“WATCH FOR FLYING PUCKS,” the words imprinted on the plexiglass warn repeatedly.
“Do we really have to watch for flying hockey pucks?” I ask, settling onto a wooden bench at the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School ice arena in Faribault. This is my first-ever hockey game and I hadn’t thought about the possibility of flying missiles.
My husband confirms that pucks do, indeed, sail into the crowd on occasion.
“Would it be safer to sit more towards the middle?” I ask. So we move up and over, parking ourselves on a warm cement bench/step directly behind four Breck School fans.
This number one ranked Minnesota Class A hockey team has come to play the Sabres, notably one of the best high school hockey teams in the country. According to a hockey booklet I picked up Thursday evening, “Shattuck-St. Mary’s School is to high school hockey what Harvard is to law school.” That quote comes from Sports Illustrated magazine.
The Shattuck team proves itself again Thursday, winning 4 to 1 with 35 shots on goal compared to the Mustangs’ 22.
Not that I know much about hockey. Through-out the game, I pepper my husband with questions. After awhile, I stop trying to figure it all out, choosing instead to simply track the whizzing puck.
I begin to understand, though, those “WATCH FOR FLYING PUCKS” warnings as the disk tumbles and slides, often uncontrollably, across the ice, through the air, once hitting a high-hung ceiling light. And then, in the second period, just like that, the puck zooms over the plexiglass toward the crowd, 15 feet away, near where we had first seated ourselves.
OK, then. This game is not for sissy fans.
The intensity with which attendees embrace this competition surprises me. Unhappy with a missed transgression, a 30-something Breck fan seated near me and dressed impeccably in pinstripe pants, shiny black dress shoes and a black wool coat, yells at the ref. He’s not alone. An entire section of fans voice their discord. I have no idea why they are unhappy.
“Go, go, go!” the man urges as the Mustangs sail down the ice towards their net.
As for me, I sit there in my jeans, unfashionable heavy duty snow boots, wool coat and fleece blanket not taking any of this too seriously. I’m more interested in listening to the clash of hockey sticks, the bang of bodies against plexiglass, the triumphant blast of a horn when the Sabres score.
I’m more interested in observing hockey players piling atop each other like Pick up sticks, in watching a helmet and glove fly onto the ice, in noticing a player’s surprise when the puck sneaks inside his uniform.
The aggressiveness on the rink doesn’t escape me. “They’re being mean to each other. Shouldn’t that be a penalty?” I ask as players tangle in what looks more like a wrestling match than a hockey game.
My husband laughs, tells me the game would never finish if every such interaction was deemed a penalty. But I notice the Sabres players go to the penalty box a lot more than the Mustangs.
So the evening goes…my first ever-attended hockey game. As we leave, my husband chats with the Breck fan who sat directly in front of me. He’s not disappointed, seems happy in fact that his nephew’s team has scored against the Sabres.
As we walk through the lobby, I note the hockey uniforms encased and dangling from the ceiling. These are, my husband enlightens me, jerseys of Shattuck players who went on to play for pro teams like the New Jersey Devils, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The number of pro uniforms impresses me.
But then I recall the sign plastered onto the side of the zamboni: “Turn your dreams into goals.”
Text © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling