My wife and I both have our evenings back a whole lot earlier than we wanted, and we can cancel the appointments with the nice marriage counselor who specializes in same-sex couples this June. Neither her Detroit Red Wings nor my Pittsburgh Penguins will be heading for the Stanley Cup Finals this year, let alone both. Both of our teams got knocked out in the second round in surprising fashion, by teams that "everyone" knew were inferior (in the case of the Montreal Canadiens versus the Penguins) or the worst chokers in the NHL (in the case of the San Jose Sharks versus the Red Wings.) If either or both play for the Cup, it will be a terrific story. Fuck terrific stories anyway.
I know, okay? I know everything that everyone who happens to read this, particularly the non-hockey fans, might want to tell me. There are so many things in this world that are so much worse. Just flip the channel from Versus to CNN for a second. Just get news updates texted to you on your cell phone, and hear it go off to announce some new grim thing when you're trying to watch a game. We'll see. We have seen. We've seen in our own lives and our friends' lives, lives that don't make headlines. We'll see again. Given that, a 22-year-old multimillionaire who's already accomplished most of his career objectives barely holding back tears and admitting he was stunned by a defeat seems at least faintly ridiculous, and it's even more ridiculous to be unable to hold back your own tears for him and his team and the building where they've played.
I know, okay? I know everything the hockey fans might want to tell me, too. Some teams haven't been to the playoffs in forever, let alone lost a round. It's an amazing thing that the Red Wings and Penguins could make it to the Finals two years in a row, and that the Pens won the Cup once, and that three of the Penguins (Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Brooks Orpik) have Olympic medals. Repeating even the trip to the Finals would have been, to say the very least, difficult. The Penguins were complacent much of this past year, and played with an irritating air of entitlement, consistently playing down to teams that looked worse on paper and losing.
Late last year, earlier this season, I wrote about how getting into each others' sports helped to bring L'Ailee and I closer. We chose different teams and different race car drivers for different reasons. However, we were able to bond over our appreciation of the sports themselves. We kiss on either Penguins or Red Wings goals, and we kiss whenever Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, or Juan Pablo Montoya take the lead. We've learned so much, quite literally, about where the other one comes from. We are as different as Florida and Siberia, the places that gave birth to us. We've found it easier to visualize each other as little girls. We've taught and learned and been pleased to watch the other one learn.
There are other relationships in life. We've met each others' friends by having them over at our little row house to watch hockey and racing. Our friends have become each others' friends, too. My work husband, a straight man from Birmingham, Alabama, is still a little amazed that one of his best friends is a bisexual man from Moscow, the one who's been L'Ailee's best friend since they arrived in NYC. (I think the feeling is mutual, too.) I bonded with L'Ailee's friend's precocious daughter, in part, over our shared love for the Penguins.
My brother never watched any sort of sports at all. When he moved to Western Pennsylvania this year, he asked me to teach him about the Penguins so he'd "at least know one of the local sports teams." He got hooked on the Penguins and hockey itself, to the point of growing a sympathy playoff beard with the guys on the team. I teased him about looking like Jordan Staal, who his wife has a crush on. We've talked and texted about the games. We have so many other things to talk about, of course. But it was really special to give the gift of the sport to him and his wife, the way my wife gave it to me. I don't think I can even put into words how special it was when he allowed me to name one of his cocktail recipes after a Penguins player on my weird little fan blog.
Speaking of that weird little fan blog, I've learned about the fountains of creativity that hockey can inspire in its fans. I believe I have the only blog on the Internet where appreciation for NHL players' contributions is expressed in the form of recipes. I certainly have the only Penguins fan blog that does this in a Southern bisexual voice with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. Other fans like to draw, or make video tributes, or post pictures of good-looking players, or write hilarious commentary and recaps of the games, or make funny Photoshops, or--and this surprised me the most--write slash fic about their favorite players. (I don't have to tell you how very NSFW that last link is, do I?)
Actually, maintaining Cocktails with the Penguins allowed me to do something I never had before--write a collection of recipes. I always "doctored up" other peoples' recipes or "threw things together". I will be entering a few of the recipes I've written out in cocktail contests this summer. I never thought I'd do that. It's amazing how long the chain of things I never thought I'd do can extend when I let it.
I'm grateful for hockey. I'm grateful for all the beautiful highlight reel moments. I'm grateful for the times I went outside to help A.'s daughter see if she could replicate those moments. I'm grateful for Olympic hockey getting me through recovery from my myomectomy a few months ago. I'm grateful for what hockey does to a man's glutes--if L'Ailee had told me about hockey butts, I'd probably have been an NHL fan much earlier! (I still want to see a Wranglers ad with Bill Guerin.) I'm grateful that I've gotten to watch talented boys in their late teens grow into young men capable of being champions--I've compared it to watching the pandas at the National and San Diego Zoos grow from tiny "sticks of butter" to big, beautiful bears on camera. I'm grateful for the friends I made online and the water-cooler discussions I had at work. I'm grateful for the trip L'Ailee and I took to watch our teams play in their home arenas instead of suffering through another Christmas with my family, one that made me very grateful I knew the sport when we dropped in on her hockey-crazed Russian-Canadian relatives! I still have NASCAR, and I hope Tony Stewart does much better in the next few months than he has early this season. I'll be talking about that more here, most likely. But as I wrote to my brother a couple nights ago, "NASCAR is our roots and our blood family. Hockey is our future and our choice family."
I raise one of my cocktails, then, to the future, one that I know will include lots of exciting games at the new Consol Energy Center and more Stanley Cup celebrations for the Penguins.
Non-hockey links will be in the next post, I swear. ;-)