Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hockey is back!

Aren't you thrilled? I am!

The NHL version of hockey is still stuck in a protracted lockout, which I have my fingers in my ears about because it's otherwise too depressing when they're all "We're thiiiiiiisss close to an agreement! AHAHAH! Just kidding!" As I have actual knowledge of how negotiations should work (thanks, useless law school education!), it's all the more infuriating and I'm like, "COME ON! Get your shit together!"

AHAHA! I should have hit publish on this before 2 a.m. Saturday night, huh? BECAUSE THEY GOT A DEAL DONE! Miracle of miracles! We'll ignore what a posturing clusterfuck the whole thing was and that if you really want a deal done you stop worrying about positioning and show up in July to negotiate saying, "The fans are more important than looking like we "won" the deal" but we'll let that slide for this precise moment because NHL HOCKEY! We're all Stanley Cup contenders right now! Even the Isles! Hope springs eternal! Or until Ovi forgets to go on D and the opposing team makes an early score. HOCKEY! I originally intended to say, before I got a super fun chest cold and this got sidetracked is:

SF went and got itself its very own minor league team with the ECHL Bulls. And they're pretty awesome.

My first game was about a month ago with Chuck. The team lost but we had a good time. It was $25 for a ticket, we got free street parking, and the only sort of downside was the $9 beers. But the hockey was good. And fun. And about 1/5 of the price of any NHL game I'd been to.

The hockey wasn't just good, it was surprisingly good. I'd caught a few minor league games on NHL Network and I don't know if they didn't translate or I was watching the wrong teams but I found the play slightly sluggish and the general level of skill somewhat lacking. That was not at all the case in my first Bulls game, which was immediately hard hitting. Plus it was in the much more intimate environment of the minor leagues.

Having been lucky enough at my large SEC school to get a little bit of that intimate feel at our baseball games (which still boast some 8k people) and any of our girls events, I have to tell you how much I love minor league/college sports. It's about a thousand times more close knit than the pros. The players feel a lot less like mythical gods and a lot more like someone you can grab a beer with after the game. The Bulls host autograph signings after every game and some sort of on ice thing after games too, that I have yet to participate in. Smaller sports feel a lot less corporate and a lot more "we're in this together". It's a really cool vibe that SF, being a major metropolitan area, doesn't have at The Stick or AT&T park.

The day I got my hair done, I wanted to go out that evening and invited Beth, along with Chuck, to join me at Bulls game. (This is supremely girly but: when you get your hair styled at a salon, you can never ever recreate it on your own. It is best, in these instances, to go out that evening and show off your new 'do. Hence me making plans for this particular evening despite a sinus headache beginning to rear its ugly head.)

This game was much more crowded than the first one I'd been to, it being a livingsocial deal night along with offering specials for families. Our tickets were the same price, though we had to pay $10 for the lot parking, but eschewing beer, I saved a bit. So we're talking about the same as going to a movie and buying snacks there. For live entertainment! I constantly feel like I'm getting away with something in these situations, especially as I'm used to spying the price on my Giants ticket stubs.

I knew in asking Beth to come that it'd be her first ever hockey game. I hoped she'd enjoy it, but wasn't really banking on much. Beth is at best, by her own admission, a casual fan. But she did like it! The vibrant people watching, the fast paced, hard hitting sport...there's not much to not love about going to a hockey game. Other than constantly forgetting hockey arenas are REALLY cold. I need to invest in some longjohns if I plan to keep going, which I do. I particularly liked her cringing every time there would be a hard check into the boards right below us. And laughed when she enjoyed yelling "fight!" when the gloves finally dropped. Later she told me it was funny to sit between Chuck and I who are so completely into what is happening, not just socializing throughout the game, as I often find myself doing at slower paced baseball games.

