I once went to a hockey game on Long Island to watch a struggling hometown
team play a game for which I had to look up the score the next day. The first thing
I did when I got to the Nassau Coliseum was buy a Bud Light. The second was take
I placed the beer on top of the urinal and fired away. The beer slipped and
dropped into the urinal as I was peeing. I watched it fall as I made the
split-second decision to let it go rather than lose my grip and risk a piss stain
on my jersey.
“Hah,” the guy in the urinal to my left said.
“Don’t even think about it, bro” said the one to my right. Sound advice if the beer
didn’t cost sixteen dollars.
For the record, Bud Light doesn’t taste all that different with a little urine.
Hockey is a strange, manic sport and it’s my favorite thing to watch. The players
work magic with their hands while basically running on knives. I’ve never played
it and I don’t think I’ll ever try, but it’s a wild show. I’m not cut out for that kind of
fearless finesse and violence, but I’m thankful there’s people who are.
In 1979, Mike Milbury played for the Boston Bruins who were not known for
their congeniality at the time. In a game at Madison Square Garden that year,
Milbury jumped over the glass and into the stands, skates and all, to beat up a
Ranger fan with his own shoe. Mike did not get fired or shunned from the league
or the Garden. In fact, he continued on to have a good year and a Hall of Fame
career. He’s a personality on NBC these days. I once got fired from an office job
for getting my days mixed up and doing casual Friday on a Thursday. Mike and I
come from different worlds.
During a game I was watching a few weeks ago, there was a big hit and a skater
went airborne. His skate grazed Johnny Boychuck’s neck and Johnny went down
for a second before shooting right back up - touching his neck and checking his
fingers for blood. He was calmer than I thought a person could possibly be after
nearly getting their throat cut open on live television. I’d cry first and check for
blood later, I think. He then lifted his chin for his teammate to look and asked,
“am I good?” He was, and he continued to play. I would have said, “Am I cut? No?
Cool, I’m retiring.”
You’ve got to be tough as leather to think about playing a game like this. I wanted
to play as a kid when I lacked sense and a healthy fear of brain trauma but hockey
is a pricey sport to get into. Between the cost of all the equipment and league fees,
my parents made the decision that baseball was a better fit. There are leagues for
adult beginners but I’ve seen too much on-ice carnage to give it a go.
Growing up, my team, the Islanders, sucked and was always the butt of the joke,
but that meant tickets were cheap. I went to countless games. We would get drunk in
the parking lot, bum cigarettes from older guys, and use our student discounts to
get some five-buck nosebleeds. The place would be half empty and we would make
our way down to the good seats where, if we were lucky, a puck or a tooth would
The Islanders had their moment of glory in the 1980s when they won four
straight Stanley Cups, but I missed all that. At most Long Island bars there’s an
old guy who will tell you stories about Bobby Nystrom getting into a bar fight
there or Billy Smith showing up at their house party in ‘83 and sleeping with their
sister. Those guys didn’t even wear helmets back then - their only line of defense
against a slapshot screaming towards their face was their mustaches.
The fans today are still rowdy but the Coliseum is not the party it was back
then. People would bring their own cases of beer and bottles of liquor into the
game (and then probably drive home, let’s be honest). Smoke from cigarettes and
joints would get so thick that people in the top rows couldn’t see the ice. Beer
cans would rain down on opposing players in the penalty boxes and fist fights
were a regular occurrence in the stands, hallways, and parking lot.
While I can’t imagine that chaos and am admittedly enthralled by the tall tales,
I was content with watching my floundering team in my cheap seats as a kid. There
was no pressure since most of the games I watched as a kid were meaningless
with regards to the rest of the league. It was just fun for the sake of killing boredom.
My team is a contender this year, which is a surprise to everyone, but I go to
less games because of work and money. When I do go there’s a noticeable weight
with each pass and turnover that was never there when I was younger. Every missed
call takes us further from the playoffs and each goal brings us closer to The Cup.
There’s an electricity now that I’m not used to but would like to get to know more.
The seats are full every night and the chants from the crowd are relentless. Flags
are waving from the top sections each game and fans are celebrating by honking
their horns in the traffic jam after each win. It’s one of the few things that makes
me proud of where I come from.
It’s crazy but I think the $16 beers are worth it.