Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday

I woke up this morning disheveled and disoriented, feeling like a poorly-done charcoal sketch of myself. Didn’t get to bed until nearly 4 am, slept badly, dreamt of goalies- always a bad sign. When you feel like that on any morning, it should mean that you had a really great previous night. But not so, just interminable msging with S, who unfortunately grew up in Toronto and suffers from congenital Leafism, and is now my mostly-companion in pointless, futile anxiety. Hours of comparing notes, speculating, arguing. His worries: Sundin is slumping, Raycroft is looking awful, no meaningful second line to speak of, no speed. My worries: Kovalev has reverted to uselessness, no offensive energy, even-strength scoring never reliable, kids looking nervous, like the pressure might be getting to them. Maybe, he says, neither of them really want it. He’s got a point, the way those two games went, you’d think neither team has anything to play for. Snarky small voice in the depths of my brain: go isles go.

Day off. Holiday. Holy-day. I can stop thinking about hockey for one day. I can find things to do. There are other things in life. I spend a jittery, fluttery late morning, early afternoon trying not to think about hockey at all. Coffee, shower, housekeeping. Yesterday’s dishes. I wonder if they’ll start Huet. What did I say about hockey? No hockey. Noise. Shuffle. Weird mix coming up, the speakers sing “Thanks for the filing cabinet, I don’t know what I ever did without it”. What kind of lyrics are those? Maybe Kovalev will show up again? No! No hockey speculation. No newspaper, no TV, no internet. Novel, a story about cranes and brain damage and a family with problems. Why are all novels about families with problems? Yeah, they could be about hockey players. Fuck you, that’s not what I meant.

Fine, snarky head-voice, you want me to obsess about hockey? Okay, I’ll obsess about hockey.

***

The weather is blank. Sky like a dirty plaster ceiling. Clumps of grey slush. Nagging, gnawing chill. Snow that hovers in the air, immune to gravity, refusing to fall. The only way you can tell its spring is the smell- smells like dirt and gasoline. Winter in Montreal smells like ice.

Time to go. Go go go go. Somewhere, anywhere, so long as it involves going. Moving= thinking clearly. Time to think about this systematically. What could possibly happen? Think about everything, feel out every possibility, be prepared for whatever comes. It won’t hurt if it’s not a shock. Rationality and pessimism, please. Start from that which matters least: The rest of the playoffs, all those other teams, the pairings that are mostly set.

Parc. Senators vs. Penguins: Sort of an unfortunate matching, they’re too alike, everything up front, speed and offense, inconsistent D. Should be a high-scoring series, fun to watch, in a cotton-candy sort of way- points flying everywhere like gnats. Goaltending is the only thing that really matters. Emery. Instinct: Sens by a thread, although they do tell me that Ottawa are notorious chokers. Preference: Pittsburgh, but just barely, 55% maybe.

Mont-Royal. Thrashers vs. Rangers: What are the Thrashers? Fuzzy sky-blue team, no distinct character. Changed half their people at the trade deadline, all in, desperate for a run, but still missing something I can’t name but am sure is very important. Beneficiaries of a weak division. Rangers, on the other hand- maybe a little short on style but long on substance, they could go wherever they want these days, providing they manage Avery properly and Lundqvist keeps his mojo. Instinct: Rangers, easily. Preference: Totally depends on whether the Habs (don’t think about the Habs) are in- if they are, best to have the Rangers knocked out ASAP. Without any personal interests to consider, I’d always rather watch New York. More coffee, Tim Horton’s, mmmm….

St-Denis. Lightning vs. Devils: Tampa Bay, an exhibition of shiny, expensive Quebecois goal-generating machines. Another one of those teetering teams, no balance, nothing quite where it should be, but enough scoring covers a multitude of sins. Devils, on the other hand, aren’t even a team, they’re a skating ideology, a system that- as befits the name- has no use for a soul. Why do we hate them so? Aren’t they the ideal of a hockey team? What fan wouldn’t want that, discipline, order, precision, nothing careless, nothing silly, nothing embarrassing? Consistency. Reliability. Stability. Everything that the rest of hockey never really is. Instinct: Poor flashy, Floridian forwards, they haven’t got a chance. Preference: RDS says I’m not allowed to root against Lecavalier.

Sherbrooke. Sabres vs. ????. Sabres, loveable, even likable, sort of team, the team that Should Win. They’ve got the best story to tell, and they tell it well; even on the ice, they should be a movie not a hockey team. Could be destabilized in that ironic, tragic way by good players returning from injuries, but that’s a long shot. Good to go as long as Miller’s emotional state holds. The possible opposition? Isles? Recent wins notwithstanding, nothing without DiPietro. Leafs? Too slow, can’t possibly skate with Buffalo for that many consecutive games, and they’ve got goalie problems. Instinct: Sabres, in their sleep, against either. Preference: Let’s go Buffalo, unless…

Parc again. The calculations are easy now. Win one game and the Habs keep going, lose it and… reessayez S.V.P. How did it come to this? An 82 game season, think about it, months and months of games, so many games I can’t hardly remember them, how does it all come down to one? How can one game mean everything? How did we get here, in this situation so perfectly scripted? And why can’t I imagine the Habs making the playoffs? Why can I hypothesize every other possibility except the one I want?

