The walking wounded

A huge Oakleigh crowd watches the dying seconds of the Ceptors' win; Jay Hellis in perfect pose, mid shut-out. (Pic: Elizabeth Vine)

A huge Oakleigh crowd watches the last seconds of the Ceptors’ win; Jay Hellis in perfect pose, mid shut-out. (Pic: Elizabeth Vine)

“So, let’s get this straight,” I said, looking around the purple haze of Interceptor jerseys in the Oakleigh rink’s tiniest change-room. Pointing, and ticking off our players.

Two bad knees: one for the season, the other almost certainly for the season.

Next player: a suspected broken toe.

Next along: a badly swollen puck-hammered thumb.

Next along: separated shoulder, now strapped up and on a prayer to survive the game about to start.

Next to me, on the right: painful back that hurts badly after every game.

Me: dubious knee that is refusing to heal.

Next to me, on the left: another strained and painful lower back.

And so it went. Around the room.

“You know what?” I said, thinking aloud. “We’re a real hockey team now.”

Mid-season, winning some, losing some. Just about everybody carrying something; maybe major, maybe not. At the bare minimum number of players without forfeiting, because Interceptors were away or on hens’ nights or sick or elsewhere.

And about to face a bunch of our friends in the TigerSharks, who had played the night before and were also only just able to scrape a healthy team together on a Saturday evening for this clash.

It’s 30 degree C-plus almost every day outside at the moment in Melbourne, but in the magnificently dilapidated surrounds of the Olympic Ice Rink, sliding and scrapping across a block of freshly-laid ice, or at the Icehouse, the war of attrition between Summer Rec D teams continues.

Maybe this is not mid-season as much as just hockey. After the endless NHL lockout, the Red Wings returned to find they were alrady in disarray with a bunch of injuries that have stopped coach Babcock fielding what he would regard as his best team at any stage so far, a quarter of the way into the season. Heroically, my winged wheel team keeps finding ways to win, more than they lose, although there have been a few meek days. This photo from the game against the Oilers on the weekend is one of the best hockey shots I’ve seen (and well found, James Smith).

Red Wings v Oilers. Pic: NHL (I think) via Facebook.

Red Wings v Oilers. Pic: NHL (I think) via Facebook.

The staggering Ceptors managed a win, with my boy, Big Cat, scoring a hat-trick and his old man, camped in the slot at the moment that counted, managing to swipe a rebound through the goalie’s five-hole for our other goal. Unfortunately the refs didn’t see it like that, giving one of Big Cat’s goals to somebody else, and mine to the assist before it. But gave me the assist. Weird. If I had one take-out of my first summer league competition, it would be to politely suggest to Ice Hockey Victoria that the official scorers consult the coach and captain of each team before officially signing off on the score sheet. Nobody is about to deliberately steal somebody else’s goal, and it would be nice to have them right when they’re lodged. Every time I talk to players from other teams, they have stories of wrongly-attributed goals but I don’t blame the refs at all – they have a million other things to think about mid-game. We should just be able to correct mistakes before we leave the rooms. Then again, Pete Sav got the goal for his shot, which deflected off Big Cat’s leg. Does it change anything? All that really matters is that the goal went in. It counted.

So we had a win – goalie Jay having a kick-arse shut-out that I was crazy-excited about, for him, after all his hard work, over the last couple of years – and we shared our post-game beer with the TigerSharks, before I limped off into the dusk, my stupid knee still giving me grief. Don’t know right now if it’s going to last the season or not. Strangely, it is least troublesome when skating, but I pulled out of Powerskating with Zac, at the Icehouse last Wednesday (it is an intense class – everything I hate, but NEED to do, from intensive crossover work to outside edge work) because I wanted to make sure I made it safely to Saturday’s game where we were so short of numbers. The injury feels like a timebomb, yet hasn’t collapsed yet.

Nicko, v Champs at the Icehouse. Lots to work on, including not looking at the puck while skating, apparently. (Pic Elizabeth Vine)

Nicko, v Champs at the Icehouse. Lots to work on to improve, including not looking at the puck while skating, apparently. (Pic Elizabeth Vine)

I think this week I’ll play Dev League. And power-skating. No tomorrow; suffering in the interests of improving my ever-not-good-enough skating. If my knee folds, it folds.

