Zee Thoughts I Have

The Dec. 31 episode of Locked On Boston Bruins was all about Zdeno Chara. I prepared more notes for this episode than any other over the past 15 months, and I thought I’d post them here to actually make use of this website. Plus, it was the Joe Thornton trade that first pushed into writing my hockey feelings, and I thought it was only fitting to do the same for Zee 15 years later.

1. How it happened

Chara on Instagram:

“My family and I have been so fortunate to call the great city of Boston our home for over 14 years. Recently, The Boston Bruins have informed me that they plan to move forward with their many younger and talented players and I respect their decision. Unfortunately, my time as the proud Captain of the Bruins has come to an end.

I want to first of all thank the passionate and loyal Bruins fans, who shared the ups and downs of each season over the past 14 years. I’m proud that we were able to return the Stanley Cup to Boston and celebrating with all of you, in Boston, New England, and around the world, was a moment I will never forget. You all have treated my family and me as one of your own and I will always be grateful. Thank you.  

I would also like to thank all of the Bruins staff. The trainers, equipment staff, medical staff (all doctors, dentists and therapists), PR and hockey operations, the front office staff, arena staff, security and everyone who helped make the past 14 years so memorable. While there are too many names to mention, please know how sincerely grateful I am to each of you.

I want to thank the Jacobs family for the opportunity to represent the Bruins as their Captain. I am grateful and proud of everything we accomplished.

To all of my teammates throughout the years in Boston, I am so lucky to have a lifetime of memories that I will never forget. From the highest highs to the lowest lows, we were always a team, we were always there for each other and those bonds and friendships will never be forgotten.

My family and I will always cherish the strong friendships and connections we made here. From the beginning in 2006, we have been embraced by this community and made to feel welcome. We will always be grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the community and for the people who always supported me and my family.

As I begin this next chapter, I want the people of Boston to know how proud I was to be a Bruin and how grateful I am for all of the support over the years. “Thank you” does not seem adequate to express my sincere gratitude. I will always be a Bruin. I will always love Boston.

Thank you.

Zee”

“We are extremely pleased to have Zdeno join the Capitals organization,” said Capitals GM Brian MacLellan. “We feel his experience and leadership will strengthen our blueline and our team.”

2. How we got here:

Chara on Sept 3:

“I feel strong physically…I’m positive and I believe I can still play this game and contribute to the team and I want to stay in Boston. I want to be a Boston Bruin. I want to continue to lead by example and share my experiences and my game skills with the younger players and my teammates. That hasn’t changed. I’m committed. We’ll see what’s gonna happen next.

“I’m committed to the Boston Bruins. I’m committed to the Boston fans and the City of Boston,” said Chara. “I think I expressed that a number of times. I’m excited about the future of this team. We are gonna do whatever we can to win another Stanley Cup. I can’t really reflect on some of the rumors. I have not heard any of these rumors directly and I dismissed any comments or conversations about this matter [during the season] because it might cause unnecessary distractions to my teammates and the organization.

“I expressed to my agent that I would like him to meet with management and make that my priority, the sooner the better, and see what the future holds.”

Cam Neely on Dec. 21

“We do want to take a look at some of these young left-shot D’s that we have in our system, see if they can step up, or is it the time for them to step up and see where they’re at in their development,” Neely said. “We certainly respect Zdeno and everything he’s done for the organization and what he’s accomplished as a player and what he’s done both on and off the ice here in Boston.”

Neely added: “I still think we’d like to still explore our back end a little bit. Even though we feel we’ve got some guys that can step in, it’s just a matter of the experience piece that everybody likes, but you don’t get experience until you play.”

3. The Aftermath

Bruins GM Don Sweeney

“The single most unrewarding phone call I had [on Wednesday], to hear from [agent] Matt [Keator] and speak with Zdeno in what his decision ended up being,” Sweeney said during a video conference on Thursday morning. “Zdeno…he walks in his own shadow, literally and figuratively. It was extremely difficult to go through the whole process…this extended over months and we gave him all the latitude in the world to make what was ultimately his decision, he and his family’s decision alone.

“I wanted to make sure that we did that with the utmost respect that we possibly could…Zdeno is forever a member of the Boston Bruins and will be enshrined in both the Hall of Fame and, in my humble opinion, in the rafters amongst the greatest to ever wear a Boston Bruins uniform.

