Friday, April 22, 2011

In Pursuit of Lord Stanley: Chronicles Volume I

In the past I've encountered some really great moments amidst Stanley Cup runs. From some of the epic celebrations we had at my college house during the '08 run, to when my buddy jinxed the hell out of the Wings when he bought champagne with minutes left in the potential Cup-winner in game 6 of that same year, to the personal bar crawl I went on in Chicago after the game 7 Cup Finals loss in '09, playoff runs have produced some memorable nights for me. Hence I thought I'd track some of this year's run, which hopefully lasts as long as it can.

Usually when you go to a bar by yourself on a Monday night, wind up talking to a random old man, and the two of you are the last stragglers at the bar when they call for closing time, you're going through some rough times. But the Stanley Cup Playoff's aren't "usually".

Indeed, this past Monday night found me sitting with a stranger I had just met at a bar. But I wasn't in a rough spot. In fact, it was the best night I've had at a bar in quite some time.

Last Monday morning was the best Monday morning I've had in a while. Promptly upon waking up I threw my Wings jersey on, confident that the thought of that night's game would propel me through a long day of class and study. Better yet, the prospect of the Wings taking a 3-0 series lead seemed very attainable, as the Winged-Wheelers had played their best hockey of the year in the first two games of the series (without one half of the Euro-twin connection, no less). And let's be honest, the appeal of a Monday night trip to the bar didn't hurt my enthusiasm for the day.

Originally I had intended to stay at the library until 8:45 p.m., leaving me just enough time to get home and to a bar before the 9:30 puck drop. However, circa 8:00 p.m. my youthful excitement had gotten the best of me and my library stay had devolved into a youtube session of the 1997 Wings - Avalanche brawl, among other classic Red Wings clips. So I soon departed for home, but not before picking up a tall boy of Icehouse which I subsequently consumed with rapidity despite immediately being reminded of its poor taste all whilst listening to my ritual pregame playlist (Crooked Fingers - The River is a staple, gets me going every time).

Half of the reason I had planned to go to a bar for the game was because there happened to be a Chicago Bulls playoff game that evening as well, and I stand as a distinct minority in my apartment being it that two of the four are Chicago born and bred. But sometimes a good trip to the bar by yourself is just in order. Certainly it's not for everyone, but for someone like myself the solitude and the atmosphere can be really enjoyable, as long as you pick the right watering hole (hole-in-the-wall to mediocre quality only).

Low and behold as I arrived at the bar to request the hockey game on one of the televisions, the bartender directed me to a corner of the bar where one lonely Wings fan already was seated. In our own small corner of the bar, like the cast-off's of the bar social structure, we immediately shared a common status. And we shared a common plight, our plight being the difficult predicament of being an out of town fan in enemy territory, a long way from the friendly confines of your home team's town. A few pints of Wisconsin's cheapest lager later, the lonesome gentleman and I were clanging our beers together celebrating goal after goal.

By games end it felt as if I had known this stranger for years. And that's one of the miraculous things about sports: its ability to unite complete and utter strangers in pursuit of a common goal. In this particular instance, fond memories of winters long ago spent playing pond hockey, pining visions of Joe Louis Arena, and above all, a dream of a Stanley Cup for our beloved Wings, united us.

The game continued after the bar had shut down and all the other patrons were given the boot. But a sympathetic manager fortunately allowed us to remain in our small corner of the bar until the last second had expired, when we celebrated a win and rejoiced with the last sips of our beers. Some people complain about the hassle of late night games on the west coast, but without them when else would I be closing down a bar with a complete stranger at 1 in the morning with an alarm clock set to wake me up in six hours?

Go Wings.

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