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Tomorrow morning, J and I will take the T into Boston for an afternoon Bruins game, just as we have the past two Saturdays, and just as we will next Sunday. That’s how our 12-game Boston Bruins weekend ticket package was scheduled, with a grand finale of four straight weekend games to end the regular season.

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In the course of going to so many weekend Boston Bruins games, J and I have become practiced at our pre-game ritual. We leave home two hours before the game is scheduled to start, and it takes us about an hour to arrive at North Station, where the TD Banknorth Garden is located. Doors open an hour before the game, so we make our way to our balcony seats, stopping first at the restroom, Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and hot chocolate, and the concession stand near our seats for our usual game-day lunch of two hot dogs a piece. We always go to the same concession stand, so we know “our” concession workers by name: James and Allen. By the time we’ve made our way to our seats, we have just enough time to eat our hot dogs and start sipping our coffee and hot chocolate before our Winter Parents arrive and the Bruins come out on the ice for pre-game warm-ups.

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Winter Parents, you ask?

If you’ve seen the movie Fever Pitch with Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, you might remember the scene where Fallon’s character (a diehard Red Sox fan named Ben) explains to Barrymore (a baseball-oblivious girl named Lindsey) that the folks who sit around his coveted Fenway Park season ticket seats are his “summer family.” Over the course of a summer courtship, Lindsey comes to appreciate the devotion Ben and other Red Sox fans have for “their” team, and she also learns how the simple act of sitting next to the same folks for a season’s worth of baseball games does create a kind of familial bond. By movie’s end, Ben’s summer family has “adopted” Lindsey just as surely as she’s fallen for both Ben and his lovable Red Sox.

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With a nod to Fever Pitch, then, J and I quickly dubbed the couple whose balcony seats are right next to ours–folks from Hartford who drive up to Boston for each of the weekend ticket package games–our “Winter Parents.” They have grown children, so they’re old enough to be our parents, but unlike James and Allen, they don’t wear name tags. We don’t know these folks’ names, but we know a bit about their lives: they used to be Hartford Whalers fans before the Whalers moved to North Carolina, they have grandchildren who play peewee hockey, and they traveled to Florida last year to catch some rays while catching a game between the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers. We don’t know our Winter Parents’ names, but they still feel like a kind of kin to us, at least for a season: after next weekend, it’s possible we’ll never see them again, for there’s no guarantee that the balcony seats we had for this year’s 12-game weekend ticket package will be the seats we’ll presumably buy next year.

It’s a lucky break, then, that last Saturday our entire row of Winter Family members was named the Massachusetts Lottery “Lucky Row,” a turn of fortune that gave us each a prize pack of Bruins gear and got our cheering mugs on the TD Banknorth Garden Jumbotron: a few seconds of fame that are now preserved for cyber-eternity:

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Click here to see a larger version of that final Jumbotron shot: that’s J with his telephoto lens on the far right, me with my #37 Patrice Bergeron jersey and new camera on his left, and our Winter Dad next to me. Winter Mom is hidden behind Winter Dad, with only her upraised arm visible.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, The Weekend. Given the number of weekend Bruins games we’ve shared, J and I might as well call our Winter Parents our Weekend Parents. Click here to see my entire photo-set of pictures from last Saturday’s Bruins victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. Enjoy!

Love those Hanson glasses!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. If you’re a pretty woman, you’ll look good wearing a trash bag. That fact apparently applies to geeky glasses, too.

Puttin' on the foil

Friday night’s Bruins game was a tribute to the classic hockey movie Slap Shot, and to get into the spirit, local sportscasters Kathryn Tappen and Barry Pederson donned taped, geeky glasses in honor of the movie’s trio of hard-hitting hooligans: brothers Jeff, Steve, and Jack Hanson. To ensure Slap Shot silliness ruled at Friday night’s game, the first 10,000 fans in attendance received a free pair of taped black glasses, which meant the “girls (and guys) who wear glasses” motif was unavoidable. Whole families of fans–mom, dad, and kids alike–wore Hanson glasses. Ushers wore Hanson glasses. Concessions staff selling beer, chips, and hot-dogs wore Hanson glasses. Even the Bruins’ mascot, Blades, wore a bear-sized pair of Hanson glasses…and yes, I wore mine perched atop my Bruins ballcap for that “girls who wear two pairs of glasses” effect.