It was strange to score a goal but leave the game feeling unsatisfied, knowing that I hadn’t skated well enough and feeling like I hadn’t put skating skills I know I have into practice during the actual games. Why don’t I do crossovers when carrying the puck? Why don’t I carry the puck more? Things to work on this Wednesday at Dev. If I can walk.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m whinging by the way. I loved our win and had an awesome weekend on and off the ice, even if painful when I walk or ride my bike. Then again, when I show up on Wednesday night and look around the change room, the chances are that everybody else at Dev League will  also be carrying a wound or strain or bruise or knee or back or something at this stage of things.

So giddyup, Nicko.

We’re hockey players. We need to go play hockey now.

The 100th post. Blow the horn.

A recent highlight from 100 posts-worth of hockey life: Aimee Hough’s brilliant shortbread version of Rookie Nicko, number 17. (She made them of all the Rookies. It wasn’t creepy)

Well, holy crap. The century. Nickdoeshockey‘s 100th post.

I’m not sure it’s strictly good hockey form to wave your stick in the air like a cricket bat; to point it at your teammates in the dressing room.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Because I want to share this moment with you, and thank you for reading and celebrating this crazy ride.

It was on January 19, last year, that I logged my first post on this sketchy attempt at writing a personal diary of my looming hockey adventure.

“Let’s start with the pain,” I wrote.

With me landing badly in my first ever skating class, then being accidentally taken out by a Columbus fan and feeling proud that I’d taken one for the Red Wings.

Genuinely not sure if this blog would last more than two or three weeks if I copped a really bad injury.

And yet, here we are. Me still major-injury-free (touch a lot of wood), still chasing the puck and adventure, and my little project now recently clicked past 20,000 individual users, enjoying upwards of 150 individual readers every day, sometimes over 300, from Australia, the USA, Canada but also from Turkey, Brazil, Taiwan and three today so far from Albania.

I often wonder if these people have stumbled here, looking for “hockey player eaten by shark” or some other bizarre Google search? Or maybe hockey’s reach is as great as it should be, and somewhere in the United Arab Emirates (10 readers in the last seven days), a loyal Red Wings/Melbourne Ice fan is settling over coffee and a screen?

The biggest day so far was 1,126 readers – spookily on January 19, 2012 – even I didn’t realise that was the one-year anniversary until now, writing this – which was the day I had an article published in the Detroit News (no longer online) and the Motor City’ online community came calling. That entire episode remains the highlight of the 100 blogs, with a brilliant exchange of messages between my little Melbourne outpost and Hockeytown, as the Red Wings enjoyed a fools’ gold home-winning streak and we all celebrated everything great about Detroit, which is a spectacular city, no matter how faded and desperate outside of the creaky Joe Louis Arena.

The jury is very much out on whether I can get back to Detroit for the Winter Classic, scheduled for New Year’s Day, 2013, so the blog has mostly since been about everyday life and hockey. Intro classes have turned into Intermediate and then into Dev League and now the adventure creeps ever closer to joining an actual Summer League team and playing for real. I’m excited, really excited. Hopefully that comes through in these posts.

A guy called Patrick, taking umbrage at my “Violence of Vinnie Hughes” post a week ago, mentioned that this site was self-indulgent and well, yes, guilty as charged. Strangely, as the readership has increased, I’ve worked hard to hold onto that personal angle. It’s not only rampant ego as much as I don’t want nickdoeshockey to become just another online news or opinion site for the Melbourne Ice or the Red Wings. God knows, there are enough of those around and some spectacularly good ones (a big shout out to The Production Line, Winging It In Motown and Nightmare on Helm Street, for example).

I prefer to just keep doing what I started: a diary of my hockey adventure, with strands of life outside the rink creeping in. The whole thing came from two colliding moments: my friend, Richard laughing when I told him that I was planning to take up hockey, looking raised-eyebrow at my then-45-year-frame across a coffee table at Lorne and saying, with no room for argument: “You simply have to blog this.” Which hadn’t occurred to me, so thank you, Richard.

