Hockey is a religion, and much like religion, hockey transcends generations.
Your favorite NHL team is generally the one that’s geographically closest to where you were born. This is the team you grew up with, the one your parents raised you on. It's the team that practices right around the corner and hosts hockey camps. The guys do autograph signings at local collectible stores. You, or someone you know, probably has run into a player somewhere around the city: at a restaurant, a sporting event, the mall, or even a night club. This is the team whose joys and sorrows are communal for everyone in town.
And, this is the team that you fancy yourself with for the rest of your life. For me, this team has always been the Tampa Bay Lightning. But for my father, it wasn’t always the Lightning. He had to convert.
What makes someone turn their back on their hometown hockey club?
Sometimes you have to move, or even worse your team has to move. Imagine your place of worship is suddenly uprooted from, let's say, Phoenix to Hamilton, Ontario. Sometimes you just find yourself more intrigued by the values or reputation of another team. Whatever the case may be, converting will be a challenge.
It's a lot of trouble to switch to a new team. You will have to buy new apparel, learn new players, redo tattoos etc. This is the reason that Americans are still stubbornly resisting the metric system. Who wants to tell McDonalds that American Quarter Pounder wrappers will become Royales with Cheese"?
If your a religious hockey fan facing a conversion, let me offer some advice:
It’s best to convert in stages: Never try to quit cold turkey! Take my father, for example: a die-hard New York Islander fan that migrated to Florida like so many other northerners. The Tampa Bay Lightning had their inaugural season in '92-93. That season he would go to Islander-Lightning games in Tampa wearing an Islander Jersey and rooting solely for New York.
This is the normal method for most Florida snowbirds. You will see a guy wear a Lightning jersey all year long, until his boyhood Canadian team comes to town and he reveals his true colors. A couple years went by, and my dad started wearing neutral plain T-shirts to Lightning-Islander games, while rooting for a 3-3 tie.
However, a monogamous relationship with the Lightning was slowly setting in. By the time the Lightning were playing the Isles in their 2004 first round playoff series, my dad was a full Lightning convert, and jumped for joy in a Lightning Jersey when Marty St. Louis clinched the series in OT of game five. The conversion was complete.
A full conversion like this can take years, so be patient: You don’t go to bed a Catholic, and wake up Rastafarian! There are steps you must go through, and old habits will kick in along the way. Wear a rubber band and snap your wrist if you find yourself at work, browsing your old team's website to find out which goalie is starting the game later.
Do NOT wear the half/half jerseys that feature two teams on the same jersey: This is just an insult to both teams. It has always been a pet peeve of mine to see this at hockey games. These fans are clearly conflicted and lost in that murky grey area between two teams. You will never be happy until you commit, one way or the other, but don't EVER show up to a game in one of these jerseys.
Your old team (if still in existence) can be your Plan B: If your new favorite team is ousted early on in the playoffs, feel free to TEMPORARILY root softly for your old team. However, as soon as the season is over, immediately sever all ties with your old flame.
Remember that you are not alone: Even NHL players have gone through this process. Everyone’s childhood NHL fantasy usually manifests itself in the hometown team’s jersey, but it’s rare that a player gets to actually play his career with his native team. NHL players have even admitted to expressing a reflexive cheer when seeing their first love win a Stanley Cup. I know that Vinny Lecavalier is quite content in Tampa, but deep down, his inner eight-year-old must yearn to hoist a cup in a Montreal Canadiens sweater and sing, “We are the Champions” in French. If you still feel lonely during the conversion process, get a sponsor. Find a fellow fan of your new team that you can call when you feel yourself falling off the wagon and rooting for your old team.
The religious fervor you feel for your first team is magical. You may have felt it would be impossible to ever duplicate. I hope this article lets you see the light.
Just please don't come knocking on my door, asking me to join your team, because I will never convert!
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