“I want to make sure it’s abundantly clear that we had multiple, multiple discussions with Zdeno and Matt Keator,” said Sweeney. “Very appreciative of all the dialogue and both sides being honest in terms of where they were. We had certainly offered a contract to Zdeno months ago and he indicated he wanted time to continue to work through, again, where he felt he was at, where the league was at and the return to play protocols, and the role we were describing and hoping to integrate him into with our hockey club.”

Sweeney added that the club was up front with Chara about its desire to “to integrate some of the younger players that have had an opportunity to develop in our system and us trying to see whether they were capable of handling minutes and situations that they had not been exposed to.” He also said that the Bruins did not lay out any specific parameters during the negotiations in regard to a number of games or minutes that Chara would be assigned moving forward.

“We describe it as an integrated role and just didn’t make a categorical promise that he would have the exact same role that he had had in his 14 [seasons] – a historic career with the Boston Bruins,” Sweeney went on to explain. “I was very sad. It’s an unrewarding aspect of the job to see a player like that choose to leave.”

Capital D Zdeno Chara

“I want to mention that I believe Don Sweeney negotiated in good faith, and I appreciated the way everything was communicated to me and he was very open to me,” Chara said. “We had a number of conversations, he made it clear what conditions and what role I would be taking with the organization if I returned.

“But I just felt what was presented to me and what conditions were attached to it, I just felt that I had more to offer and I respect their decisions and wish them the best. But I just felt I can still play regularly and play the games and I have no issues with them going a different direction, I just feel like for me at this point in my career it’s better if I continue to play.”

“I respect the way it was communicated to me. We had a number of conversations,” Chara said. “Early on, it was probably a little bit unknown what the role would be, but as the conversations progressed toward the end, it was very clear to me that I would not be in the starting lineup for the season or starting some games or playing some back-to-back games. I would be more of a reserve type of player. 

“I have no issue with that, and a lot of credit to Don Sweeney for how he handled the situation. For me, I felt it would be a better fit for me if I find a better role with another team and step aside and let the Bruins go with the direction they chose to do.”

4. Career to date

(Via Capitals’ website):

Chara, 43, recorded 14 points (5g, 9a) in 68 games with the Boston Bruins last season. The Trencin, Slovakia, native registered 3:11 of penalty kill time per game to rank 11th in the NHL and help the Bruins to the third best penalty kill percentage last season (84.3). Chara also finished second among Bruins defensemen in blocked shots (101). 

Prior to joining Washington, Chara was the longest-tenured captain in the league, having worn the “C” for the Bruins since his first season in Boston in 2006-07. Standing 6-foot-9 and weighing 250 pounds, he is also the tallest player to ever play in the NHL. Chara is entering his 23rd career season in the NHL. Among active NHL players, Chara ranks first in plus/minus (+288), time on ice (37,128:55), penalty minutes (1,956), third in games played (1,553) and ninth in shots (3,271). He is one of six Bruins to appear in at least 1,000 games (1,023), and his 481 points (148g, 333a) rank third among Bruins defensemen in franchise history, behind Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506) and Bobby Orr (888).

In 1,553 career regular season games with the Bruins, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators – the sixth-most games in NHL history among defensemen – Chara has 656 points (205g, 451a).

A Stanley Cup champion with Boston in 2011, Chara became the second European-born captain to win the Stanley Cup (Nicklas Lidstrom) and the first from a country behind the Iron Curtain (Czechoslovakia). Chara has recorded 70 points (18g, 52a) in 195 playoff games, the ninth-most playoff games by a defenseman in NHL history and the most among active defensemen. 

Over his 22-year NHL career, Chara has received several individual accolades. He was awarded the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman in 2008-09 after recording a career-high 19 goals and 31 assists in 80 games with Boston. He was the recipient of the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2010-11 for his exemplary leadership both on and off the ice. He was named to the NHL First All-Star Team three times (2003-04, 2008-09, 2013-14), the Second All-Star Team four times (2005-06, 2007-08, 2010-11, 2011-12) and is a six-time NHL All-Star (2002-03, 2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2011-12). He was also the recipient of the Golden Puck as Slovakia’s Player of the Year three times (2008-09, 2010-11, 2011-12).

Chara has represented his home country of Slovakia in international play on several occasions, including three Olympics (2006, 2010, 2014), in which he has scored one goal and five assists in 17 games. Most recently, Chara served as alternate captain for Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, notching two goals in six games to help lead the team to a second-place finish to Team Canada. 

Chara was originally selected by the New York Islanders in the third round (56th overall) of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.

5. personal Reflection

I was gutted when the Bruins traded Joe Thornton in 2005. After the Cam Neely / Ray Bourque eras had come to an end, he was the future, my next pillar of Bruins fandom. That all came crashing down, but less than a year later the Bruins took advantage of a poor decision by the Ottawa Senators and convinced the Big Man to be their next big thing.

For the past 14 years, Chara has typified what it means to be a Bruins on and off the ice. He was big and mean and excelled at both ends of the ice, and he was also kind and welcoming and created a no bullshit culture in the locker room (sometimes at the expense of looser canons who didn’t quite fit the new mold). He won a Norris, a Stanley Cup, recorded the fastest shot in NHL history, served as his country’s flag bearer at the 2014 Olympics, signed extension after extension, played in the Cup Final with a broken GD jaw, and came painfully close to finishing his career the right way – as a Stanley Cup champion. 

But as we all know, storybook endings aren’t the norm, and here we are a week away from training camp with a bunch of question marks on the blue line and Chara in Washington.

The Bruins committed to Matt Grzelyck, signed Jakub Zboril to a 1-way deal, Jeremy Lauzon and Urho are Vaikannainen looking for reps, John Moore is still a thing, and Connor Clifton and Kevan Miller are there to round out the right side after Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

The Bruins also have $2,982,686 in cap space and may still be looking to add via signing or trades.

From my perspective, as long as Chara wanted to play for the organization, you let him stick around. Youth movements need mentors. I’m honestly fine with giving Zboril and Lauzon and Vaak a look on the left side – these are 1st and 2nd round picks and there could and should be something there. But it didn’t have to come at the expense of one the greatest Bruins of all time.

In fact you could easily argue the kids would be much better off long term with him around this season. Like I’ve been saying for weeks, he’s a valuable 3rd pair, penalty killing defenseman who could be deployed late in games when the opposing goalie is pulled.

Quite simply, Chara should have finished his career in black and gold.

I still think the Bruins are fine up front and in net, and there’s still time and cap space to make adjustments on defense before and during the season. Big picture, though: Torey Krug is gone, Tuukka Rask and David Krejci are one year away from free agency, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand aren’t getting any younger. The Bruins as we’ve known them over the past decade and a half are nearing the end, and gord knows what lies on the other side. Neely and Sweeney have made their decisions and are committing to seeing what they have in prospects they’ve drafted and developed.

If it doesn’t pay off, it will likely cost them their jobs if the building process ends up amounts to a house of cards.

That’s it for today’s special episode of Locked On Boston Bruins. We will be back on Monday January 4th on a daily basis and with all the latest from training camp.

Introducing Locked On Boston Bruins

As I’ve been pounding home ad nauseam on Twitter, I’m incredibly excited to soon be hosting a new daily Boston Bruins podcast.

I recently recorded a trailer, which you can listen to by clicking here:

LOBB

For the readers among us, here’s the transcript to help get you acquainted with what you can expect.

Hello and welcome to the Locked on Boston Bruins Podcast, part of the Locked On Podcast Network. My name is Ian McLaren and I am excited and honoured to be the host of this new daily podcast about all things Spoked B. You can follow me on Twitter @iancmclaren and the podcast @LO_BostonBruins.

Listen and follow for free on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, Pocket Casts or wherever you listen to podcasts, and you can play Locked on Boston Bruins on your smart speakers by saying play podcast Locked on Boston Bruins.

So what are we doing here?

Your favorite hockey team. Every Day. That’s the simple but powerful premise Locked On was founded on. Going forward, you can expect around 25-30 minutes on the latest in Bruins news,  and insights. And don’t worry – I won’t be going it alone every day. I’ll be connecting with talented folks who cover the team in person on a daily basis for their unique perspectives.

Why me?

I feel very fortunate to be able to host this show.n I have been following this team for 30 years or so, and the Bruins are without question my No. 1 sports love. 

I started writing about them several years ago for The Hockey Writers and SB Nation. That experience – and some other independent hockey writing – helped me secure a position as an NHL News Editor for theScore, which I held for 5 seasons. Through theScore, I was able to cover the league from afar on a daily basis, and I also had the opportunity to cover Mark Recchi’s Hockey Hall of Fame inductions and Toronto Maple Leafs practice.

I also hosted my own podcast, through which I was able to interview the likes of Rich Peverley, Kelly McDavid, and Canadian celebrities Jeremy Taggart and Jonathan Torrens.

Speaking of which, this won’t be an exclusively hockey podcast. As an avid pop culture enthusiast, you can expect references to TV, movies, books and music, and the odd dad joke as well.

