How many of you actually recall your first hockey memory?
Obviously, this question is asked because we're a week into the shortened, post-lockout NHL season.
Although I don't actually have any memory of my first hockey experience, there is photographic evidence of it. I was young, maybe two or three, and the game was on the TV in my parents' Brentwood Avenue home.
I stood beside the TV, with a hockey stick in hand and what I can only assume is a bleach bottle on my head. The bottom was cut out and eyeholes carved into the plastic - an impromptu goalie mask.
One hopes my mom cleaned out all the bleach before Dad converted it into a mask that would make Jason Voorhees proud.
Like a lot of Canadian boys, I was part of a hockey league by age five or six. We were called the Kamloops Diggers. We won our division that year, so I retired undefeated. My claim to fame is a shutout during a stint as goalie.
Do you see a trend here?
Dad and I used to go to WHL games a lot. The Blazers didn't exist back then, but the Kamloops Oilers did. Games were played at the Memorial Arena. We all called it The Barn.
To tell the truth, those are some of my fondest memories growing up. I spent time with my dad, stayed up late on school nights, and watched some really good hockey. My Uncle Warren and cousin Andrew frequently joined us, making the games a family affair.
We had so much fun that I didn't mind when that old lady dumped her hot chocolate down the back of my jersey, though I never forgot it.
As I grew up and the Oilers became the Blazers and the team moved from the Memorial to the fancy, new Interior Savings Centre, my love affair with hockey waned. Life became busier, I moved away and travelled, and careers were established. In my case, four or five of them.
I didn't watch as much hockey on TV, either.
Then I found renewed interest during my days in journalism school when I would join Mark Hunter (now a Daily News sports reporter) and our classmates to play outdoor hockey at Henry Grube Education Centre. Guess what we did after those Saturday sessions? If your answer is watched Hockey Night in Canada, you're correct.
Which brings me to the point of this column. Hockey is back, following a lengthy lockout that annoyed some and alienated many. The question now is who's watching and who isn't?
I missed this season's first Canucks game because I was at the Mayor's Gala for the Arts last Saturday (good times, by the way), but I did manage to catch some action on Sunday.
There are people who won't watch because of the lockout. They have opted to support the Blazers and WHL instead, saying these are players who are young and hungry.
I agree. But I won't fault those fans who have tuned into the NHL since its return. Most fans I have spoken with don't care about the players, the owners or the league; they didn't miss them, they missed the sport. And, if they want to cheer on their favourite NHL team, they should be allowed to. If they want to watch a junior league, good on them too.
For a casual fan, like me, I'm going to watch hockey - be it the Canucks, the Storm or the Blazers. I never watched the sport because I idolized the players. I watched because it was something fun to do with my family and friends. I get a little nostalgic for that every time I tune into a game on TV or on those rare occasions when I get to see one in person.
My hope is I can pass that experience on to my son when he's old enough to understand what all those guys with knives on their feet are doing.
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