Not long ago, I attended a USHL game between the Indiana Ice and the Chicago Steel. I have not, as yet, attended many hockey games, and this was my first time sitting close to the penalty box, directly off one corner in fact, and only three rows back from the glass. Seated in the first two rows were 8 boys, ranging in age, I’d guess, from 6 to 12, though I’d not wager on the accuracy of that.
The penalty box next to them, and off to one side and in front of me, was the visiting team’s sin bin, and the boys in front were locals, rooting for the home team, the Indiana Ice. While I hail from Boise, ID, I grew up in the Chicagoland area, and just had to root for the Chicago Steel, especially with the crossed hammer C’s on their sleeves that closely resembled the crossed tomahawk C’s of my NHL team, the Chicago Blackhawks.
During the sluggish first period, these boys were more entertaining than the game. Whenever a Steel player would get a penalty, they would talk quietly among themselves, and I could hear them daring one another to in some way tease that player.
“I’m going to call him a lady,” one might say.
“Yeah, me too,” another would chime in. All would agree to yell, just as soon, of course, as the player was leaving the box (not that all of them would). To them, the player had something of the quality of a caged predator. They wanted to poke it, to see how it would react, but they also feared retaliation, though of what kind I can’t fathom, seeing as they were behind a sturdy sheet of plexi-glass.
The penalized players either ignored the boys or seemed to take the noise good-naturedly, at least, before the only goal of the first period went to the Ice. During the second period, the Steel seemed a little more on edge. One player even squirted the barrier between him and the boys with his water bottle, which did cow them for a little while.
But once the equalizer went in for Chicago near the end of the 2nd period, the boys started getting more rowdy. Now, I think that the boys’ rowdiness was influenced by the increasing boldness of the older crowd. As the game wore on, and more beer was consumed, more and more yelling was done by men who certainly seemed old enough to know better. In fact, one of them even dropped the f-bomb on the crowd. I found it fascinating how the boys clearly knew that a bad word had been said, but they didn’t repeat it or even laugh. They were as shocked as most of the rest of us that someone would yell that in public.
It was when the third period began that the most interesting interaction between the boys and the opposing team occurred. The opening face-off had one Tyler Hill drawn up right near the boys. Soon after the puck drop, and the subsequent swirl of action that led to a Chicago possession, one of them, on a theme the older men had already harped upon, yelled, “This ain’t ballet, this is hockey! I’m talking to you, Hill!”
Hill then snagged the puck and gained the zone, snapping one past the Ice goalie, who has one of the best names for a goalie that I’ve seen so far, Snair. I must admit, I whooped it up and did some yelling myself, “That’s right, tell him he’s playing ballet again!”
I’ve found that superstition is at least half the fun with sports watching. Even watching from home, we try to communicate to our players what they should be doing, or coaches or even the fans watching live. We wear the lucky clothing, unwashed all season, or even for multiple seasons. Some pray, some curse, some hold their breath. We all have the idea that we can, by our very selves, influence the outcome of a game being played miles away from our own location on this earth. But being there, in person, and watching a game increases that sense of personal influence, and let me tell you, not one of those boys said the word “ballet” again that evening as the Steel proceeded to win in a shoot-out.