Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Old Time Hockey, Coach

Thanks to Todd Bertuzzi and his disgusting display Monday night, the NHL has been everywhere the last couple of days. While everyone has been crying about the violence of the sport, all this coverage has served to make me recall all the fun & enjoyment I've gotten from the sport of hockey. It's better to remember the good times while the bad times are raging all around you.

When I was young, we had an NHL team in the Colorado Rockies. Rockie Hockey! They were the first professional sports team to play Gary Glitter's "Rock & Roll Pt 2" after a score. Just a little trivia for you guys! One year, my grandparents and my uncle came to visit from Grand Junction. My mother, grandmother, uncle & I were supposed to go to the Nutcracker ballet while Dad, Grandpa & Derek went to a Rockies game. I was so excited about the prospect of seeing a ballet. I had taken ballet lessons, had a pretty pink tutu at home...but, as usual, I didn't get to see my dream become a reality. The ballet had only a small number of seats left...namely, three. So guess who got cut out of the ballet group? ME! I had to go with the boys to the Rockies game.

I was pissed. I didn't want to go to some dumb hockey game. I ended up sitting next to some drunk, loud guy who cheered at the end of the game, he was my mentor! I watched him and cheered when he cheered, booed when he booed. I ended up having so much fun that I didn't care that I had missed a ballet. The tutu was put away and I never took ballet lessons again. It's not like I took up hockey afterwards - I didn't have the motivation.

Soon afterwards, the Rockies moved to New Jersey and became the Devils. I never really watched any games on TV but I always rooted for them when the sports would show the NHL scores. Then I started rooting for the Calgary Flames because Bret "Hit Man" Hart was from Calgary and he was my favorite pro wrestler. My reasons for picking teams & players was always very shallowly motivated.

1995 came. We acquired the Quebec Nordiques who became the Avalanche. It took me a while but I finally got into the game, thanks to the rugged good looks of center Mike Ricci. (See? Shallow.) I never missed a game so that I could watch him play, see his long hair fly, see his toothless grin. I bought a home & away Ricci sweater and missed a Grass Roots concert to watch the now infamous Game 4 of the Stanley Cup. I became friends with a girl at work because she was the only other person there who watched the Avs.

Christina was a groupie at heart and she taught me how to meet players and get autographs and pictures. The next few years were packed with Avs games, training camp, meet & greets. We met every player and got pictures with most of them. We met Ricci the year following the Cup win when training camp was held at the World Arena here in the Springs and he was awesome! Very cute & funny...he had a great butt. I took a picture of him from the back as he signed autographs and a 13 year old asked me, very loudly, "Are you taking a picture of his butt?" I wonder if her heard her! We also got our picture taken with Uwe Krupp, the D-Man who shot the Stanley Cup winning goal. He's 6'6" and Christina & I are not. A guy at work who saw the picture later asked if we were standing in a hole.

Christina's favorite player was the captain, Joe Sakic. It took her two years to meet him but on January 15th, 1998, it finally happened. A parking lot attendant at McNichol's named Lindy was her guardian angel and arranged for Joe to come over after the game and sign autographs. The fans outside of the place went crazy when he walked over. They asked him for a stick. He said "no." People asked for a picture and he said "no." He reached Christina in the sea of people and she freaked out! I was across the way snapping pictures when I heard, "HEATHER I NEED YOUR HELP!!!" I came running over to see that she had dropped the cards that she had brought to get signed. He was smiling patiently and signed his autograph. Then Christina got up the nerve to ask for a picture. Where he had told every other fan no, he smiled and said, "Just one." He put his arm around her and I snapped the picture. She was the last fan he obliged. As he walked away, he turned back and gave her what is now referred to as "The Approving Look." It was almost as if he realized that she idolized him. It was great!

When she met Peter Forsberg she was a little more in control. It was January 4, 2000 after a San Jose game at the Pepsi Center. Forsberg rarely came over to sign so we were just thrilled to be that close to him. I asked her if she was going to get a picture with him and she said no but while he was signing her program, she changed her mind and asked. He said sure so I stepped back to shoot the shot and she turned to the side to pose. She turned back to see if Peter was ready and he leaned down, nose to nose with her and said, "You ready?" I was six feet away and felt the heat of that ice-blue gaze. I can't imagine what it was like for Christina! She held herself together well and the picture came out as the best one I ever took.

My most prized possession is my picture of me & Patrick Roy. I met him at training camp one year. He's wearing a Broadmoor Golf Club baseball cap, sunglasses and is actually smiling. It was the first picture that I blew up into an 8x10 and framed. The second one was the picture of Trevor Kidd and myself. Christina had it blown up and framed as a Christmas present one year. Trevor is now the back-up to the back-up in Toronto but at the time I met him, he was the starting goalie for the Florida Panthers. I got to the Pepsi Center hours before the game just to see him get off the bus. I told him "Good luck" and he gave me the peace sign. After the game, I was with the other fans waiting for the Avs to come sign when Kidd walked out to the Florida bus. I yelled out "Trevor! Do you have time for an autograph? Pleease pleeease pleeeease????" No man can refuse a begging girl like that without being totally heartless. He came and signed my program and posed for a picture. Other fans saw me and asked for his autograph. As he walked away, they said, "Who was that?" UH!

Anyway...there are a lot of fun memories involved in my hockey grouping days. The best was one night after an Avs game, I was driving Christina's car on the interstate when Aaron Miller went flying by us. She saw him and instructed me to follow him. He was a favorite player of mine so I didn't question her. We followed him off the interstate onto Santa Fe and winded around in unfamiliar territory until he pulled into a parking lot of a place called All Star Sports Cabaret. We recognized the cars of other Avs players including Chris Drury who then was the star rookie on the team.

We thought that a sports bar would be a perfect place to meet these guys. We primped in the car, took some deep breaths and walked in. The doors opened and all we saw was a naked chick dancing on a stage. It was a strip club! We didn't say a word, just closed the door, walked back to the car at a fast pace then laughed the whole way home. We never tried to follow any player ever again!

I haven't seen Christina in a while so I haven't met any players in a year or so. But we met so many so many times that I have enough memories and pictures to remind myself that hockey is still fun. My thoughts and prayers are with Steve Moore and I hope Bertuzzi is punished as severely as he can be!


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