But first and foremost, this is a black and gold zone, a daily Boston Bruins podcast where will we answer questions like:

  • How much gas does Chara have left?
  • Why is Patrice Bergeron so perfect?
  • Is it Zach Senyshyn season?
  • What 2nd line winger will Sweeney acquire before the trade deadline this season?
  • How good can Charlie McAvoy be?

I’m very excited to get started, it’s going to be a blast and I hope you all enjoy this first season with me. Please subscribe, rate and review, and tell your Bruins-loving friends about this great new show Locked on Boston Bruins.

It all gets started on Sept. 30, a few days before the season opener.

Let’s. Go.

5 simple suggestions for enjoying NHL training camps

In years past, I was very plugged into NHL training camps. This, however, will be my second fall out of the full-time hockey writing game.

Last September, I was lamenting my (lack of) place in the game, but stumbled upon some cool writing opportunities and hot through it. This year, I’ll be back writing here, there and anywhere, and am just trying to have some fun out there.

Sadly, we’re still a few weeks out from the regular season. Here’s some tips on how to get through the way too long training camp and seemingly endless exhibition schedule.

5 suggestions

  1. Don’t freak out over line combinations and defensive pairings. The preseason is very fluid, things can and will change before opening night. Let the coaches tinker.
  2. Root for the guys who likely won’t make the squad. Exhibition games can be boring as hell, but for some of these players, it’s the only time this season they’ll put on NHL jerseys. Cheer like hell when they score and hope they make enough of an impression to beat the odds.
  3. Don’t judge the kids too harshly. There’ll be a lot of rookies out there trying to impress, some of whom will succeed and fail to varying degrees. Go easy on the ones who fall into the latter camp.
  4. Remember who can end up where. Here’s a good primer on why some young players can be assigned to the AHL while others have to be returned to their junior clubs. It’ll help you avoid misassigning players on Twitter.
  5. Pray for trades. There’s still plenty of unsigned RFAs out there, and several teams looking to create cap space, dump contracts or add to the roster. Trades make any day much more entertaining. Give me as many as possible.

What did I miss?

“What the hell is life apart from moments?”

The only thing the sport gives us are moments. But what the hell is life, Peter, apart from moments?

September 1. Where did the summer go?

It began for me with a pair of massive sports moments that fell on opposite ends of the spectrum – a crushing defeat and a first time championship.

Those moments have remained with me over the past few months. I felt joy whenever I put on my Raptors lid or championship t-shirt, and wondered if it was too soon to don any black and gold in public.

Thankfully, the summer was filled with moments that made me forget about sports. A quiet bench by the lake, picnics on beaches at conservation areas, a visit to my parents’ cabin, a week at church camp with our oldest son, another in Ottawa with two of the boys, fun times at Wonderland, trips and bike rides to the corner store.

raps.PNG

The quote above is another great one from Beartown and delivered by Ramona, the town barkeep. It reminded me of Pete Holmes and his adoption of the mantra “yes, thank you.” This excerpt from a recent GQ article explains what that’s all about:

It’s a mantra that Holmes began to use after he noticed his inability to be present. He’d find himself at a museum or in a garden near his home, and instead of enjoying his surroundings, he’d find himself stressed about making sure he saw the right paintings, or comparing every tree he saw to another he’d seen before. He calls this “running the program:” going into the oh-so-human mode of judging, evaluating, or interpreting what you’re seeing—instead of just experiencing it as it is.

Saying “yes, thank you” is Holmes’ way of being grateful for things exactly as they are, something he learned, at least in part, from Ram Dass, an important teacher of his. And as you find out in his book—a spiritual manifesto disguised as a very funny memoir—this was particularly important for a man who, still in his twenties, got divorced, began to question the Christian faith within which he was raised, and had something of an existential crisis.

Those huge shake-ups caused a lot of pain, obviously, but they also helped him understand that you don’t just say “yes, thank you” to the trees and white roses. You have to say yes to the challenges, too. That’s how you make friends with the constant, inescapable changes that define human life.

What the hell is life apart from all the moments, both good and bad? Nothing.

Bruins lose, Raptors win: “yes, thank you.”

One summer day with my kids is bright and full of sunshine and laughter, another is replete with challenges and doubts about my abilities as a parent: “yes, thank you.”

Seasons come, seasons go: “yes, thank you.”

Moments are all we have. Embrace each one. Good and bad.

Beartown Thoughts: “Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion”

What follows is one of the most powerful quotes from Frederick Backman’s Beartown.

Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard, It makes demands. Hate is simple. So the first thing that happens in a conflict is that we choose a side, because that’s easier than trying to hold two thoughts in our heads at the same time. The second thing that happens is that we seek out facts that confirm what we want to believe – comforting facts, ones that permit life to go on as normal. The third is that we dehumanize our enemy.

 

Beartown Thoughts_ _Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion_

 

It’s important to note the context, though, before digging in. This comes at a part in the book where a junior hockey player has sexually assaulted the team manager’s daughter, and as the fallout from this horrific act begins to spiral. I’m therefore going to share some old thoughts on hockey fandom that tie into it, as well as on hockey culture in general.

First, let’s talk about why things are the way they are in regards to hockey fandom, and discussions around the sport in general.

Jeff Marek made an interesting point on the MvsW podcast back in the day that speaks to a divisive nature that is all too prevalent. His basic premise was that sports marketing and culture is set up to create and “us vs them” mentality, and that this is expressed most clearly in the use of “(Blank) Nation” or “(Blank) Army” or “(Blank)Fam” *barf* to describe a fan base.

What this does is establish a mobilization of the fans wherein we feel as though we are actually part of the battle, so to speak. We follow and support the cause of our favourite teams, and feel intimately linked to the outcomes that befall them. If they win, we take to the streets to celebrate; if they lose, we feel like our home and native land has been invaded and pillaged, leaving us wander aimlessly until the battle picks up again.

The fallacy here, of course, is that what will be will be, regardless of how we personally feel about the team in question. Our attachments to our teams and the players are mostly peripheral, in the sense that we likely have no personal knowledge of or attachment to the actual people who are playing the game.

We pay money for tickets, jerseys and cable packages, investing in war bonds if you will, but we don’t affect the outcomes of the games, Bartman notwithstanding.

Again, regardless of what happens, it’s not a reflection of who we are personally; if they win, we cheer but the accolades are not ours, and if we lose, it stinks but the failure is also not really ours.

Another thing that this mobilization does is create a black and white way of looking at the world. We get so drawn in to the cause that the lines between right and wrong or good and bad are blurred.

For example, if Player X on Team Y commits an egregious act either on or off the ice, we rightfully demand that he be held accountable. BUT, sometimes if Player Z on our favourite teams commits a similar act, well then we spin it any which way to make it out to be not so bad, that the world is just out to get him/us.

In short, mobilized fan bases creates “us vs them” and “black and white” thinking, often allowing emotion to trump logic and decency.

So how do we get around this?

I can only speak about my own situation, but here are two ways in which I’ve been able to balance being a fan, enjoying the game and reconciling my place within its often toxic culture.

First, over the past several years, I’ve dipped my toes into the hockey writer pool. While whether or not I’m any good at it is very much up for debate, what I’ve learned through the process is the importance of trying to maintain a level head, to look at situations from all sorts of angles, and to remain as reasonable and logical as possible when watching games and analyzing news.

Obviously that’s easier said than done, especially for a hetero white dude who’s been conditioned to wear a loyal fan hat in all circumstances, reason be damned.

But the reality is that approaching the game from a position of responsibility and with a view to building credibility lends itself to being more honest, more realistic, less attached, less emotionally engaged in the success or failure of the team, way more reluctant to Stan players no matter what trouble they get into.

An old boss of mine used to say to me “it’s not whether or you not you disagree, but how.” There’s no question that I will, at times, see things through the lenses I’ve been conditioned to use, as any fan of any team will. It’s OK to disagree about what happens on and off the ice, the merits of roster composition and fancy stats or which team won a trade, but if one is not prepared to step aside and admit that their biases and preconceived notions might be off, then it’s game over and there’s no point in continuing the conversation.

The second big part of it for me is my current stage of life. I’m 38, married, and have 3 boys age 9 and under, all of whom are playing the game at some level.

I want my boys to appreciate and love the game the way I do, and I also want them to be good people, to respect others, to think and care about the things in life that really matter.

What kind of example would I be setting if they saw me getting worked up about a hockey game to the point where I can’t speak to friends and family, or started cursing out guys on TV or Twitter, or losing sleep over the outcome of a game or playoff series?

Additionally, how could I tell them “hockey is for everyone” if I sit back and accept the ongoing ostracism and outright rejections of women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ community?

But what I’m trying to learn and subsequently demonstrate to my boys is that you can be a loyal fan and a good person, enjoying the game for what all games are supposed to be – FUN and INCLUSIVE!

