Sunday, April 11, 2010

Time to Come Back to the NHL - JMR's Redemption Part 1

It's time to come back.

"Is it OK if I wear this hat?"  I ask my 7 year old son as I show him my Hartford Whalers wool Starter baseball cap.  I don't want to embarrass the boy, but I bought this hat in 1996 at the Whalers Pro Shop located at the long since razed Civic Center Mall, and I want to wear it.  I've only worn it sparingly since April 1997.  And it makes me sad to see it nowadays.  Not teary-eyed - mind you - the tears stopped on April 13, 1997, just sad. 

"Will you take it off before we get to the game?"  He asks me as he pulls on his Boston Bruins jersey while we're driving to the game.  Uh, no - that's the point.  We're going to see the Boston Bruins play the Carolina Hurricanes in Boston for the Bruins' last regular season home game.  I swore off hockey that day almost 13 years ago, and if I'm going to subject myself to a game, I'm wearing this hat.  My Brendan Shanahan jersey was thrown out (all right I taped over his name with the word "Traitor" first) shortly after his trade to the Red Wings for Keith Primeau.  What a jerk.

My favorite players growing up were Rick Ley and Gordie Howe.  An autographed hockey stick and hockey puck somewhere evidence that idoltry.  The Whalers practice rink was located in my hometown and I was able to see some of their practices.  (Thanks, Dad for that.)  I went to games in Springfield after the Civic Center roof collapsed in 1978.  I witnessed 6 straight First Round exits through the Adams Division, including a wonderful first round against these same Boston Bruins highlighted by me relaying the play by play for friends using my walkman.  I had beers at the Russian Lady, Coach's and Chuck's Steakhouse before games and great Mexican food at Margaritas after.  I bought season tickets with my Brother that fateful year that they had to get 13,000 season tickets to stay in Hartford, even though I lived in Boston at the time.  I was too young to remember much about the WHA days, but if you want to know something about the 1980's or 1990's version of the Hartford Whalers, I was your man.

"Is it okay if I root for the Bruins?" He then asks me.  Thinking that I might make him to root for somone else.  I don't blame him.  I was gritting my teeth for most of the ride in.  It was the traffic, I told myself.  He then adds "Are we almost there?  I don't want to miss any of the game!"  I enjoy it when he's genuinely excited about something.  Even if, when he says "game," he actually means "popcorn."

"That's fine." I tell him. "You know, you'll probably save me from having beer dumped on me again, like the last time I went to a Bruins game."  I then recount how I received tickets back in 1998 for a Bruins playoff game against the Carolina Hurricanes and was treated - well let's gently say - unfairly by the hometown fans.  I can just hear the yawn coming from the back seat, though.

1997 was a tough year.  I witnessed the Whalers' last game when Kevin Dineen scored the game winning goal to win 2-1 over the Lightning.  The players applauded us and threw jerseys into the stands as the entire Brass Bonanza played for the remaining diehards crying in their seats.  They had to change their name from "New England" to enter the NHL in 1979.  They lost their home after the aforementioned Civic Center collapse.  Their GM traded their best player (Ron Francis) to curry favor with the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins in order to get a job a few years later with them and Brendan Shanahan pulled a Terrell Owens to get out of town in 1995.  But this was the toughest one.  After that game, hockey meant practically nothing to me.  It was dead.

12:30pm.  Boston, MA.  I'm surprised.  Except for numerous double glances at my hat, no one stops to make fun of me.  Maybe they pity me.  Considering its been 13 years since the Whalers moved to North Carolina, I don't blame them for taking pity on me.  As we sit down in our seats, I see two women fully decked out in Bruins gear coming into our row.  Okay, let's see what they will have to say when I show them the hat.

"Excuse me sir.  Our seats our next to yours."  They hiss. 

Actually they were very pleasant.  They were in fact amused by my son investigating the fresh squeezed lemonade (with half a lemon inside) like it was a hydrogen bomb as they walked by.  At the same time, I scan the seats around me looking for old Whalers jerseys.  Blue and (mostly) Green forever I tell my son; Blue and Green forever.  I don't think he heard me since I find him staring out at the rink.  After I told him that we may get a puck, he examines the glass and ice to see at which angles a puck might come whizzing by our seats. 

Referees and players start mulling around; it's almost game time.  We listen to Rene Rancourt "sing" the National Anthem and the PA announcer go "woo."  Game time.  I start sipping on my beer while my son starts eating a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup.  We're both ready for this game, but for different reasons.

Part 2 - JMR's redemption, but how does it turn out? Coming Later.

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