and I've always followed Montreal."

No word of a lie, here, folks. Like good expatriate Newfoundlanders, my parents weren't actually in Newfoundland when I was born. I was born in the Montreal General Hospital. My Dad was a raving Montreal Canadiens fan (being a disciple of Maurice "Rocket" Richard as a youngling) and as early as age four or five I was being toted along to the Montreal Forum to watch a legendary squad in action featuring such hockey titans as Steve Shutt, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey, Serge Savard, Ken Dryden and my all-time favorite player: a pre-"Grecian Formula"/obstruction of justice Guy LaFleur. Too bad I was so young at the time I can't remember it.

What I can remember is that the Canadians have always been at the top of my hockey card stack right by my bed. Which bring me to my theory: it's about 90% likely that your favorite team for life is the one that was kicking ass and taking names just as you began to develop a vested interest in Canada's national sport. After all, when you're a kid, you wanna have a life-long association with winners, right?

Some examples:

* I briefly flirted with a love of the Islanders. Thank God that blew over, but I still have a soft spot for Mike Bossy, Billy Smith, and Butch Goring's freakishly tiny helmet.
* A close friend of mine who's a few months older than me is also a Habs fan.
* A dude I met a work who is a few years younger than me loves the Oilers and hates Montreal with the fire of a thousand suns.

As the conversation with the cashier continues, I take it as more conclusive proof of my theory.

ME: "Yeah, so anyway, every time I tune in to watch them they fall apart. I feel like I'm jinxing them somehow."

'Crap', I think to myself. 'That was a mis-step. A fan always watches. They never care about a jinx. But I haven't seen a game all season...'

CASHIER: (acting charitable) "Yeah, I'd like to see a Canadian team win, but now that they're playin' Pittsburgh, I gotta go with my favorite team."

A-ha! I knew he was gonna say that! This dude's pretty young, so it makes sense he was just getting into hockey when Lemieux and Jagr were tearin' it up. Hmmmmm, he doesn't look quite that young, though. Maybe he "crossed over" at some point? Crosby fetish, maybe?

To me, Pittsburgh is a fair choice to support, what with the local Second Coming and whatnot. But I struggle with Canadians who can't support a Canadian team. I know Canadians are scattered all over the NHL, but still, it makes sense to me that Lord Stanley's Cup should reside where it's supposed to in the summer.

Here's the order of preference in which I want teams to win the Stanley Cup:

(1) Montreal
(2) Any "Original Six" Canadian Team (and, yes, I'm talking about Toronto, bitches!)
(3) Any Canadian Team
(4) Any "Original Six" American Team
(5) Any American Team with naturally occurring ice outdoors.
(6) Any American Team without naturally occurring ice outdoors.
(7) The Anaheim Mighty Ducks

And I don't give a crap what the "Duck's" call themselves now, their sheer existence is a f#@&*^! mockery of our national sport and they need to be exterminated. What would the Americans say if some rich Canadian entertainment conglomerate (not a threat, granted, I know) decided to bankroll a team called "The Bad News Bears" in Major League Baseball? I tell ya, it wouldn't be very long before our neighbors to the south would be asking Ann Coulter for her invasion plans.

Just as I'm bagging up my milk, the cashier keeps talking about hockey. I'm content to let him skate ahead looking for the lead pass. Frankly I'm just happy he's not a "Leaf's" fan. If that had been the case it's very likely I would have taken home an Optimum card application internally.

"Yeah, it should be a good series. Halak is playing really well..."

"Yeah, but Montreal needs more than that," I tell him, suddenly driven by knowledge gained from pure osmosis. "It's great that he can stand on his head and spit quarters but the defense can't let him get peppered every night. They gotta stop playing as is they're killing a power play every shift."

Suitably impressed, the cashier bids me good day and I'm on my way. I'm also impressed that, despite the "jinx" faux pas, I've managed to acquit myself rather well. Clearly I'd just been possessed by the same survival instinct that kept me alive amidst an army of monolithic jocks in residence at St. Mary's. It's a bluff I'd once honed to perfection...but that's because before it really wasn't a bluff. I really liked hockey as a kid.

But I'm left with a few things to ponder. Why am I not watching hockey anymore? Is it because I know a bunch of overpaid egomaniacs don't give a crap about who's sweater I wear? That if I did wear a Canadiens sweater I'd have to run a constant gauntlet, defending myself from people who are convinced my team "sucks" to the point they would fight me to the death over it? That ultimately I think it's just as sad that people have so little identity that they drape themselves in professional sports team paraphernalia hoping to engender solidarity amongst strangers the same way a Trekkie wears Spock ears at a comic book convention?

Was I the only person around who remembered what happened in 2004? Am I the only one who thinks it odd that Winnipeg doesn't have a team when markets like Phoenix have a squad? That Wayne Gretzky and Peter Pocklington sold out Canadian hockey to a nation that just doesn't care about it as much as we do? That the league is run by Gary Bettman who recently blocked moving another regionally irrelevant franchise from Nashville to Hamilton? That when I saw an NHL game in Dallas a few years back my Canadian host told me that the first few games he went to were embarrassing because the locals didn't even know when to cheer during the game?

Regardless of my gripes my pure Canadian blood wouldn't allow me to resist the siren call last Friday night for Game One: Pittsburgh vs. Montreal.

And, whattaya know, they lost...




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