I knew the colours of hockey before I knew the game. That’s to say, what drew me in as a youngster was the flash and vibrancy of the uniforms, the gonzo flamboyance and energy of the mascots, and the overwhelming pageantry of the presentation.
Before I knew Gretzky, Lemieux or Orr, I knew I loved hockey.
I often feel, for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, our love for the ice-capades of the world’s finest border closer on religion than they do hobby or pastime.
Do you bleed Habs red or Bud blue? Me? Ever the neutral party, the Roman-esque garb and logo of the Ottawa Senators drew me in from a young-age, much to my Montreal loyalist father’s chagrin.
But when you strip away the pomp and circumstance and all the frills and marketable armour, the game itself is what shines.
Hockey presents athletes in perhaps its purest form. Speed, strength, precision, finesse. To become a Sid the Kid you need the total package. But to some the bruisers, the Georges Laraque’s and Tie Domi’s of the world, could be just as alluring as an Ovi hat-trick or Brett Hull top-shelf wrister.
There are all sorts in the game of hockey, and in 30 years of professional hockey here on The Rock, we have seen them come and go.
From National Hockey League future stars Felix Potvin, Kyle Wellwood, Matt Stajan, Jake Allen and Connor Hellebuyck, to our very own home-grown favourites – Harold Druken, Luke Adam and our current crop of Growlers battlin’ b’ys James Melindy, Zach O’Brien, Nathan Noel, Marcus Power and Tyler Boland – many have passed through our rinks and have bathed in the cheers and adoration of our diehards.
For three decades the barns have been packed. Season-ticket holders, you know the ones. Clad in their slightly worn but sewn with meaning sweaters, cheering to the high heavens and making an uproar that could wake the dead. The guys and gals who know the arena staff by name, that live and die with each saucer pass or two-on-one breakaway.
We know the voices. The soundtrack to the game. Brian Rogers, the living legend of local hockey, and now the incomparable voice and passion of Chris Ballard. They write the lyrics to the music the players play.
And of course, we had our Buddy. Three decades of laughter and light from the irreplaceable and impossibly entertaining Chris ‘Buddy the Puffin’ Abbott. He will be missed beyond measure.
Sure, our love of the sport could start as innocuously as a child’s curiosity of a cartoon character come to life, or from the once-in-a-lifetime wonder contained in those lightning in a bottle miracle on ice moments. But it’s the total package that preserves and keeps us.
For 30 years, and a lifetime more. For the love of the game.
Dillon Collins, The Herald’s Staff Writer, can be reached by emailing [email protected]