Or: My Journey To That One Glorious Nation
Pick a team. That’s what everyone says when you first begin watching a sport. If you don’t have a team to care about then you really won’t care at all. So I picked…. The Washington Capitals!! Woot! Woot! Good team, and consistent winners. But as a Canadian, it’s hard to cheer for a non-Canadian team, at least at the beginning. So after not really caring for a few games, I switched my allegiance to... The Vancouver Canucks!! Woot! Woot! I already knew Luongo from the Olympics, and I have some family in Vancouver, so I thought it would work for me. It did not. I live in Ottawa, and Canucks games are on way too late for my old lady blood. Plus watching the Canucks play always bored me. At least at that time. So I went Eastward to pick my team.
"Why not the Sens?" you may ask? Well, something about the Sens just rankles me, and I could never bring myself cheer for them. Throughout this entire team identity crisis, however, I was slowly learning the game by having my BF explain Leafs games to me. In retrospect it was only natural that I began to cheer for them. They were the team I watched the most, and were firmly ensconced in the bottom of the league. I have always loved an underdog, and so a new Leafs fan was born.
Getting into the Game
I won’t bore you with the tedious details of actually learning the rules of hockey. (FYI: They seem exceedingly simple until you’re actually watching a game.) But what I found to be the hardest part was figuring out who all these guys were on the ice. Yes, I’m aware that their names are on the back and the numbers are usually visible, but when you're just learning it’s hard to keep track. It’s fine to say now “Oh number 8, that’s Komisarek. Nice hit!” But when you don’t know any players, you think “Oh, number 8. Isn’t that Kessel? Why’s he so deep in the defensive zone?” And that’s assuming you know both Kessel and the defensive zone. I did not.
So I eased myself into it all. First, I picked a favourite player. I went with Jonas Gustavsson. This was part strategy. As a goalie, he was always on the ice and always in the same place. And if he moved around or something, the distinctive goalie gear made him easy to spot. More importantly, Gustavsson was at the centre of his own little drama when I started watching. His heart was giving him some problems and he had to go through two separate heart surgeries. That’s right. His heart was broken. He was broken-hearted. Literally. This obviously appealed to my deeply romantic self, so Gustavsson became my favourite Leaf.
And there I was. I had a favourite team, I had a favourite player, and I knew the basics of hockey. The next logical step was to attend an actual game. Living in Ottawa, this was easy. Sens fans aren’t really fans, so tickets are reasonably affordable and usually available. As my first live NHL experience I attended a Leafs/Sens game. So did every other Leafs fan in the area; the arena was packed full of folks in the blue and white, and a deafening chorus of “Go Leafs Go!” drowned out the feeble cries of “Go Sens Go.” At this time I also discovered an additional reason to hate the Sens. They charge between $50 and $100 more for tickets to Sens/Leafs games then they do for any other Sens games. (I suspect they do the same for the Habs games, but I’ve never cared enough to check.) Real classy Sens, taking advantage of your only paying customers. But I digress.
After that live game I was hooked! Hockey is a fast paced, smart, and fun game to watch! Go Leafs Go!