The second element was one of my favourite sayings: “Find the thing you like most in life and then let it kill you.” I kid you not, I silently repeat that line to myself often as I stalk towards the Henke Rink, in my armour and skates, wielding my stick. The Australian bushrangers had another way of saying it, in the 19th century: “Die with your boots on.” R.I.P. Ben Hall and Flash Johnny Gilbert, who lived, and died, under that banner.

Celebrating an Ice goal against the Mustangs last Thursday night. Pic: Alex McNab.

I am very aware that hockey has come to symbolise this as my wider approach to life. At my wake, whether it’s next week or in 40 years, I want everybody laughing, shaking their heads and toasting that Nicko Place had a genuine fucking crack at life. And yes, with columns for wins and losses.

Hockey does symbolise so much.

Like life, hockey is action, fear, philosophy, learning, “you know, science”, teamwork, camaraderie, set-backs, heart-break, pure joy, community and so much more.

I can’t believe that 16 months ago, the concept of me as a hockey player had such wet paint on it. How much I didn’t know. Reading that first post feels so long ago and yet, it really isn’t.

What does astonish me is how much has been packed into my life over that 16 months, on and off the ice. As well as my development as a player – from being literally unable to skate, to now playing dev league and feeling like a genuine, if still very green, potential Right Wing – life off the rink has been a rollercoaster.

In the time of the blog, I have travelled to the US (with my boys for the first time) to see Datsyuk. Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Helm and the rest of the Red Wings play live, even if they lost; been to Hogwarts in Florida; had my heart broken, bounce, stumble and soar; achieved a life dream by diving (twice) with the magnificent manta rays off Lady Elliot Island; kept my company afloat after dastardly treacherous bastardy by a major client; had a novel I’d been working on for many years accepted, and to be the first of a series, and moving me out of one genre with four published into a whole new crime-writing field; had friendships rise and fade; watched my beloved Tigers gradually but distinctly get better as a football team; seen Macklin, my youngest son, join Will (aka Kittens, aka Big Cat) and I on the ice as a player; met a French girl I’m trying to impress who laughs instead of sighs when I let hockey take over my life and return, creaking and sore. And God, so much more. That’s not even close to covering the dramas and emotion. Is every 16-month period like this in my life? I’d never tried to chart it before.

And then there’s life within the walls of the Icehouse. The world I’ve stumbled into and the people within that sphere.

Where do I even start? I’m not going to get all mushy. You can do that for me by indulging me in a simple test. Take a deep breath and think of all the fucking amazing people you have met through your involvement in hockey.

You might be in Minnesota or Melbourne. It doesn’t matter.

I’m not just talking about the Rookies, our self-titled band of ragged, diverse, wildly enthusiastic students who started at the Icehouse, under Lliam and Army’s tutelage last year and have soldiered on, through triumph, disaster, injuries, frustration and elation. I’m talking about Melbourne Ice fans, Red Wings fans, fans of every other team, my work-street-hockey puck-lunch partner, Alex, the amateur Chicago player who saved Will and I in a dodgy section of that town, the wise-cracking crew at the South Pole end of the Henke Rink on Ice match days, the friendly staff of the Harbourside Hotel, the ever-patient partners of the Rookies, and the Rookies crew who turned out in dodgy weather at Albert Park on Saturday to hit pucks together, off-ice. The list goes on and on. Even an inspired fan who riffs at an NHL game on my random thought: “Hockey Player eaten by shark.” (Click on the clip below. Trust me. You really want to.)

What a brilliant community and what an amazing sport.

Will this blog last another 100 posts? Who knows and who cares. Skate to where the puck will be, not to where the puck is, as Wayne Gretsky once said.

The 16-month journey just gone stands alone as one of the greatest times of my life. Thanks for sharing it with me; especially you, Big Cat.

And now let’s hit the ice for wherever this thing goes next.

Giddyup.

(Update: All of this made me think of the final Calvin & Hobbes cartoon when Bill Watterson retired. Dunno why but any time you get a chance to salute Calvin & Hobbes is a good moment. The boy and the tiger’s final stand, their philosophy, feels right for this moment …)

Calvin & Hobbes: the final cartoon. By Bill Watterson.

