Two teams, one anthem

Later this afternoon, J and I are going to Boston College for a men’s hockey game. J and I used to be in the habit of going to Bruins games on Black Friday, as the Bruins typically have a matinee home game the day after Thanksgiving, when both J and I are off work. After the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, however, their ticket prices skyrocketed, so now we go to far fewer professional hockey games.

Face-off

Fortunately, Boston College is within (healthy) walking distance of our house, and BC hasn’t raised ticket prices after winning three national championships in the past five years. Attending a college hockey game is a different, more “family friendly,” experience than attending a professional hockey game. There’s no alcohol served at college games, so you’re far less likely to sit next to drunk and rowdy fans; instead, BC hockey games tend to attract parents shepherding flocks of hockey-crazy kids whose hooligan antics are more likely fueled by sugar and pent-up energy than anything alcoholic.

Opening face-off

On the ice, college hockey games feature far fewer fights than in the pros: although the competition gets just as heated, college players who fight get tossed from the game rather than simply spending five minutes in the penalty box. As much as I appreciate the unwritten rules of professional hockey fights, I also appreciate the calmer, more “focused” energy apparent at college hockey games. At a professional game, you get the sense that a good number of the fans are more interested in drinking and watching fights than they are in following the actual game. At college hockey games, on the other hand, you’ll often encounter hockey parents who use the game as a teachable moment, coaching their kids on how to apply in their own games the techniques they see on the ice.

Baldwin's bunch

BC’s mascot, Baldwin, also apparently sees home hockey games as a good change to mingle with young hockey fans, both on and off the ice. On a day typically devoted to shopping outings that occasionally turn violent, it seems downright wholesome to spend the afternoon watching a fierce but family-friendly competition that ends in handshakes.

Good game!

The photos illustrating today’s post come from a February, 2009 game against the University of Massachusetts. This is my Day 29 contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.

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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!

Waiting for the puck to drop

J and I joke about the number of face-off shots we each take at any given hockey game. After a penalty call or other stoppage in play, the face-off offers one still moment when players from both teams line up, face-to-face, waiting for the linesman to drop the puck. It’s a easy photographic shot because the players and linesman are all standing still. As soon as the puck drops, though, players scatter like quicksilver on ice as one team gains possession of the puck and the other team switches into defensive mode.

Reaching

As easy as face-offs might be to shoot in theory, I tend to snap my shutter too early or too late. If you shoot a face-off too early, some players won’t be in position or the linesman will be standing, not yet crouching with the puck at ready. If you shoot a face-off too late, the players have already darted off and you’re left with an image of empty ice where neatly aligned players used to be. The magical moment in a face-off is that split second after the linesman drops the puck and before it actually touches the ice. A puck in mid-drop is the ultimate freeze-frame: the illusion of time standing still.

Offense/defense

This weekend I find myself wishing life had a shutter-button you could snap to stop the drop of time’s puck in mid-air: a face-off, frozen. This week marks the end of one online teaching term and the immediate start of another, and I’m juggling end-term grading with the midterm paper-crunch from my face-to-face classes. When life gets busy, I find myself wishing I could hone my reflexes to freeze life at one still moment were I could squeeze more productive hours out of any given day: right here, right now, stop! Instead, time skates by like a lightning blur, never stopping for any linesman’s whistle. Life moves at the speed of quicksilver on ice, and only the eagle-eyed can spot the split-seconds of tranquility in its smooth passing.

Click here for the complete set of photos from last weekend’s hockey match-up between Boston College and the University of New Hampshire. It tells you something about the speed of life these days that I’m only now getting around to blogging photos from last weekend.

Two teams, one anthem

As much as J and I have enjoyed the half dozen Boston Bruins games we’ve already attended this year, there’s something refreshing about watching a good college hockey team.

Face-off

When we walked to Boston College for a men’s hockey game against Northeastern last year, I noted some of the differences between college and professional hockey. Boston College doesn’t serve beer at athletic events, so fans don’t come to get drunk. College referees strictly enforce rules against rough-housing, so fans don’t come to watch hockey fights. And although the BC pep band and mascot “Baldwin” are on hand to keep fans entertained, there are no Ice Girls. Fans at a college hockey game, in other words, are actually there to watch the game, which is a refreshing phenomenon in a town where championship-winning professional sports teams attract a lot of “bandwagon” fans who sit chatting or texting on their cell phones, clearly oblivious to the game.

Post-game congrats

They say there is no “I” in team, and lots of fans are fed up with professional athletes who lobby for higher salaries or pump themselves full of performance-enhancing drugs. Although some college athletes dream of making it to the big leagues, most realize their college degree, not their athletic ability, is their ticket to success. I wouldn’t root for professional teams if I thought all of their members were arrogant assholes; still, there’s something refreshingly sweet (if I dare use that word) about college sports. Before Friday night’s hockey game, all the members of both teams (not just the starters) lined in solemn rows for the national anthem; at the end of each period of play (not just at games’ end), players filed from the bench to fist-bump their goalie before heading to the locker room. At the conclusion of play, each team lined up to shake hands with their opponent: an official hat-tip to sportsmanship. There is no “I” in team, and even if you never make it to the majors, the lessons of teamwork and fair play will take you far in the game called “life.”

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, The Team. Click here for more pictures from Friday night’s Boston College men’s hockey game. Enjoy!

A sight no one wants to see

It’s a sight no one playing on or rooting for either team wants to see: a lone hockey player lying face-down, unmoving, long after play has continued down ice. At yesterday’s Boston Bruins game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Patrice Bergeron collided with opposing defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and lay on the ice for a heart-stopping handful of minutes while fans and players alike were silenced, holding our collective breath while watching for any sign of movement.

With a little help from his team

During that heart-stopping handful of minutes we all watched Bergeron’s lifeless body, I flashed through other heart-stopping Boston sports moments: the face-first slam against the boards that took Bergeron out for an entire season last October, for example, or the heartbreaking moment in 1995, when Travis Roy was paralyzed from the neck down only 11 seconds into his Boston University hockey career. Outside hockey, there’s the image of Celtics captain Reggie Lewis collapsing during an off-season basketball practice in 1993, dead from a sudden heart-attack at the age of 27. Sports fans thrill at the sight of honed bodies performing at their best; we don’t expect the young and strong to fall victim to the random vicissitudes of injury or accident.

Travis Roy (just like Superman!) went on to establish a charitable foundation for victims of spinal cord injuries, there is an inner-city track and athletic complex commemorating Reggie Lewis, and Patrice Bergeron eventually regained consciousness, slowly regained his feet, and skated off the ice with the help of a handful of teammates. There is, in other words, hope after any one of us–young or old, strong or weak, in shape or out–suffers injury or accident. In Zen, we say “fall down six times, get up seven”: it’s not about never failing, but always getting up to try again, and again, and again…somehow. You can’t keep a tough player down, especially if he has an entire team of friends helping him to his feet again, and that applies both on and off the ice, in hockey and beyond.

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!