Just a year ago, I wasn’t all that into hockey. Both my husband and son played in several leagues, but the sport did not appeal to me. My daughter played volleyball, and that felt more like my speed. But COVID-19 delayed the volleyball championships and cut her club season short, leaving us with little to do outside the house and few live sports to watch. That year, we watched the Stanley Cup playoffs as a family, and thus began my obsession with hockey. (Or, as my husband likes to say, my transition to “bona fide hockey junkie.”)
A New Appreciation
As someone who once knew only what the Stanley Cup was and that recreational hockey is expensive, especially when you first start out, terms like “cross-checking,” “penalty kill,” and “icing” meant nothing to me. Now, they are part of my family's everyday conversation. Discussions about when our favorite TV shows return have shifted to the current hockey season, including my family’s fantasy league. Every day, I am the first member of my household to check the ESPN Fantasy app and adjust my roster according to who the experts say will play, who is out or on Injured Reserve, etc. We are entering week three, and to my amusement, I've earned the most points to date. My daughter is a close second. My husband and son, far more knowledgeable about player stats and abilities, trail us by more than 20 points.
As much as I've come to love this sport, the best part is the family bond it fostered. I never imagined this would be the unifier in my household. We sit down together as a family to watch games like many other families sit down to dinner. (And, yes, we do that, too.) We even plan "bar food" meals to accompany the days in which multiple games are on TV. Snacking on pretzel bites or nachos as we jump from game to game reminds me of my childhood when my dad, brother, and I lined up TVs in our basement to watch college bowl games on New Year's Day.
I always thought hockey games were tedious, as fans awaited the rare opportunity for their team to score. But now I see the complexities in the lines and the ability demonstrated in the player’s reflexes, agility, and speed. I watch in awe as they get hit in the face or block a shot and still return to the ice, bloody and bruised. The intensity, strength, and skill required to compete at the premiere level are unparalleled. I've even started helping set lines and run the defense for one of the rec leagues, something I never could have imagined myself doing until now.
What the Future Holds
Like everything else in our world, COVID-19 impacted hockey. This season marks the first return to a normal schedule since before the pandemic. The enthusiasm when the home team scores, the boos for previous players whenever they touch the puck, the collective angry chants at the refs… The energy in the stadiums is electric, no matter which team you root for.
I don’t know what will happen after they award the Stanley Cup this season. My oldest will start college, and I can only hope we continue our fantasy league despite the differences in location. It's an excellent conversation starter, especially with teenagers who prefer to converse with us old folks as little as possible.
We are early in the season now, and how our favorite teams and fantasy league rosters fare remains to be seen. I plan to savor every moment of this season, observing the extraordinary saves and goals, marveling at each player's ability to get up and rejoin the game after a hard hit, and staying on top of my fantasy roster. This may be the last time my husband and I share the same space with both kids, but I can say one thing with certainty: hockey united us in a way I never expected.