Hanson wannabe takes a slap-shot

To say that Slap Shot enjoys cult status among hockey fans is a monumental understatement. Like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Slap Shot was a movie I’d heard endlessly quoted and reverently referenced long before I actually saw it. Slap Shot‘s popularity among hockey fans might stem from the fact that there aren’t many mainstream movies about hockey…but more likely, the movie enjoys perpetual popularity among diehard fans because it manages to capture the comedy in a sport that the uninitiated might think is simply brutal. Yes, hockey is rough, tough, and merciless, and hockey fights can get ugly. But hockey is also a game that’s played on ice, so it naturally involves a lot of silly slips. Bare-fisted (or even foil-fisted) fisticuffs might be pure drama, but a fight that’s doomed to end in an icy pratfall is pure comedy. Slap Shot manages to capture that zaniness.

Steve Carlson (aka Steve Hanson) shows off his foil

In a word, Slap Shot is pure slapstick, and hockey fans apparently have an endless appetite for humor. The gags in Slap Shot are purely physical, and like a vaudeville banana peel, they get laughs every time. The Bruins’ pre-game video, for instance, alludes to one classic scene where an organist gets beaned by an errant puck while playing “Lady of Spain.” Time and again, fans laugh at the gag with its boneheaded reminder to “Be aware that the puck can be propelled into the spectator area with enough force to cause serious injury. Please stay alert at all times.” Saying “watch out” would be simple enough, but what better way to drive the point home than with a goofy gag?

Perhaps because I’m a girl who really does wear glasses, I see a serious undercurrent even in Slap Shot‘s shtick. The minor league hockey team featured in the movie–the fictional Charlestown Chiefs–becomes wildly popular after adopting the brutally physical play of those aforementioned Hanson brothers, but only after the Hansons sign onto the team during dismal economic times. Based upon the real-life mill-town of Johnstown, PA, the fictional Charlestown is financially distressed in the aftermath of floods and departed industry. Only after the town becomes literally and fiscally washed-up does full-out hockey hooliganism provide unemployed and dispirited fans with something to cheer about.

Slap Shot fans all!

Johnstown is to Slap Shot, in other words, what Sheffield is to The Full Monty. In both movies, the male population, like the economy, is depressed by the closing of the local steel mill. Both Slap Shot and The Full Monty suggest that men can’t be men if they don’t have the monetary means of supporting themselves and their families. Economically emasculated, the men in both movies determine that over-the-top, testosterone-laced spectacle mixed with a touch of humor is one way to resuscitate male pride. Even a man without a job can bloody his fists, cheer for the local team, or take it all off to feel like a man again…and if you’ve seen the end of Slap Shot, you know that the climax of the movie incorporates all three of these strategies to comedic effect.

There are no steel-mills, closed or otherwise, in Boston, but times are tough everywhere these days. You don’t have to be a girl who wears glasses to see that both sports and movies about sports are one way that the economically depressed fight back, finding catharsis in a good game.

Click here for the entire set of photos from Friday’s night’s Boston Bruins game against the Florida Panthers, which the Bruins won 2-4. Woooo!

Mascot meetup

It’s a pretty picture. Four Boston-area mascots met to play “pass the puck” with two local kids during one of the intermissions for last night’s hockey game between the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars. The two kids were, I’m sure, excited to be on the Bruins’ home ice, and I’m sure they were wide-eyed when they met the Bruins’ own Blades, Rhett the Terrier from Boston University, Wally the Green Monster from the Boston Red Sox, and some knight, Trojan, or warrior mascot we didn’t recognize. (Please enlighten me, folks, if you can think of a Boston-area sports team or college with a knight, Trojan, or warrior for a mascot.)

Gloves off

This meeting of mascots was a pleasant little interlude during a game in which there were far more fights than goals, with the Bruins beating the Stars 5-1. We saw six goals over three periods…and countless fights. Some were mere scuffles and shoves; others resulted in the standard “five for fighting” penalty, with Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton spending five minutes at a pop in the penalty box to “think about” his behavior.

