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“I am confused: she is wearing the wrong jersey”. Let me explain…
I’ve been watching and going to hockey games for as long as I can remember. In fact, when I think back as far I as I can recall, to the earliest of my childhood memories, I have vivid recollections of sitting as close to the TV as my parents would allow me in our Montréal banlieue living room so I could keep track of my favorite Canadiens players durant La Soirée du Hockey. I am pretty sure Shane Corson was my very first vedette crush. Isn’t he cute?
I remember going to games with my dad, at the old Montréal Forum. A season ticket owner, he would rotate taking us kids to this hockey mecca in between taking Maman, friends and clients. Going to the game was a special experience: the anticipation for the moment my eyes would meet the ice at the end of the couloir was electrifying.
Our tickets were in la premiere rangée des blancs – the first row of the whites. Right between center ice and the blue line on the side the Canadiens scored twice. No one in front of us to block our view, a railing to hold our winter jackets, the rowdy beer-drinking and cigarette-smoking fans in their standing room tickets littering the alley right below us.
This is where I learned how I like to watch hockey: amongst the people, seeing the whole ice, the plays form, the puck move, the open players, the scoring opportunities, and hearing the arena’s noises.
The last game I attended at the old Montréal Forum was with my friend Brigitte. It was late in the 1991-1992 season. I was old and well-behaved enough to be allowed to go downtown alone with my then BFF. I felt real grown up: in retrospect, I was growing up with hockey. Growing up with the Habs.
That summer, in a move that had been planned for many months, my family immigrated to the United States. Specifically, to Phoenix, Arizona. Yep. And no NHL hockey team at that time. Sure, the Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, but it wasn’t the same. Nonetheless, with two younger brothers that played the game, we undoubtedly and fortunately found a hockey community, in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.
The Montréal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup 24 times in their lifetime; 6 during mine, 4 of which I was too young to remember, one of which I vaguely recall celebrating, and the last one in 1993, ironically, the year after I moved to AZ. I would have been old enough to go to the Stanley Cup parade…
The following year, in a fortunate turn of events, the Stanley Cup came to Phoenix as part of an NHL promotional tour to the American southwest. In a small local arena at a low-key event, I got to touch the Stanley Cup. It was no parade, but it was an unforgettable moment. I was 18.
The year two thousand. I’m chasing my career and make a move from Arizona to the Washington, DC area. Bonus: there is a legit hockey team here – the Capitals. Yes!
Naturally, I start following the team. I watch on TV. Every season, I go to games. I cheer for the Caps. I participate in conversations about them in my circle of friends. I become a Caps fan. I even start hating the Penguins… For 18 years, which is longer than my life’s origins in Canada, I’ve been riding the ups and downs.
The Canadiens and Caps. I keep up with both. In essence, I have 2 teams. Yet, especially being in the same conference where they directly compete with each other for standings, I confuse my friends (and I get teased): “But Caroline, you grew up in Montréal, how can you be a Caps fan?”. Furthermore, Habs-Caps play each other at least 4 times per season… “Who are you gonna cheer for?!”
The answer is simple: the Habs is the team I grew up with, the Caps is my adopted team. I am bi-cultural afterall: I have a Canadian team and an American team. The only time I don’t root for the Caps is when they play the Canadiens. Heritage first: I’m a hockey fan.
When Ovechkin arrives on the scene, I am reminded of my first superstar crush. This time, it’s not because I think he is cute. It’s because, like many of my peers, I believe he is the one to take us to our destiny. Over the years, he becomes my favorite player. Sure, he is a talented hockey player, no doubt. But it is his character, his commitment, his consistency, his loyalty, his resilience, his leadership, his selflessness and his emotions that truly inspire me. For 13 years, he earns the respect of Washington hockey fans. Now, he commands it.
And that’s what the Stanley Cup means to me. Anchored in heritage, manifested in legacy, as a lifelong fan of the game.
Congratulations to the Washington Capitals! I’ll get to the parade after all.
To be continued.