Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lord Stanley, A Long Time Ago

Greetings Friends,

I'm going to wax rhapsodic about hockey today. It's my blog and I can wax if I want to.

There are three things every legitimate hockey fan should be able to do. First, you should be able to recite the dialogue from Slapshot verbatim. Second, you should be able to sing the Canadian National Anthem, even if you are an American. Third, you should believe that the Stanley Cup is the closest you'll ever get to the mythical Holy Grail. Why? Because.

The Stanley Cup, or, as it was originally inscribed, the Dominion Challenge Hockey Cup, was given to the Dominion of Canada by Lord Stanley of Preston, Canada's Governor General from 1888 to 1893. I'll forgo the storied history of the chalice in favour of what it means to hockey fans: it is the Holy Grail of our game.

The Stanley Cup stands head-and-shoulders above the trophies awarded to other major sports champions. I may be a bit biased, but anyone who has ever seen the Stanley Cup in person will agree with me. It lives, it breathes, and if it could talk, the stories it would tell would be epic. I like to think that when it's sitting atop its pedestal in the Hockey Hall of Fame here in Toronto, it holds court in the middle of the night when there's nobody around. The pencil-etched plaques bearing the images of former players, referees, journalists and builders all come to life and they sit around unraveling the yarns of yesteryear. I love those types of stories. I am a hockey fan who has no choice but to live in the past, because the last time my favourite team had their mitts wrapped around the Holy Grail was almost thirty years ago. In fact, the first time they won the trophy was May 24, 1980.

I'm referring to the New York Islanders. My former team, my former life, my former champions. I was 13 years old on May 24, 1980 when the Islanders beat the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime to win the Cup. It was the most ecstatic I've ever felt, and sadly, I doubt the ecstasy I felt on that day will ever be felt again. I came pretty close to it in 1986 when the New York Mets won their first championship since 1969. But, I was also insanely jealous of my boyfriend, who was there at Shea Stadium to witness the glory in person, while I had to watch it on television.

The order of my sports fandom will always be hockey first, baseball second. Unfortunately, both the Islanders and the Mets have struggled mightily since their days of championship glory. As disappointed as I am in the Mets' lack of success, the Islanders' plight is akin to a mortal injury. There has been a metaphorical hole in my heart for so many years that I have just about given up. I no longer live in New York, but these days, that's no excuse to abandon my team. The reason for my abandonment stems from all the ancillary idiocy that has surrounded the team for more than two decades. Inept ownership, incompetent management, and local political corruption has stripped the Islanders of every fibre of glory they could lay claim to. It's all gone, and it saddens me beyond consolation. I have no choice but to walk away.

I'm overdue for a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame. When I go, I like to visit with the Cup, and run my fingers over the engraved names of my favourite Islanders players. I will gaze at the plaques of Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Clark Gillies, Al Arbour and Bill Torrey. Their names mean little to most Canadians, but these Canadian men brought much joy to this Canadian girl when she lived in America. It was a joy that will never be recaptured, but the memories will always live on.

This year, Lord Stanley's Cup will wind up in the hands of either the Philadelphia Flyers or the Chicago Blackhawks. Each player on the winning team will get to take it home for a few days, to do whatever it is you do with the Cup when it is in your possession. Typically, the Cup will make public appearances in players' hometowns, go on a few fishing trips, be used as a punch bowl, and whatever else giddy hockey players, their friends and family members can think up to do with it. The stories will no doubt be priceless. What I wouldn't give to hear them.


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