Other Hockey Day Features
: Hockey Day's Homeboy
: Nick Leddy prepares for the first of many Hockey Days in his career. The Youth Days
: Wild players recall stories from youth hockey Hockey Bucket List
: There are versions of hockey that involve more than just skates and a stick
As our van weaves through the heart of Guatemala City, I’m only half-heartedly staring at the vibrant life that surrounds us. The streets are lined with small tiendas filled with Nike shoes, bootleg DVD’s of Hollywood’s latest, and rainbows of baseball hats. A small herd of 10 goats huddles near a Guatemalan woman selling fresh slices of fruit from a sidewalk stand.
I am on my first visit to this foreign country filled with foreign sights, sounds, and smells. Amazing people whose culture I have never experienced surround me, and yet I find myself lamenting the fact that I won’t be able to watch the Wild take on the Dallas Stars tonight.
Two motorcycles cut us off in our lane, and I’m thinking about the Wild’s line changes, how we’re going to stick it to the team that broke our hearts in ’93 (17 years and it still hurts), and how we’re going to generate more offense to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture.
Some may say it’s sad or obsessive, but it’s called being from the State of Hockey.
Since contracting the travel bug, I’ve been lucky enough to go to different stadiums around the United States, watching other NHL teams play on home ice. The hockey is the same great game I grew up watching, but the fans don’t have the devotion that Minnesotans do. While the Xcel Energy Center is consistently as full as a playoff beard just before the Cup finals, other stadiums resemble the patches of whiskers on the face of a lazy teenager going through a phase.
I love hockey, and thankfully there is hockey where I make my current home in Colorado. But I miss Minnesota hockey
. I miss three-on-threes at the pond, going to the State Hockey Tournament, watching the Gophers in the Frozen Four, and joining 17,999 friends in red, white, and green who explode in elation when the foghorn sounds.
Hockey is my sport. Want to see tears? Throw in Miracle
and skip to the medal round game against the Soviets. Want to free a well-harnessed potty mouth? Say “Norm Green” or send Boogaard to the box with a reputation call.
My girlfriend used to laugh with amazement at my passion for the game, but now she’s sick of hearing what a sellout crowd looks and sounds like. She’s tired of repeating herself to break my zombie-like stare while listening to my team on Wild.com.
“You love hockey. I get it,” she said with a smile the other week when I was gloating about our fans.
I’m not sure she does.
Hockey is as Minnesotan as Ice Fishing. If hot dish is in your mouth, there’s a good chance hockey is on your mind. My friends and I grew up watching Neal Broten and Brian Bellows score. Our permanent teeth were coming in when Basil McRae was losing his. And when those two Chicago Blackhawk fans mooned my sister and I at our last North Stars game, as if to rub it in that they would still have a team, I was crushed (although it was funny watching them get chased by police through the Met Center parking lot).
Hockey is our heritage in Minnesota. My family played pick-up games with the neighbors on the lake up north. My parents owned season tickets to the North Stars. My sister and brother are Wild season ticket holders. If I could afford it, I’d own season tickets to the Avs just to root against them.
I obviously take extreme pride in our state’s dedication to hockey and I’m glad to hear the tradition is carried on with the fourth annual Hockey Day Minnesota. It makes me proud to be a Minnesotan and it makes me miss my 18,000+ friends even more.
As a short, mustached man walks up to our van and tries to get me to buy a crucifix, I think, “I hope they have Internet where I’m staying tonight, so I can listen to the Wild."