Tuesday, November 07, 2006
It’s Critical Midterm Election Day, everyone, and that means . . . it’s time for a post about hockey!
When I opened this Sunday’s “Education Life” section of The New York Times and realized to my dismay that Charles McGrath had faulted me for not dealing with the case of Kevin Barrett in What’s Liberal? even though the Kevin Barrett story broke eight months after my book went to press, I thought, “why, that is most ironical! Because here I am in northern New York at the 15th Annual Teaching Effectiveness Conference of the Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley, and what was I doing, in the 1:15 - 2:15 session , “Two Case Studies: How Faculty Are Affected by Academic Freedom,” but discussing the case of Kevin Barrett!
But never mind my discussion of Kevin Barrett and academic freedom. The important thing is that after my various conference tasks were finally done, great soul Chris Robinson (as yet unindicted by the WAAGNFNP Show Trial Proceedings, by the way) took me out to see St. Lawrence play Harvard in a game of icical hockey. SLU won 4-2, but it was a closely fought, sometimes thrilling game right down to the final minutes. And it reminded me of two things.
One: Jamie and I drove down to Pittsburgh a few weeks ago and saw the Penguins lose a dog of a game, 5-1, to the defending- Cup- champions- who- will- surely- not- repeat Hurricanes. I realized that (a) I had been living in Pennsylvania for five years without seeing a Penguins game, and (b) I had missed seeing Gretzky and Lemieux for their entire careers, despite making elaborate plans to catch them (Gretzky during his short stint with the Blues, Lemieux in a late-career game against the Islanders), and wanted to be sure to see 19-year-old phenom Sidney Crosby while he was still 19. He played an undistinguished game, and remarkably—since his passing is often preternaturally creative and precise—coughed up the puck two or three times on simple outlet passes. But what the hell. At least I saw him play. Now I have to go back later this year and see him play alongside 20-year-old phenom Evgeni Malkin, who played his first game as a Penguin just after Jamie and I left town.
(The Gretzky story is quite terrible, by the way. In 1996 I got tickets for game four of the Blues-Red Wings series in which Detroit eventually won game seven in double OT. But on the day of the game, May 10, central Illinois was drenched in torrential rains. “There’s no way you’re driving to St. Louis with Nick,” Janet insisted. “Don’t worry, we can make it,” I replied. “You can’t make it,” Janet said. “The highways are washed out.” And they were! By now the rains were biblical, and Noah’s Ark-RV Rental of Champaign was doing a brisk business. But since we were on the great open prairie, I thought the rains might yet desist and the waters recede, so I told Janet I would wait until noon to decide. By noon, five inches of rain had fallen, and entire communities were flooded. So I called Ticketmaster and released the tickets . . . and lo! As I hung up the phone, the clouds parted, the sun broke through, and the hand of a malevolent God dried the plains instantaneously. When I picked Nick up from school at 3, he was still fully expecting to go to St. Louis, and when I told him we didn’t have tickets anymore, he almost burst into tears. I told Nick I had waited as long as I could before releasing them; he told me, most emphatically, to get them back. This, of course, I could not do. And so we never saw Gretzky in person, and we missed a scintillating 1-0 game that lifted the Blues into a 2-2 series tie. Fie, fie on the Deity and Her nasty midwestern weather patterns.)
Despite their play that night, the Penguins look pretty decent this year—and they actually have a shot at winning the division, because the division is going to suck. You heard it here first: 90 points will win the Atlantic, and 88 points will probably take third place. The Rangers will play erratically all year long: they will be brilliant on Wednesday and incompetent the following Saturday. The Flyers are done. They should start thinking about “rebuilding,” which means, in this context, getting rid of a bunch of hoary veterans and looking around for 19- and 20-year-old phenoms.
But that’s not thing one. Thing one is that I never fail to be astonished at how prohibitively expensive it is to see a game. Jamie and I sat in medium-range seats: about 40 or 50 rows up, off the blue line. Very good seats, but nothing spectacular. And they were $80 a pop, almost $200 when you factor in the handling fee, the processing fee, the transaction fee, and the convenience fee. Who can afford this kind of thing on a regular basis? I treat myself only on special occasions, once or twice a year, and no matter where I go—Pittsburgh, Carolina, New Jersey, St. Louis—I am never, never sitting next to corporate types with expense accounts. I am sitting next to white middle-class men (and some women, some kids) whose demeanor does not suggest to me that they have a spare two or three thousand dollars (per seat) for hockey games every year (plus another couple thousand in concessions). And yet almost everyone is wearing a customized jersey. Customized jerseys run about $250. Jamie and I are not wearing $250 of clothing between us. Now, I could be wrong about my aislemates and their demeanor; after all, even a corporate VP might look like an ordinary middle-class shlub if he’s wearing a Penguins cap and a customized Kevin Stevens jersey. But I don’t think I’m wrong. I think I’ve stumbled onto an important economic phenomenon—a Hockey Bubble of some kind.
Now for thing two. When I started playing again in 1999, I was initially relieved that the game had changed so little in the twenty years since I last laced ‘em up. Sure, the players were a little faster, the pace of the game was quicker, and people used the boards more creatively than they did in 1979, but on the whole, I thought, it’s not a radically different game. Imagine, I thought, if I’d stopped playing in 1955 and resumed in 1975: there would be slapshots, curved sticks, helmets, and goaltenders with masks. It would be like the difference between basketball before and after the invention of the jump shot. And I was saying this to a woman on the bench next to me one winter day in early 2000. . . .
when I realized, holy mother of Mahovlich, I’m talking to a woman on a hockey bench! how the hell did that happen?
The St. Lawrence - Harvard game I saw on Saturday afternoon was a women’s game. The players were fast, the pace was quick, and everyone used the boards creatively. And they were women. It was très cool.
All right, team. Now let’s get out there and vote some bad people out of office!