What The Puck: How a Hockey Game Turned Jon Sladek's Life Upside Down

Jon SladekCorrespondent IJanuary 21, 2010

NEW YORK - JANUARY 19:  Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against Artem Anisimov #42 of the New York Rangers on January 19, 2010 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The last month has changed my life.

Allow me to explain. It all started innocently enough, a buddy texting me December 22:

"Got two free tickets to Monsters game tonight, wanna go?"

The "Monsters" he was referring to are the Lake Erie Monsters, the American Hockey League team in Cleveland. The Monsters are the minor league affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.

I wasn't sure how to respond. Normally I make a rule to never turn down free tickets to a sporting event, but hockey?

I texted my wife, who was visiting family in Alabama. "You should go!" she responded. Little did she know...

Prior to that night, my sports life was one of the main sources of stability I had. I followed football, baseball, and basketball. I rooted for the Browns, Indians, Cavaliers, and Crimson Tide. It was all so simple, so perfect. So I thought.

We get to the arena to see the Monsters take on the Rochester Americans. The first thing that struck me was how cool the playing surface looked in person (no pun intended). And the players were padded up like football players; football players with sweet-looking sticks and blades on their feet!

The game started with the faceoff and I found myself transfixed by the sounds: the skates on the ice, the puck smacking into sticks, and players being violently checked into the boards. Surely, I thought, the early infatuation with the sights and sounds will dissipate once the boring play continues.

Then a funny thing happened. Nothing about the play was boring. In fact, it was almost constant action, a far contrast from the incessant play stoppages in football and basketball. From our seats behind the net, I could see the offensive and defensive schemes in action. It wasn't just a bunch of guys skating around. I was amazed at the precision and accuracy of the passing.

Completely consumed in the action, I raised my arms in the air, almost involuntarily, when the Monsters scored their first goal at 9:47 in the first period. When the first period ended, I actually looked at my buddy and said, "already?"

I spent the first intermission in a dazed state. How could this be? How could I have lived 31 years and just now discovered another sport I enjoy? Would there be room? What sport would hockey take time away from?

So many questions and so few answers.

What has followed in the month since that fateful game can only be described as a courtship between hockey and I. I can't seem to get enough. I even bought a hockey video game which has consumed more time than I care to admit. A week after my first game, I convinced my wife to take me to a second for my birthday. This Saturday will be my third game. I've also been watching NHL games on some channel called "Versus."

Its all so strange. I grew up in Cleveland and spent a great deal of my adult life in Alabama. Nothing about that says, "hockey fan." Yet I'm learning to not question it. I root for the Monsters, but have yet to figure out a rooting interest for the NHL.

As for my wife, she is patiently putting up with my new fascination. Though less than thrilled I have yet another sport to obsess over, she is cautiously optimistic the thrill will wane in time.

I hate to have to tell her, but she may have to put those hopes on ice.