Tuesday, October 8, 2013

So I Went To A Hockey Game

I was recently accused of having a “Costanza Wallet” which isn’t even true.  Other than a few loyalty cards, old lotto tickets, and expired bus passes my wallet contains the bare essentials needed to get through a day in the city.  Well, the bare essentials and this:

A real ticket purchased from a real scalper!

That would be a ticket stub from the last game I attended at the Ice Palace before I moved to Chicago three years ago. I don’t remember much of the game (for some reason I thought it was against the Islanders) but after some limited searching online it looks like the Lightning beat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 in a shootout.  The then recently acquired Teddy Purcell scored in regulation and had the only goal in the skills competition to give the Lightning their 34th win of the season.

The reason I kept that ticket stub in my wallet that night is that it felt like the end of a fan era for me.  Days after that game  I would pack up two suitcases worth of stuff and leave the Tampa Bay Area behind for a couch in my buddy’s one bedroom apartment in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago.  No longer would the hometown team be “my team”.

No longer could I just wake up, decide to go to a game, through on a Lightning sweater, shorts and sandals and make a 30 minute drive across the bay. No longer could I pay $10 to park and $15 for a ticket.  Most importantly, I could no longer watch my favorite team live 41 nights a year.

Since I had been a fan I had seen them going from being horrible, to being competitive, to Stanley Cup champions and back to being to not so good again.  I had seen the debuts of two “saviors” in Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos and way too many forgotten names. I’d participated in fan reward programs (so much free popcorn), been a season ticket holder and lived through the troubled relationship of ThunderBug and LadyBug (the only mascot who mysteriously disappeared from the face of the earth). The only thing harder than leaving them behind was living apart from The Duchess for 10 months.

It would be over three years before I saw them live again (the Lightning not The Duchess).  One thing I liked about realignment was the added bonus that every team would play each other at least once every season; meaning I would be able to see the Lightning in Chicago.  So as soon as that schedule was released I circled the date and started planning a way to get tickets.

Luckily for me I know a guy who knows a guy who can get tickets. So after a couple of months of emails, phone calls, texts, cancelled plans and time off requests myself and five co-workers ended up with these:

Suite, Suite living.

Sadly, they were all Blackhawks fans, but hey they liked hockey and a Saturday night off from work so what the heck. Besides it’s always fun hanging out in suite. Even if we have to pay for the food.

A lot has changed in the three season since I last saw the boys in blue lace them up:

There has been a lockout
There has been an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals
There has been two coaching changes
There has been one uniform change
There has been a captain change
Neither goalie on the Lightning roster on that night in April is still with the team
Neither are the goalies that replaced those goalies
Of the six defenseman that suited up for the Lightning on that warm night in April only one, Victor Hedman, is still really with the team.
Steven Stamkos has scored approximately 562 goals since then
Teddy Purcell has opted to pass rather than shoot 876 times since then
I’ve been to two Stanley Cup parades since then
Oh and I got married some time in between the two games (love ya babe!)

Heck even the jersey I wore to the game has changed.  Gone was the replica Lecavalier third jersey (retired because I was able to get him to autograph it) and in it’s place a Chinese knockoff Stamkos home jersey (with tie-down strap!)  What can I say, I don’t make the big bucks to buy a real jersey and this one looks pretty good (better than the knockoff Hawks jersey that CM Punk wore on RAW a couple of weeks ago).

One thing dawned on me when I was in the cab heading to the bar to meet the other guys - this would be the first time I wore an opposing team’s jersey into a building on game day.  Now, Chicago isn’t Oakland or Philadelphia when it comes to opposing fans, but in the back of my mind there was the lingering thought of trouble.  You never know what can happen when alcohol and manufactured team pride mix.

That being said, all of the Blackhawk fans I did interact with were exceptionally cool.  I guess they’ve gotten over the 7-3 thrashing Chris Kontos and the boys laid on them back in 1992.  Or it was because there wasn’t enough of us to make them care (I believe I saw five other Lightning sweaters the entire night, all of them Stamkos). Or, having won two Stanley Cups in three years, they have the benevolent grace of a ruling dynasty.

Most of the abuse I took was from my friends, “I can’t believe you’re wearing that sh*t” was a common refrain.  The Lightning not getting a shot on net in the first period didn’t exactly help the cause.  After the Lightning stormed back to win in a shoot out (with newly acquired Valtteri Filppula scoring - the circle is complete!) I was worried about a little post game abuse, but the only interaction we had after the game was with a gentleman ranting about a woman’s rather large chest area and her being offended that people were staring at it.  It was quite the emphatic rant that ended with gentleman puking in the streets (Sweet Home Chicago!)

Along with post game puking there are a few difference in seeing a game in Chicago and seeing one in Tampa.  As I mentioned, I only saw about five people wearing opposing colors.  Looking out into the arena is like looking into a sea of red.  Tampa is an underrated hockey town, but it is a transplant hockey town.  One of the guys I was talking to was amazed when I told him stories of the Ice Palace being swarmed by Montreal, Toronto, Philadelphia and, yes, Chicago fans.

Crappy cell phone pictures are the BEST pictures!

The National Anthem.  If you ever get a chance to experience it live in the United Center do it.  It is amazing how loud the crowd gets for what is essence a meaningless game in October.  I can’t imagine what it sounds like during the playoffs.

Between period intermission.  Yes, in Tampa they bring out Pee Wee hockey players to have a quick scrimmage.  In Chicago, they brought the little tykes out to have a obstacle relay race.  I remarked to my neighbor that there is no way they could find 12 youngsters in Tampa that could jump over an elevated hockey stick without killing themselves.*

The weather.  Yes we all had a good laugh at the Hockey Paradise video, but wearing shorts and sandals to a hockey game is awesome.  It sure beats parkas and knitted caps.  That didn’t apply to Saturday’s game where our unseasonably warm weather had it in the 70s with on and off thunderstorms.

Prices.  Yeah for what I paid to see the Lightning on Saturday I could have probably gone to 5 games in Tampa.  I can’t even imagine how much they charge for parking (thank you public transportation!) in Chicago.  If any of your friends in Tampa ever bitch about high ticket prices, please smack them in the face for me.

It was great seeing the Lightning skate live again.  As I tell all non-fans, among the major sports hockey is truly the one that is better live than on TV.  So good that I’ll be keeping an eye on the rest of the schedule and possibly planning a trip to Detroit or Columbus or Minnesota or St. Louis to see them again.  If you’re watching at home look for the old guy in the knock off Stamkos jersey and Orioles hat.

Quick side note.  After the game we were walking to the parking lot and Bobby Hull was signing autographs.  I did not get one since I already have one, but standing next to the scrum was a Blackhawks official with a Stanley Cup ring. He let us see it.  Holy Jumpin' was it awesomely large.  If I had thought about it I would have asked to take a picture.

*Don’t shoot me - I know that youth hockey is alive and well in the Tampa Bay area, but c’mon it’s not like in the north.


TheRealDFG said...

Great post. I'm glad you finally made it to another Bolts game, albeit on enemy ice. But that's ok.

Nick B. said...

Glad you didn't get treated badly at the UC, being in a suite probably helped a little. I really have yet to see an opposing team's fans get put in any danger, it's usually just the heckling you'd expect. Then again, 90% of the crowd is just there to be seen and say they have Hawks tix so I'm sure most were oblivious to who they were playing anyway.