Sometime after the Sabres beat San Jose and the Olympic Break began, I wrote somewhere that people should make sure to keep any old Sabres games on their DVRs. You know, just in case you want something to watch while there was no hockey on.
Sometime during the fourth hockey game I watched last night I realized what an idiot I was. It’s been twelve days since the Sabres have played a game and I haven’t missed NHL hockey at all. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever watched so much hockey in such a short period of time. Three or four games a day for the last ten days? When did I think I would be sleeping, let alone watching old Sabres losses?
I think it’s easy to say with all the winning Ryan Miller is doing, but watching the tournament as a whole has been loads of fun. Most games have been close and the tension has been phenomenal. The players care about these games: it’s why they stopped hockey across the world to let this thing happen. They play hard, they hit hard, and they celebrate like it’s the most important thing they’ve ever been a part of. The enthusiasm is contagious, even if you couldn’t find Belarus on a map if you tried.
You can be cynical call it jingoistic if you like, but it’s a lot of fun to root for your country, too. The more I think about it the less it has to do with nationalism and the more it involves community. Suddenly all the other teams are on your side. All the teams you’ve grown to despise: the Flyers, the Rangers, the Devils; suddenly those fans are pulling for your team, too. It’s an odd feeling, but a welcome break from the traditional archetype of regional hatred we’ve grown used to.
More importantly, some of the players you’ve been taught to hate are on your side, too. I mean what’s Phil Kessel doing on my team? Surely this is some sort of mistake. We get Chris Drury back, too? Neat! Kate described rooting for Team USA as going to summer camp and falling in love. You know it’s temporary but right now you can’t get over how cool it feels.
Well, I never went to summer camp but I love the analogy. I’m very much okay with the relationship I have with the Sabres, but it is a lot of fun to appreciate what guys like Parise and Kessler bring to the table. I wish we had more of that in the players we have, but when camp ends they are gone. It’s a fleeting friendship, but the good news is that you get to drive back with Ryan Miller’s parents and they want you over for dinner three times a week until June.
So there, Mom and Dad, I was sad when you pulled away in the mini van and I know you worried about me every day, but you don’t have to anymore. I’m having a blast here at camp, and when it’s time to come home I’ll be ready to take out the garbage and clean my room again like a good boy. (Oh, and thanks for the care package. Norway was totally jealous of my fruit snacks.)
If anything Olympic hockey is doing an excellent job reminding me that I don’t just love the National Hockey League. I just love hockey, hockey of any sort played anywhere and at any time. Where people grow tired of midnight hockey games and players they’ve never heard of, I looked forward to “Moonlight Hockey” more than anything. It’s been fun to see who is still around overseas, how Jagr looks after bolting for the KHL, and which team has the best jersey.
I love the game of hockey more than I do the thought of Team USA winning gold, and I think that’s something I forgot at the onset of this tournament. I was dreading so many things about this Olympic Break. Ryan Miller’s lack of rest, the potential to get embarrassed, and the lack of hockey that “matters” to me. However those fears were completely unjustified: this tournament matters in a completely different way altogether and that’s exactly the point.
It’s a camp for gifted athletes where they hand out shiny things and a whole lot of bragging rights to the winners. As much as I tried to fight it at first, I can’t look away.