At age 16, I fell in love.
Not that young puppy-love you chuckle at fondly when flipping through your middle school diary. Like in sixth grade, when I refused to speak to my crush or look directly at him for fear of throwing up. What some people described as butterflies for me quickly lead to nausea. Not to mention awkward mumbling and flailing limbs. No, it was much better to remain silent and avoid eye contact all together.
But at age 16, I had found my true love. The kind of stuff that keeps you up at night, makes you smile uncontrollably and sends your heart thumping right out of your chest.
I had fallen in love with ice hockey.
As a Los Angeles native, hockey hadn’t been on my radar because in the land of surfer chicks and palm trees, ice skating was practically considered something out of a fairy tale.
One summer, while sitting in my sweltering living room folding laundry and flipping through television channels, I happened upon a broadcast of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was 2008 and the Pittsburgh Penguins were facing off against the Detroit Red Wings, two teams I had never heard about, but I watched in fascination as the players skated adeptly across the ice.
I was transfixed.
Soon after, I stood amongst the frantic figure skating moms, signing myself up for beginner skating lessons. I was a gangly teenager amongst the cherub-faced children spinning circles around me, but I was sure my $120 had never been better spent. I became a glorified rink rat, lugging my disgusting hockey bag to practice three times a week. My mother refused to allow the bag anywhere near the house, claiming the smell made her sick. Every time I stepped on the ice, I couldn’t help but beam in delight despite falling flat on my face multiple times each lesson.
Instead of spending nights catching up with friends on AIM, I pored mercilessly over hockey blogs. My most frequently visited page was LA Kings Insider, the team’s top source for quotes, videos and banter.
I dragged my family to a game to see the team in action and began referring to my favorite players on a first name basis. To this day, my dad still teases me about what a horrible player Anze Kopitar is. His accusations are completely unfounded, but the satisfaction he gets while watching my spine prickle and hearing my rebuttal of “shut up” is unparalleled.
I was at that point in my courtship with hockey that any true sports fan can understand — hockey and I were in a long-term, public relationship.
But true love also comes with heartbreak and pangs of agony.
I’m not just a fan, I’m part of the team. My emotional well-being depends on its success. With every loss I’m reduced to a blithering idiot — stewing silently and then bursting into fits of rage (at the refs, at bad plays and at myself for messing with my pre-game ritual that was undeniably the most prominent factor contributing to our loss). Family members know to stay away, for there’s no consoling me. I’m commonly found yelling at the television monitor, face red and brow furrowed, as Richards or Carter prepares to face off against our rival’s goalie in an epic shootout.
My hatred of opposing teams is overwhelming. I can’t help but smirk in disgust when spotting a Sharks fan wearing regalia emblazoned with their signature black and teal. I sometimes feel sorry for them for being fans of such a hopeless organization.
But no matter how deep the bitter hatred of rival teams, the sport itself unites us. We all want to be part of something great, something so thrilling and overwhelming that years later, at the thought of holding up that silver trophy, we still smile.
After my team won the Stanley Cup, I burst into tears. I sat in the dimly lit sports bar gazing up at the flat screen TV and clutching my chest in amazement. We had done it. We had brought home the most prized trophy in all of sports (biased, I know). We had done the undoable, defeated the undefeatable and overcome the impossible. The complete and utter bliss I felt lasted for months.
You might think I’m crazy. Certifiable, even.
Or, if you’re a die-hard sports fan like me, you might think, “Wow, she knows exactly what true love feels like.”
Jessi McDonald covers rugby. Contact her at [email protected].