Note: In this essay, I refer to presidential candidate Lee Romero. Lee is a friend of mine who ends his e-mails with the signature, “Modern problems require modern solutions. Lee Romero for President, ’08. He’s not really running for president though. Lee is mentally ill.
Have you ever been stranded in the middle of the ocean for five days, clinging to an inner tube, barely alive, when off in the distance, you spot what you think is a ship approaching, but as “the ship” comes closer, you realize that it’s just a bunch of sticks clumped together? I know that I certainly have. Well, that’s the difference between watching a hockey game from the upper deck of Continental Airlines Arena and watching it from the twelfth row, which is what I did last night. From the twelfth row, it’s a whole different game, filled with even more blood and violence and death.
I should mention first that, normally, I don’t have much of an interest in hockey. I have better things to do with my time than to spend two and a half hours watching a bunch of toothless Russians chase around a small black object. But when my father called me up and told me that he had four tickets that were center ice, twelfth row, I developed an immediate interest in the sport. That’s how men are.
FRIEND: I have two tickets to the National Chutes & Ladders Tournament. Do you want to go?
ME: Chutes & Ladders? What are you, kidding me? Why would I–
FRIEND: Their front row seats.
ME: I’m there!
So it was me, my dad, his friend Joe Polasi, and my stepsister, Olivia. A couple of weeks ago, my dad told me that I could bring a friend, so I called up Justin Nadal. He had to work though, so I invited Lee Romero. He was going to come, but he had to go to a Democratic fund raising party. Either that, or he got casted in an independent film and he had to attend a meeting about it. It was one of those two things. But when we got to our seats, I was glad that Lee couldn’t show up, because the first thing that crossed my mind was This is no place for a presidential candidate to be sitting. Our seats were located just above the spot where the protective glass stops. If a puck were to come into the stands, Lee would be dead before you could say “off-sides.” No. If Lee Romero were to attend the game, he would have to sit in one of the luxury boxes; not because it’s a privilege that’s reserved for the rich and famous, but because his existence is a matter of national security. If any other fan were to be hit by a stray hockey puck, it would be shrugged off as an accident. But if Lee Romero is hit with a puck, it becomes an assassination attempt, and whichever player hit it into the stands would be arrested immediately by the Secret Service. Oh yeah, Sergei. You have a lot of explaining to do!
The game started. Until you’re up close, you don’t realize how demented these big, dumb idiots are. For example, Devils center Victor Kozlov had the puck, but Bobby Holick of the Thrashers decided that he should have the puck instead, so he skated into Kozlov at about thirty miles an hour and rammed Kozlov’s head into the boards, making the spectators in the first five rows jump out of their fucking skin. I began to contemplate how much fun it would be if people were allowed to act that way in the supermarket (WHAM! “The Chef Boyardee is mine, you fuck!”), but I didn’t get a chance to elaborate on this idea because Richard Matvichuck of the Devils got called for hooking, and Olivia asked me what that meant. She’s sixteen. I decided that she’s old enough to know. “Hooking is when one player gives another player money in exchange for sex,” I explained, “He’ll now have to spend the next two minutes and thirty seconds in the penalty box, until he sees the error of his ways. Hopefully, during his time in the penalty box, he’ll discover Jesus.” With that, Olivia saw it as an opportune time to move two rows away from me, giving her an unfair advantage in escaping killer hockey pucks. Not only did Matvichuck fail to discover Jesus while sitting in the penalty box, but it appeared as if he discovered Satan, for when he got out, he picked up Scott Mellanby and dropped him on his head. The referees frown upon that sort of behavior, and they sent him right back into that purgatorial box.
The game went into overtime. Back in high school, like most seventeen-year-old boys, I used to eat, drink, and breathe sports. Now, as an adult, my interest in sports is moderate, at best. But I still find few things that are more exciting than a game that goes into extra innings or overtime, even if I had no previous interest in that game. If a game goes into thirteen innings or double overtime, I become sexually aroused. In fact, my idea of Heaven would be to watch a college basketball game that goes into fifteen overtimes. The players would just keep on playing and playing, even if they started to cough up blood. Better yet, all of the players would die, except for two of them. The two living players would be on opposing teams, and the final play would come down to an exhausted lay-up. The fifty-thousand screaming fans will know that it all comes down to who has more energy. Will it be the man who is going in for the lay-up? Or will it be the man who is trying to stop him? Again, it’s one of those guy things.
FRIEND: This Chutes & Ladders tournament is boring! Do you want to leave?
ME: Yeah. Let’s go.
FRIEND: Oh shit! It just went into overtime! We can’t leave now!
ME: Absolutely not!
I noticed during the third period that not one single fight had occurred. “This must be some sort of record,” I said to Joe, “Perhaps they’re all in the Christmas spirit?” But with a minute left in overtime, Dan McGillis of the Devils made minor contact with Marian Hossa of the Thrashers. In a moment of theatrics that would make even the great Harry O’Reilly proud, Hossa accidentally/intentionally collided into Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, accidentally/intentionally grinding his right skate into Brodeur’s throat in the process. Now it’s an unwritten rule in hockey that a player who touches the opposing team’s goalie should be prepared to be treated no differently than how a child molester will be treated on his first day of prison: prepare to get your asshole reamed. Brian Gionta, totally disproving the old stereotype that Italian-Americans have bad tempers, knocked out about six of Hossa’s teeth. Grant Marshall also wished to not pursue diplomacy, landing a savage roundhouse punch on Mark Popovic just because he wears the same uniform as Hossa. Brodeur was laying on the ice, his body twisted in an unnatural position. He wasn’t moving. I was certain that he was dead. After a few minutes, he got up. Holy shit! There’s going to be a penalty shot! The Devils are going to shoot a penalty shot! The Devils are going to shoot a penalty shot with a minute left in overtime, and I’m at the game! Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy! Well, no. The Thrashers were awarded the penalty shot. Huh? Has the entire world just gone haywire? Has everything that I ever held to be sacred and truthful been reversed? Does Down The Hatch only serve tea? Is Matt O’Talloran suddenly thin? Is George W. Bush the very symbol of intelligence and compassion? How on earth is the penalty against the Devils? I mean, the last time that I checked, it was a clear violation of the rules to try to murder the opposing team’s goalie. It turns out that the penalty was called on Dan McGillis for “roughing,” a rule that I found humorous considering that, during the course of the game, three players had already been hit in the face with sticks. It reminded me of New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin’s comment last week before the Giants/Eagles game: “The Eagles are a good team. It’s going to be a physical game.” JEE, DO YOU REALLY THINK SO, COACH? IT’S FUCKING FOOTBALL!!!!!!!! The dazed Brodeur skillfully deflected the penalty shot, sending the arena into a psychotic frenzy. HOLY SHIT! I’m going to see a shootout! A shootout! A shootout! A shootout! I’m here for a shootout! Hockey Gods, I love you! I apologize for always insulting your sport, Hockey Gods! PLEEEASE, Hockey Gods, make this game go into a shootout!….TEN SECONDS LEFT IN OVERTIME! This game is going to go into a shootout! Hockey Gods, I’m never going to miss another hockey game for as long as I live! I promise! In fact, I’m going to name my first-born child Hockey! Hockey Malek! No! Better yet, I’m going to have three kids, and I’m going to name them N, H, and L. HOCKEY, I LOVE YOU!
With five seconds left, Marc Savard scored, giving the Thrashers a 3-2 victory.
Hockey, you are decadent and depraved.
December 16, 2005