So, how was your week?

The difficult one-finger hand-stand push-up. What you - well, I - do when no mantas turn up mid-dive.

Me? Finally had a story I’d written about taking up hockey published in the Sunday Age (thanks, fellow rookie Michael Coulter) but had flown north and landed on a remote Barrier Reef piece of sand with some trees and eight-billion noisy birds, Lady Elliot island, so I didn’t have any phone or web access.

Seems like it got a decent response. The headline: “Puck life”. An f for a p and my reputation as a sunny optimist is gone forever. (Even if, in reading back this blog, I spend far too much time in the f life mode, given how 90 per cent of my life rocks.)

On Lady Elliot, I did my second tour of duty as an Earthwatch volunteer. Not as many manta rays as in September, but I had one face-to-face beautiful encounter, which made the week worthwhile all on its own – plus, it was a never-seen-before very large (read: five metre wingspan) female so I got to name it. Introducing Lana Del Ray (see what I did there? Ray and Rey? Working on so many levels … well, two). I cut together a highlights video of her, but Youtube chopped out the music (Lana Del Rey: “Blue Jeans”) because it suspected copyright breach. Those spiders don’t miss a thing.

So I’ve cut together a broader highlights video of the week underwater, if you feel like a break from hockey. It only goes for six minutes. You’ll drool with envy. Lana Del Ray is the manta in the close-ups. The sharks kick in at about 3.49, if you can’t bear to watch six minutes of fish and other critters.

So that’s been my week. Now back in civilization and happily exhausted.

In other news, my footy team, Richmond, apparently looked good in the pre-season competition. The Red Wings’ astonishing home-winning streak is now at 22 wins and has broken all NHL records. Physically spent from the north, I lay on my couch today and watched a replay of the historic 21st straight home win on Gamecenter on my Apple TV. It was brilliant. The crowd at the Joe in the final minute was out-of-control loud and excited. I got emotional listening to the fans, now able to imagine being there. And of course they played “Don’t Stop Believin’“. One day I will hear that song in that stadium. (But no, Detroiters, I’m not coming anywhere near the city or the Joe while the streak remains! You can relax.)

Closer to home, the world junior speed skating championships will retain a hold on my home rink, the Henke, for another week or so, so I plan to go to Sydney for work and then non-work shenanigans before classes start again.

For now, I need to sleep and will hopefully ditch my usual yearnings for happy dreams of manta rays and Stanley Cups. Let’s go Red Wings, let’s go.

Overwhelming … in a great way

Since my article appeared on the Detroit News website about 36 hours ago, I’ve been truly overwhelmed by the warmth and kinship flowing from Wings fans and Detroit people all over the world. The blog alone has had close to 2000 individual views in two days (not exactly espn figures but consider that a good day previously was maybe 50 views. Previous record: 198 – when I accidentally upset fans of the Gold Coast ice hockey team here in Australia. Yesterday: 1006 views. Hello Detroit!).

It’s been so powerful that my attempt to individually answer every comment has become difficult – especially with a real job and travelling north today and other pesky real world considerations.

I will try to write back to you, if I get a moment, but can’t promise. Trust that I am reading every message and smiling from ear-to-ear.

This has been the greatest experience. It’s like hooking into the mainframe of Wings Passion. From this far away, in this far-flung Wings outpost, that’s quite a heady experience. I feel very honoured.

So thank you, Detroit locals, and Detroit people who have moved but still see themselves through and through as Detroit, and all those Wings fans of every flavour and nationality.

Don’t stop believin’ and, even more importantly, respect the octopus!

Nicko

Things you might not know about hockey …

1. Hockey stick tape is a perfect way to strap on a plastic bag to protect plaster on a wounded dog’s leg, when storms sweep into town as you’re about to go to work.

Fly Dog shows off quality stick-tape veterinary work.

Kittens and I travelled bravely to the far outskirts of Chicago to buy hockey gear, back in October, and went nuts on the multi-coloured tape, buying red, green, blue and yellow, because our hockey styling simply can’t be constrained in the Icehouse’s options of black tape, or white (and now pink).

