Canadiens 4, Bruins 3
[Note to the reader: This post is incredibly long, even by the standards of this blog, and perhaps a bit melodramatic and self-serious, and possibly in poor taste. Discretion, or at least patience, is advised.]
Jesus saves… but Sammy scores on the rebound.
Last Saturday, Ryan Miller was quoted as saying that coming to the
I went to this game in person. Here’s the part where I admit something embarrassing: This was my first hockey game. Ever. In my entire life. Yes, I started writing long, semi-coherent hockey commentary and posting it on the internet without ever having been to an actual game. I haven’t even been near an ice rink in over a decade.
The pre-game practice down on the ice has all the clear, precise structure of a ritual regularly performed. The motions of the players are automatic, like ball bearings rolling over a set course, as if there was no choice or will involved but simply a series of movements which must be conducted by both sides before the game can commence.
But however standard the opening, this is, we all know, not a standard game. Both teams come to the ice tonight damaged, both physically and psychically. The seats around me buzz with anxiety. Souray and Begin are both out with injuries of unknown severity, absences that don’t bode well for the Canadiens’ already unreliable offense. Yet these injuries, which alone would be enough to worry the fans, are tonight a distant third on the list of topics of concern.
It is a strange thing that this game should even be played, hemmed in as it is by sorrow and fear, but nevertheless, it is played. One feels as though life ought to stop for such real sadness, but it doesn’t, even the silly parts, even the bizarre game where adult men chase a little rubber disc around on ice for an hour. Hockey games don’t stop because of injuries, no matter how severe, and similarly the hockey season doesn’t stop for tragedies, no matter how vicious.
Before the anthems, they call for a moment of silence in memory of Laura Gainey.
Most people who have spoken or written about her death have reflected on their own children, how terrifying it would be to lose them. I have no children, as yet I am still young enough to be, although mostly an adult, one of the children in my family, and as such, I take this moment to think about my parents. Many of the news reports have mentioned Laura Gainey’s self-destructive phase, her drug addiction and struggle to come to terms with her mother’s death, and I think of how much of his life Bob Gainey must have spent worrying for her, caring for her, fighting for her. We are so cruel to our parents sometimes, when we are young and angry at the world, we cause them such fear and pain with the things we do to ourselves- the risks we take, the passions we chase. I regret, in that moment, the many sorrows I have caused my own parents in my struggle to become myself. I think of that brief silence on the other end of the telephone line when I speak of my latest gigantic plan which will take me further from them into the wide strange world, and I realize what they are afraid of: that I might go so far that I do not come back. I have often found their desire to protect me suffocating, but now I think I understand it more, for there are so many dangers out there that cannot be planned for or managed, that could catch up to anyone at any second. As a daughter, I know that probably she could not have been other than what she was nor done other than what she did, but it is unbearably cruel that she was caught by such a fleeting catastrophe. I do pray, though I know not to what, that whatever peace is to be had in this universe finds her, and her father, and her siblings, and her mother.
I don’t know what everyone else was thinking about, but for the moment, we are all totally silent.
The first period remains very subdued. My eyes are so used to being directed by the camera that at first I am never looking in the right place- I get caught on a particular player and miss the play. The arena is eerily quiet at first, perhaps because our minds our all somewhere else, perhaps because it is the nature of first periods to be subdued, but I find it strange to watch without the constant chatter of the play by play. From my eyes-of-God vantage point, the game looks somehow smoother and simpler than it does on television, and for a while I think of nothing but the inherent beauty of the game, the perpetual motion, the easy sophistication. It is difficult for me to even watch, much less think, at the speed of hockey-play, yet the players make it seem completely natural, like the formations of a flock of birds or a school of fish, as if it was just the way human beings were meant to move.
As nice as it is to have some time to contemplate the aesthetics of the game, that is not why one goes to the
So I go back to my seat for the beginning of the second, and I get what I wanted- something amazing happens, and everything changes.
Sergei Samsonov scores.
If you haven’t been following the Habs this year, this may not mean anything to you, but trust me, for the crowd at the
And I don’t know if it seemed this way to the guys on the ice, or to the fans at home, but where I was sitting, after that, it was an entirely different game. The 2nd line- this line that everybody hated, the one we all blamed for every problem the team had, the line that no one expected anything from until maybe Higgins came back- are suddenly the night’s biggest attraction. They change onto the ice and everyone leans forward a little more, Samsonov gets anywhere near the puck and the noise starts building immediately. My companion, who does not follow the Canadiens, keeps telling me how this #15 is really great, and I’m not sure what to say to that, except to smile and say that yeah, apparently he is. When he scores again in the 3rd, the furor is even louder, a group behind me whistling so shrill and long that my ears ring for minutes. It’s not just happiness that we got a point and we’re winning, it’s more than that. I think we’re genuinely happy for him. There’s relief too, for ourselves, relief to be free of our own complaining and criticism, thrilled at the opportunity to be good fans, supportive, happy, energetic fans. By the time Latendresse gets his, my entire section is leaning so far forward that we’re not even sitting anymore, but kneeling on the back of the seat in front of us, and there are people around me who’ve been standing and yelling for the past 5 minutes straight and won’t stop until the final buzzer. When the game ends- this game- people leave singing, and I don’t know how it happened, because nothing real has changed since that moment of silence at the beginning- the injuries, the cancer, the death are no different now than they were two hours ago. But everyone somehow feels better.
The amazing thing is not that Samsonov finally scored, it is that he scored twice and scored dazzlingly in this game, surrounded by loss and injury and anxiety and chased by a 19 game slump and ravening media wolves desperate to drive him from
I doubt that Samsonov’s critics will fold up their auction tables yet- I fully expect to hear more than a few thank-God-he-scored-because-maybe-we-can-deal-him-now rants in the coming days. I don’t want him to go, at least not yet, although I suppose he couldn’t be blamed for finding the atmosphere in this city less than accommodating. He was the first star in my first hockey game, on a night when I really needed to see something fantastic, and that’s enough to earn my affection.
The media spin is that they ‘won one for the Gainey family’, but the fact is, winning a hockey game is meaningless on the scale of that horror. Sports are stupid. Being a sports fan is inherently ridiculous, a foolish thing to waste one’s passion on, what with all the real, serious problems in the world, what with all the real pain and real disasters and whatnot. I don’t know if anybody went to this game, if anybody in
I think it is because, within the miniature world of the game, anything really can happen. Real miracles, in real life, just don’t occur, most of the time there is no happy ending, no last-second plot twist that gives meaning to everything that came before. Real life is often an exercise in learning how to accept chaos and pain, and a lot of the time, you have to be content just to survive as long as you can. But in a game, we get to see all kinds of little miracles. In hockey, a player can go scoreless for 19 games and then dazzle everyone in the 20th. In hockey, a team can be down 4-0 after 30 minutes and still win in the end. Real life gives you those kinds of moments- where the underdog really triumphs, where the little guy beats the odds, where victory is pulled out of immanent defeat at the last second- twice in a decade. Sports give you them twice a week. Sports, ultimately, cultivate the capacity for hope, more than that, they train you for it; all their tiny, insignificant, irrelevant miracles that surprise you and shock you and teach you not to take anything for granted and not to think you know what’s going to happen in the future. And because even when the miracles go against you, there’s still the next game, the next season, and you know that still, whatever the odds against, anything can happen.
In real life, anything can’t happen. Very few things can happen, and even fewer actually do. But it is easier to live when we can believe in endless, infinite possibilities, as wide and bright as the eastern horizon.
So in that way, maybe, it is like going to church. The reality before the beginning of the game is no different than the reality at the end of the game, but the crowd that left the