The NHL is a freight train heading straight for playoff station, and I haven’t watched a game in two weeks.
No, nothing is wrong. I haven’t lost my interest in hockey. The tight races in the East and West briefly garner my attention for a few minutes each day. I read reports on the games, check the stats, but most of the time my mind is elsewhere.
Specifically, my attention is focused on grizzlies. The Revelstoke Grizzlies.
Never heard of them? I’m not surprised. They’ve captured my imagination and hope in the past two weeks, and I’ve abandoned the big leagues for Junior B hockey.
The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League might not make the national news, but their playoff season has started and my town is gripped with playoff fever.
The Revelstoke Grizzlies won the division title for the first time in many years two weeks ago, sparking a renewed public interest in the team. The tiny local arena has been bursting with over 450 people attending games to cheer on the boys.
To add to the excitement, the first round matched up the Grizzlies with their nearest geographical rivals, the Sicamous Eagles. Forty minutes of Trans Canada highway were flowing with bad blood and championship dreams.
The seven game series came right down to the wire, with Revelstoke emerging victorious in the dying minutes of the third on Saturday night. The arena was at capacity and the beer was flowing. The celebration spilled out in to the parking lot, and fans were furiously texting the news of victory out into the world.
I loved it. Watching those kids battle night after night, seeing their determination, their love of the game, their drive to achieve their dreams, has renewed my own passion for the sport. You can smell their hunger. Literally, if you sit behind the bench.
No. 29 outweighs everyone in the league, and the boards shake (in Revelstoke, they are still actually "boards") when he delivers a bone-crushing hit. Fifteen is a small, speedy forward with delicate hands and a short fuse.
The fans bring cowbells. Revelstoke being a railway town, they even have a train whistle. Instead of playoff beards (because some of them can’t yet grow one, I imagine) the players all bleached their hair a gaudy Gwen Stefani blonde.
Minor hockey kids hover beside the bench, talking to the players and watching their idols. High school girls walk around in too little clothing and too much makeup, eating French fries out of paper cups. Five dollars buys an arm’s length of fifty-fifty tickets.
My $8 ticket brings me more excitement, more passion, and more satisfaction than any expensive NHL ticket ever has. So, until the big guys give me a reason to return, I’ve voluntarily gone to the minors.
And I’m loving every minute of it.