Because just as many (and in some cases, more) Stars engaged in such “roughing,” the Bruins as a team didn’t suffer for their infractions, with both penalty boxes peopled with players who looked like extras from the set of Slap Shot. I’ve written before about the cathartic power of hockey fights, which are usually closely monitored by on-ice referees who make sure things don’t get out of hand. But last night, the refs had their hands full and then some as they discovered that a game of 2 on 8 adds up to a losing battle against the brawl.

Hockey brawl!

Pregame!

I’m guessing a picture of Boston’s TD Banknorth Garden just minutes before a hockey game isn’t exactly what the Photo Friday folks had in mind when they announced “Garden” as this week’s photo theme, but here you have it: the best “garden” picture I have from the past week, when things have suddenly gotten cold here in New England.

Click here for more pictures of last weekend’s game between the Boston Bruins and Atlanta Thrashers, where a hat trick from Milan Lucic helped Boston win 5-4. Woooooo!

Hooray, beer!

Now that spring has sprung in Boston, it’s far too warm to walk the streets in full protective hockey gear. But the fact that these four goalies were walking out of a bar–along with the fact that their jerseys suggest they play for team Molson rather than either the Boston Bruins or Montreal Canadiens, who duked it out in a red-hot NHL playoff game at the TD Banknorth Garden last night–suggests that all hockey fans, regardless of team affiliation, share an affinity for beer. After all, both hockey and beer, like revenge, are best served ice cold.

Hooray, beer!

This is my contribution for this week’s Photo Friday theme, Cold. Since we had plans to be in Boston yesterday afternoon, J and I tried to get tickets to last night’s playoff game…but now that the Bruins are winning, their tickets are a hot commodity, leaving J and me out in the cold.

Lucic fans think a date with him would be priceless!

Among female Bruins fans, 19-year-old Canadian cutie Milan Lucic is a favorite for his boyish good looks and eager willingness to fight for his own. If you’re a high school girl lusting after Lucic, the economics seem simple enough: for the cost of a Bruins ticket ($32) and “Charlie card” subway fare to get you there and back ($4), you can hope #17 will offer to escort you (in your fabulous $300 dress!) to your senior prom. A girl’s gotta dream!

I'll fight for Lucic's shirt

Not everyone loves Lucic primarily for his looks: that aforementioned “eager willingness to fight” has earned Lucic some acclaim as the Bruins’ unofficial enforcer, and with that role comes a more macho contingent of Lucic-lovers. Saturday was the Bruins’ last home game of the regular season, so as a part of “Fan Appreciation Day,” Lucic and his teammates gave the shirts off their backs to randomly selected fans, who filed onto the ice after the game to receive autographed, game-worn jerseys. No fighting was necessary.

The Bruins lost Saturday’s game to the Buffalo Sabres, but that’s okay. Having already clinched a spot in the NHL play-offs, the Bruins were playing primarily for pride–and their much-appreciated fans–on Saturday. Knowing you’ll be in the play-offs whether or not you win the game at hand is, indeed, Priceless.

Playoff bound

Click here for additional photos from Saturday’s Bruins game. Fan Appreciation Day featured many random give-aways, but J and I, like the Bruins themselves, didn’t end up winning.

Hockey fight!

On Saturday, instead of fighting the pre-Saint-Patrick’s-Day crowds at the Irish pub where we have lunch nearly every weekend, J and I went to the one place in Boston where you don’t have to use St. Patrick’s Day as an excuse to get drunk or have a fight in the middle of the afternoon. Who needs green beer when you can watch an honest-to-goodness hockey fight?

Gloves off!

Pacifists will, I’m sure, claim that hockey is a brutal and bloody sport…and at least half of that statement is correct. If you’re a mother looking for a safe and quiet sport for your little darling, hockey probably isn’t the best choice. As graphically illustrated last month when Florida Panther’s forward Richard Zednik had his carotid artery sliced by the errant skate of one of his teammates, most of the bloodshed in hockey doesn’t come from fights. Instead, most of the bloodshed in hockey happens as an accidental by-product of a game that’s played by intensely passionate players on the slipperiest of playing fields. If you’re skating with sticks on blades, already you’re in a precarious place; when you add two teams’ worth of players intent on doing just about anything to get their puck in the other team’s goal, you just upped the blood ante. Throwing a fight into the mix is the least of your worries.