Even more than that, your team can lose and you can be happy for the fans of the OTHER team because you know they care as much as you do.

I want to be known as someone who enjoys being a fan of this team, who enjoys watching the game I love, and who’s able to allow all others to do so in relation to their team of choice in any way they see fit. Not only that, but we also need to empathize with those that hockey continues to shun or disregard, standing up for what is good and right in the face of a way-too-slow-to-change culture.

All this to say, I love hockey, but it’s only hockey.

And hockey should never take precedence over being a decent and loving human being.

Introducing Beartown

It’s no secret that two of my great loves in life are hockey and books.

So when I first heard about Beartown, I was all in.

For those who don’t know, it’s the story of a middling Swedish junior team in an industrial town, both of which are slowly but surely dying out in favour of bigger and brighter markets.

This year’s Beartown team, however, is on the verge of contending for a national championship, thanks to a star talent, a tight supporting cast, a young and unexpected contributor, and a former NHLer who returned home to manage hometown club.

As we all know, hockey is a beautiful game that’s all too often sullied by the boys club culture that’s built up around it, and Beartown doesn’t escape the ugly effects. As a result, this book becomes less about the game and more about the people and their failures and successes, rights and wrongs, virtues and victimization both on and off the ice.

Author Frederick Backman weaves it all together with masterful storytelling and careful exposition, and I’m excited to read this book again and share some thoughts about it here as my part of my Beartown Book Club.

I grabbed my copy today and invite you to read along (both the book and my posts) and share your thoughts in the comments below and on Twitter.

I’ve got one book to finish, and will start later this week, so no rush picking up. Once you do, you won’t be able to put it down.

Beartown book club

Beartown (Beartown, #1)With Disney announcing so much new content for their streaming service, it got me wishing for a Mighty Ducks reboot but with a Friday Night Lights meets hockey vibe.

That reminded me that HBO Europe is developing a Swedish-language series adaptation of Beartown, the best-selling novel by Fredrik Backman.

Then I remembered it’s been way too long since I read that amazing book.

So, while we continue to wait for hockey to start up again here in North America, I’m going to work my way through it again, posting some thoughts on here from time to time.

I’d love for you to join me! Please feel free to read along and comment here or on Twitter as I post.

If you love hockey and have yet to experience this book, you won’t regret it; if it’s a second, third or fourth reading, you’ll still get something out of it. I know I do every time I pick it up.

Let’s Beartown together, shall we?

 

 

What draws me to hockey

Working as a full-time hockey writer changed the way I look at hockey.

When you have to cover all the teams and players objectively, you really begin to shed the binary nature of hockey fandom.

It’s no longer about “us vs. them.” You actually begin to appreciate and even root for  teams and players that you would not have in the past.

That was my experience, at least, because what draws me to hockey the most is the stories the game produces.

As I’ve written before, my love for hockey grew strong through the 90s, and I’ve been captivated by the stories the sport has told ever since.

Stanley Cup championships, great players, not-so-great players that I loved regardless, trades, signings, coaching hirings and firings, and on it goes – all these stories captivated me then (and still do), and I pored over the sports section every morning not for the box scores, but rather the quotes, player profiles and rumours du jour.

Look, it’s not hard to see how messed this sport can be. Despite declaring it to be fully so, the NHL clearly is not yet for everyone, and hockey culture has a ways to go before women, people of colour and the LGBTQI community feels welcome, supported and appreciated.

There are moments when I’ve been tempted to walk away from a sport that doesn’t know what it has in these faithful fans, but I can never quite pack it in.

A couple years ago, I pitched a story for theScore that was fairly well received – Season in a sentence: 1 positive storyline for every NHL team. It was so fun and rewarding to write, I did it again on this prior to last season.

That’s the stuff that keeps me coming back to this game.

Here’s a couple more recent examples for good measure.

Full disclosure: I’m not yet over Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and as much as I don’t want it to bother me, I cringe at the thought of Boston losing to St. Louis. And then I think about what that win meant for Lalia Anderson, and it all gets put back in perspective.

And let’s not forget the game itself can be magical to watch. Again, I use another instance where my favourite team was at the wrong end of things. Yes, shit went off the rails between these two players off the ice, but how can you watch this and not fall in love with hockey?

This all doesn’t tell the whole story, but it’s a start.

Being a hockey fan can be maddening and upsetting, but I truly believe it’s the greatest sport in the world and I’m happy to be a very tiny part of the community.

Here’s to making it a better place in 2019-20.