My favorite thing to do at Bulls game is scope out all the alternate team jerseys people wear, while leaving the Brooks Laich one I received for my summer birthday at home. I was holding out to wear it during NHL game, though I was beginning to give up hope. There are plenty of Bulls jerseys, to be sure. And Sharks, as the NHL affiliate. But then there are just wildcards. A guy in a North Dakota State jersey, which I, of course, mistook for Notre Dame at first. I saw a whole family in Minnesotta Northstars jerseys, which wasn't even the weirdest not even still a hockey team jersey because that goes to the guy in the Nordiques jersey. There was a couple sporting University of Minnesotta hockey t-shirts and another person wearing a Boston University Terriers sweater. There was a tiny three year old in a customized Krejci jersey. I love that despite not having the NHL, not being able to support "your" team, these people come out to watch hockey. I feel like they must be as addicted to it as I am. Any hockey. All hockey. Hockey!

Beth wrote about our trip to the hockey game, on her much wider platform than this here simple blog, over at (The discussion about the concession salespeople got WAY more detailed and involved than what is hinted at there. She's also had some fantastic feedback to that comment that she's shared with me. It's pretty awesome.) (For a more serious take on the Bulls and their origins, read this post on sfgate as well. It's sort of fun to have this upstart team here and I hope they continue to do well, even though they'll have to share interest with the NHL coming back. I don't think that will really mean much, though. Frankly, $20 for a game in my hometown is a lot different than needing to pay $60 at the very least and traveling 60 miles South to a team I'm not completely invested in. My team also plays on the East Coast so...)

After she wrote about it, the Bulls loved it and invited her to this past Friday night's game. She was generous enough to bring me along as her plus one. And it was country western night. With free foam cowboy hats. Sponsored by the Oakdale rocky mountain oyster festival. It was as ridiculous as you could imagine. Which means it was fantastic.

They played a little bit of country music, though we thought they really should have committed to that more. They showed bull riding video from the rodeo that was held in the same arena in October during stoppage in play, which I think they should do every game. I mean, they are the Bulls, after all. They had a rocky mountain oyster eating contest at the first intermission. They made the security staff wear cow printed vests and silly cowboy hats. I turned to Beth's friend Sally, who was also at the game and visiting with us before she went to her own seats, and said, "I don't know why they made them dress up like Woody from a Toy Story." She laughed.

When Beth brought up how she really wished, as mentioned in her article, that she'd won the jersey off the player's back that they sometimes give away mid-game, Sally was disgusted. "Ewww, really? It's all...sweaty. And warm. And gross. And played in." Beth and I both nodded wide eyed and said of course we wanted it. I looked at Sally and said, "Look, I'm SUPER single. A sweaty hockey jersey is as close to a man as I can get anymore. Yeah, I want it." I wasn't really joking.

The game was awesomely fun. And not to sell out my guy friend, but it was nice to enjoy it with just Beth. Beth and I usually have the exact same level of snarky observation going on, which is one of the reasons I enjoy her company. When the high maintenance pretty girl sat down a few rows in front of us with her plastic cup of red wine, we both rolled our eyes. When she later relocated to right behind the player's bench, we again rolled our eyes.

But we're also there for the hockey. Or at least I am. And I think Beth is starting to be, too.

It was the Bull's first come from behind win of the season. After I complimented the Colorado goalie on his goal tending prowess, he gave up three goals in the first half of the third period and that did it. A couple fights thrown in for good measure, including one immediately off the faceoff at center ice to start the third, which I always find extra exciting and which I got up to yell for, Beth even joining me in my cheering.

On the drive home, I was explaining, evangelizing really, to Beth about the HBO 24/7 series and that she really needs to watch it. I was so imploring her that I fired it up on youtube and made her watch it on my phone while I drove (technology!). After asking me the names of the players, and promising to watch on youtube (since the videos aren't apparently available on HBOGo anymore), I may have converted one more person to enjoying hockey. I may feel a little bit more pride in this than almost anything else I've done recently. I'm pretty okay with this as things go. I hope she gets the Bulls jersey she wants for her birthday.

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