Gloves and helmets off

And yet, the bare-fisted fisticuffs J and I witnessed on Saturday between the Bruins’ Shawn Thornton and the Flyers’ Riley Cote was the first honest-to-goodness hockey fight we’ve seen in the half dozen Bruins games we’ve attended this season. In the NHL at least, on-ice fights are tightly regulated events. Yes, fights happen; yes, referees stand back and allow them. And yes, both teammates and spectators cheer wildly for their side in any given fight. But all that isn’t to say there are no holds barred in a hockey fight.

If you watch enough hockey fights–and yes, they do replay classic fights alongside highlight-reel goals as a way of pumping the crowd at any given NHL game–you’ll notice an unwritten code that players follow. Fighters drop their sticks rather than using them as weapons, for instance, and they drop their protective gloves for the same reason: the punches that fall in a hockey fight are bare-fisted, not weighted with heavy protective gear. Raising a hand against a referee is strictly verboten during a fight, and strict rules prohibit teammates from joining the melee. The moment either fighter falls to the ice–or the moment any official decides a particular fight has gone long enough–referees descend to haul both participants to their respective penalty boxes, and even the most feisty fighters comply. As soon as any given fight has ended, participants accept their penalties and the game continues: business as usual.

Break it up, gentlemen!

I’d argue that an occasional hockey fight helps minimize the overall amount of violence exhibited in the game. Because there’s an orchestrated (albeit not officially sanctioned) manner in which players can vent frustrations by engaging in momentary fisticuffs and then being done with it, grudges don’t linger for long in hockey. Instead of insisting that rivals somehow magically get along, professional hockey protocol admits that tempers sometimes fly and an occasional tussle can serve as an important safety valve. Compared to the kind of injuries hockey players are used to receiving from the exertion of play itself, an occasional black eye or bloodied nose seems a small price to pay for a game that on most days manages to be intensely physical without erupting into complete lawlessness.

Can't we all just get along?

I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a social lesson to be learned from the unwritten rules that govern hockey fights. Instead of expecting two teams to compete without conflict, the ethics of hockey fights allow disagreement and heated emotion. You don’t have to love your rivals; you simply have to play–and sometimes fight–fair. In these days after Barack Obama distanced himself from Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s fighting words about race in America, I can’t help but wonder whether we all can truly get along if our attempts to be politically correct stifle honest conversation.

The world’s a lot bigger than a hockey rink, but passions on the slippery playing field called “life” sometimes get heated. Rev. Wright was right in many of his oft-quoted comments: growing up as a fatherless black boy in America is different from growing up as a privileged white woman, and presumably nobody ever has called Hillary a “nigger.” You don’t have to agree with or even like Rev. Wright’s comments; in the hockey rink called “America,” though, you have to respect his right to make them. What concerns me most about the Rev. Wright’s comments is the pressure put upon Barack Obama to calm or even erase the upset they caused. If our politically correct attempts to “make nice” prohibit honest dialogue about things like race, is it any wonder that long pent-up frustrations sometimes erupt into something more dangerous than a black eye or bloodied nose?

Like two zambonis crossing in the night...

In her book Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, Barbara Ehrenreich argues that professional sporting events are one of the few remaining places in modern America where the public and communal expression of joy is permitted. I’d go a step or two further to wonder what’s wrong with a society where professional sporting events are one of the few remaining places where it’s okay to disagree and even lose one’s temper, the expression of fighting words being seen as a natural and even necessary part of the game. We all want to live in a society where we are judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our Zambonis, but still: without the ability to speak freely and even fight, how will we ever learn how to all get along?

Click here for more photos from Saturday’s Bruins game. We might credit the luck of the Irish for the outcome of the game, the Bruins winning in overtime after scoring a game-tying goal in the last minute of regulation play. Wooooo!