The Stanley Cup Final between Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks is just getting underway but I can’t help but think what a fun hockey season this has been for me, even though my Philadelphia Flyers didn’t make the playoffs.
I thought 2012-13 was going to be a bummer given the lengthy NHL labor dispute, the truncated training camp once the lockout ended and the half-cup-of-coffee of a season that the league managed to squeeze into 98 days. But the hockey year for me was a blast because I managed to do and see so many hockey-related things that it turned out to be one of the most fun seasons I’ve had in a long time.
The first thing that I did was declare my undying support for the game with a new license plate on my old car. I wanted something that screamed “Hockey” but it seem every hockey fan in the D.C. area took most of the unique sayings, slogans or obvious hockey-themed messages one can come up with in seven characters or less. So I settled on something that said something about me and where I like to spend my time.
With no Winter Classic to see, I organized a road trip with my best friend and my nephew to Chicago in February to see the Hockey City Classic, an outdoor doubleheader at Soldier Field between the University of Notre Dame and the University of Miami of Ohio and the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota.
It was chilly in Soldier Field, the ice was mediocre and the crowd was smaller than I expected, but the mood of those who attended was festive and all four schools played their hearts out. And it turns out that the Soldier Field game was a test-drive of sorts for the NHL to host a tilt between the Blackhawks and Penguins there in March 2014.
But the most fun part of the season for me was my solo trip to Helsinki for the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in May. So many games and so little time – I was only there for a week. But that was enough time to get a full appreciation of how important hockey is and how crazed fans are beyond North America.
I remember attending one of Russia’s practices and being amazed by the number of reporters covering the team – there had to be at least 50. And everything in the local papers was about hometown Team Finland. It was a blast mingling with fans from Russia, Germany, Latvia, Austria and, of course, Finland.
Sweden – which co-hosted the tournament with games in Stockholm – won the Gold Medal. But the real story of the tourney turned out to be Switzerland, which shocked the world by taking the Silver Medal. They beat Canada en route to collecting their hardware. The United States, with a team of young NHLers, took the Bronze. I made time during my hockey vacation to write an article about two U.S. team members: http://www.adn.com/2013/05/06/2893101/with-no-nhl-playoffs-alaskans.html
Traveling to see hockey was great, but I’ve also had as much fun playing hockey as watching it. Douglas family hockey history was made over Memorial Day Weekend when I played pickup ice hockey with my nephew, Robert Stuckey, a South Carolina resident who recently completed his sophomore year at Notre Dame and is working as an intern this summer for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation in Philadelphia.
I never played hockey with anyone in my family before – nobody else plays. My big sister and I steered her son into skating when he was little and when his family lived in D.C. He took off from there, totally embracing the sport and picking it up big-time when my sister and her husband moved to Cary, N.C. Robert became a huge Carolina Hurricanes and a total rink rat. I’m looking forward to playing with him again if he comes down to Washington for 4th of July weekend!
I’m enjoying kicking back at home and watching the Stanley Cup Final with the rest of the hockey fanatics around the world. But I plan to be back on the road June 30 to attend the NHL Draft live at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. I want to be there when history is made when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces that with the first pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, the Colorado Avalanche selects defenseman Seth Jones from the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League!