It was 20 years ago that I ran through the hall and into the living room. At the age of 5 I didn't really understand the concept of time but whatever 7 o’clock meant, I knew where I had to be. Little did I know what I was about to watch would not only change my life, but would instantaneously take over me and rapidly develop from confusion to intrigue to interest and finally to complete obsession. A little flicker and one second later, it appeared.
I remember seeing my best friend gliding toward my driveway. I remember staring at him wondering how he was moving so fast and smoothly without taking normal steps. He was floating. As he got closer I noticed his shoes had wheels. After asking what they were, I asked what they were used for. He mentioned that there is a sport that uses shoes similar to the ones he had. Only the players of the sport used shoes with blades instead of wheels and they played on ice.
Blades on the bottom of shoes? A sport on ice? As a Texan, anything including snow or ice was amazing and, since it was witnessed so rarely, seemed like a myth. He told me there would be a game on TV that night around 7 and I could see for myself.
A flicker. And one second later, it appeared. The first thing I saw on the screen was the rink. Then I saw the symbols of two teams, Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens. I don’t remember the rest of the details, but I am fairly certain I didn't blink. I know that what I saw in that game left an impact I would never overcome. And I would never want to.
I began watching more and more games and learning more about this sport. My father didn't know the sport existed and my mother had ignored it most of her life so I was on my own to learn it. And maybe that’s what made me so obsessed from the beginning. It was up to me to figure out the rules. To figure out the style. To figure out the essence of this sport. And everything I learned added to the amazement I felt about it.
What first grabbed my attention was the intensity the sport seemed to present. It was very precise, very skillful. It took extreme toughness, yet still maintained a sense of grace. I remember goalies seeing goalies for the first time. The look of a man covered in gear made to withstand a beating, standing tall, staring at you with those two laser beams through the cage wiring of the mask. The dedication and bravery in his eyes and the mentality that anything and everything will be done and sacrificed to stop the other team from being successful.
Ed Belfour was my favorite goalie when I first was introduced to the sport. He embodied everything I saw in hockey. The dedication to success. The hard-work to perfecting his skill. The intensity and ferocity in his eyes and will in his heart to do whatever it takes and never give up. Then I saw Jeremy Roenick play. And I saw the grace of skill coupled with the power and toughness that the game requires. Eventually I saw Modano play, and in him I saw the elegance, precision and humbleness that I could only dream of achieving.
Through the years I would watch and record as many games as possible. I would buy hockey cards and video games to get me more familiar with the sport, the players and the rules. I remember playing my first NHL game on Sega Genesis and I would keep getting called offsides. I figured I was keeping my center in the middle of the rink and my right wing on the right so what’s the problem? I would teach myself how to roller blade in my driveway and practice almost every day. Eventually I learned to skate and signed up for leagues. No longer was the rink 20 feet of concrete. The game, to me, grew and so did the passion within me.
It was 20 years ago that I saw hockey. But it was more like it found me. And it maintains a firm grip on my soul that I hope will never be relinquished.