Why is it easier to imagine them losing? The hot streak of rage cutting through the city for a few days, than the slow cool-down and the rising speculation about next season, the return of the trade rumors, Gainey front and center again, him all silence and distance, the questions we’re already asking: Will he resign Souray? Will he find a way to move Samsonov? Will he go after another big UFA? What will he do with our Canadiens, by the time the curtain rises again on next October? And the guys themselves, hanging around maybe for a few days to wrap things up, and then scattering back to their families and friends and distant homes- LA, New York, Turku, Moscow, going off to steal a few months of normal(ish) human life, rest, heal, try to remember if there’s anything they like to do besides hockey. The city, watching the rest of the playoffs go by without us- bemused, sarcastic, but still unable to look away, the fan base fragmenting as everyone chooses different substitute loyalties. Watching the game become more and more distant as it gets more and more spectacular- fun stuff, entertainment, nothing to do with us.

Why can’t I imagine them winning? Kukla asks us all to tell him, in 250 words or less, why our team deserves to win the Stanley Cup. And if I really think about it, I don’t know if my Canadiens do. I can’t think of a good reason, a moving argument for why these Habs ought to win.

Certainly they do not need the Cup victory, there’s not a lot riding on it long-term. Montreal has always been fanatical about hockey and always will be, and no one is in danger of approaching the franchise record for Cup-wins anytime soon. There are other teams who really need to win, ailing franchises who need something as big as a Stanley Cup victory to grow- or revive- hockey in their area, and others who’ve never had so much as one, who deserve the opportunity to start building their own legends.

But particularly, I don’t know if I can say honestly that my Canadiens have really done anything to deserve the Stanley Cup. They don’t have the most natural talent, hardly even any players of significant statistical value. They haven’t worked the hardest, indeed, they’ve dropped more than their share of games due to sheer laziness, and have a couple of guys who spent large parts of the season exploring the many possible ways to be totally indifferent to hockey while actually playing it. They have faced some adversity, but not significantly more than other teams, and were actually quite lucky in terms of injuries on the overall scale of the NHL. And as much as it does pain me to say it, they don’t have the best fans, or even very good fans. Passionate and numerous, but not good in any conventional sense of the word.

Can I say they should win exactly because they don’t deserve it? The underdog angle- they’ve been better than they should have been, doesn’t that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? And if I’m going for sentimentality, there’s always the Saku Koivu trump card- come on, doesn’t he, of all people, after all he’s been through, deserve to lift the Cup before he retires? Cue cellos, video montage.

No, really the best I can say is that they don’t not deserve it for any particular reason, and that it’s a romantic myth to think that winning is about earning the victory. I couldn’t prove it, but I’m willing to bet that a good number of Stanley Cups have been won in silly, ridiculous, improbable ways by teams that were far from objectively deserving. In the end, whoever can get it, gets it, and it don’t mean nothin’ more than that: they got it. Winner is whoever wins. Might as well be us.

That’s depressing.

***

The outdoor rink is dead now, the boards still standing in a great oval around slush and mud- nothing. In spite of the cold, the snow on the ground and in the air, it is spring now, the time for hockey has passed. In the distance, a group of guys are playing soccer in shorts. They know.

Three months ago I stood here, exact same spot, and asked myself what exactly I wanted from hockey, to be so immoderately entranced with it. The question stands, but today it comes back in a different key. If, when, they lose, when it’s all over, what happens then? Is the spell then broken? Will I get my heart and my sanity and my sense of proportion back, everything in its proper order and on its proper scale? Will I wake up Sunday morning and laugh at how silly I’ve been for the past 5 months, saying, it’s just a game? Ethics in hockey? Nostalgia, narrative, gender, history, nationalism, HOCKEY? What the fuck was I thinking?

Is it possible, really, to just love the game? In general? In abstract? In a vacuum? The Idea of Hockey? Is it possible to love the game without a team? I don’t know, I’ve never really tried. The title of the blog is a hideous lie, I’m a crap theorist, any community college freshman could theorize circles around me. I need things, physical things, I need buildings and objects and bodies. Solid, tangible, touchable things with textures and smells. I need there to be an actual team and actual games to love, even mediated by the television, I need to see and hear it and know that it’s real and it’s vaguely mine. Don’t take my team away, not yet, I’m not ready. I'm not ready to lose hockey.

Whatever the environmental evidence to the contrary, this is the time of rebirth and renewal, resurrection. This is the part of the year when things are supposed to begin; we’re supposed to take comfort in life coming back after months and months of death. But standing there, looking at the rink that isn’t a rink anymore, all I have is regret and recrimination, and the creeping sensation of impending loss- for my Habs, and of them as well.

I want them to win, as deeply and darkly as I’ve ever wanted anything.

I just can’t imagine it.

2 comments:

Julian said...

I remember how empty it felt after game 7 last year. The amazing run the oilers went on, games every other night, important, meaningful games, capped off by the most meaningful of all.... and then nothing. That's not quite right, it's more like "and then, everything went to hell".

But still, not a team to follow was shocking enough, not having any hockey at all to watch was worse, even though it was the middle of June.

You'd better be just as interested in hockey in the fall, where else am I gonna get this sorta hockey discussion from?

I'm getting kinda excited about tonights game. I haven't been excited about a hockey game in, uhh... well, i'm still trying to block out this year.

I'm going to sleep now (midnightish) and I'm gonna get up at 4am to go to my friends place to watch the whole HNIC (or Hockey Morning, as it were) in one swoop. I may sleep through the Oilers game though, if it goes at all like I'm expecting it to.

Jordi said...

I still don't believe it.