It happened while visiting friends in Montreal; they told me one night that we were going to tomorrow's hockey game. I'm American. My only thought was, "well, this will be neat, getting to see this Canadian game!". Despite the fact my dad played hockey until college or that my uncle played semi-pro, the only thing I knew about the game was that it was played on ice and Chicago had some sort of professional team. I had never seen a hockey game, live or on TV.This would be a cultural event for me.
I really had no idea what I was getting into.
The first clue was on our drive to St-Hubert, where we ate before heading to the Bell Centre. Of course, the hockey gods made sure I’d get the best: this game was played against the Leafs. When my friends saw anyone in a blue sweater, they'd stop their car, roll down the windows, scream a few choice words at them in French, then pull away before resuming our conversation nonchalantly.
Dinner consisted of (well, other than poutine) overly excited talks about the Canadiens, an attempt to recap/explain/make the American understand the history of the team, their importance to Montreal. All I got out of it was what I thought all along. Neat cultural experience.Yay, Canada and its sports!
But then I got to the Bell Centre (this was before the Canadiens Hall of Fame opened, which WILL require a revisit!). The energy as I walked towards the arena began to get into my veins. Everyone was giddy, animated, passionate. It didn't matter that I couldn't understand what they said. It was something felt. In the tidal wave of fans entering the arena, red jerseys were everywhere and I made sure to buy a t-shirt.
Our seats were literally on the ceiling, not that it mattered. We missed warm ups but that meant the first time I saw the players, tiny, zooming fast across the ice was during the introductions, their strength and skill apparent from so far away and that was when the entire arena started to freak out. The sound was beyond anything I had experienced before and it never stopped. Puck drop? The crowds were still cheering. Five minutes in? Still cheering. First period over? More and more applause. I knew Chicago as a great sports city. I had been to White Sox games during their run to the 2005 World Series Championship and I have been to several Bulls games during the Jordan era. But the Bell Centre was above the greatest moments in my city.
When I got home from that vacation, the hockey game was all I could talk about. I couldn't stop trying to explain the feeling it gave me, this utterly complete passion I witness and eventually became a part of. The minute I left the game, I was hooked. I was a hockey fan. My most memorable hockey experience was my first, the moment I became a fan of the game.
It may be interesting to note that this game was played September 26th, 2006.