Fly Dog the Wounded But Still Magnificent (snapped Achilles tendon on Christmas day; at least six weeks off the ice) thinks the leg looks cool. Everybody’s happy.

 2. Hockey players are dumb.

As it stands, seven members of the Detroit Red Wings roster have suffered serious facial injuries this year, mostly from pucks hitting them in the unprotected face.

There have been plenty of facial stitches, but also a broken cheekbone to defenceman Ian White and a broken jaw to Patrick Eaves, who, at last report, was still sipping food through a straw, his entire jaw wired shut.

The latest victim is an 18-year-old prospect, Ryan Spoule, who took a deflected puck to the face in an Ontario Hockey League game and has now had plates inserted into his jaw.

And yet pretty much every NHL player, apart from the goalies, continues to play without a Perspex or wire face guard. The most they’ll wear is a small Perspex visor vaguely covering their eyes and there’s even debate about that, because, you know, it’s kind of sissy. (Although at least things have moved on from the bad old – read, fucking crazy – days where even goalies didn’t have face guards, back when the world was in black and white.)

Back in the day: goalies with no face protection.

Hear me say, here and now, that I will not be seen in a game situation without a full face mask. I’m far too pretty to take a rubber puck to the face at speed, and anyway, eating through a straw for weeks would get in the way of my biscuit consumption.

3. The Winter Classic has a precedent

Over the past few years, the NHL’s signature Winter Classic game – where two top teams play an official match outdoors, usually at a baseball stadium (The Wings kicked the Blackhawks at Wrigley Field a few years ago: oh yeah!) is gaining momentum every year, with huge coverage of the Rangers victory over the Flyers yesterday.

But there is a precedent to this whole thing. Apparently, in February, 1954, the Detroit Red Wings played an exhibition match outdoors against inmates from the Marquette Branch prison. I shit you not. Red Wings v Jailbirds.

So how did that go? The Wings led 18-0 at the end of the first period and graciously everybody forgot to keep an ongoing score for the remaining two periods.

Which makes the prisoners luckier than Australia’s first ever team to contest the Winter Olympics, back in 1960. Our heroes scored nine goals in the Olympic tournament, at Squaw Valley. They conceded 83 goals in six games. When five rings are involved, everybody keeps score.

4. The Hockey Gods are bastards

Let it be known that the Red Wings have not lost a single game at home since Will, Mack and I sat through three straight losses at the Joe, in late October/early November. The team has now won 12 straight games at home, raining goals. During the stretch where we watched them stink things up, they averaged one goal per game.

Playtime for the Sporting Gods, Part 2

Red Wing Darren Helm slots a nice goal, now we're gone. Pic: Detroit Free Press

Writing from America, a couple of posts ago, I pointed out that the Sporting Gods had enjoyed messing with the boys and I as we sat, somewhat bemused, through four straight Detroit Red Wings losses. Covering six games, including away games, the lengthy losing spell was the worst streak in quite a while for the Wings and was even more bizarre because the team, which bristles with world-class forwards, managed only a measly six goals in those six games.

When we arrived at the Verizon Centre in Washington DC, for our first ever Wings sighting on October 22, Detroit was 5-0 after a brilliant start to the 2011-12 NHL season. They lost that match to the Capitals, 7-1.

Then lost to the San Jose Sharks, in our first game at the Joe Louis Arena, 2-4. Then lost to the so-so Minnesota Wild, 1-2 (utterly robbed in overtime), and then finally managed to put in an absolute stinker against the Calgary Flames, while we were sitting in dream seats, right on the glass, losing 1-4 and being booed off the ice by the Detroit fans.

As mentioned previously, I didn’t actually care that much. It was so much fun to be there and to be watching the team live, that the losses were annoying but not devastating. Yes, I would have loved to have belted out Don’t stop believin’ but the fact we didn’t just leaves some wriggle room on my Life List. I guess I’ll simply have to somehow return to Detroit and watch some more games … sigh.

What’s been truly funny – and I genuinely tip my Red Wings beanie (bought at the Joe) to you, Sporting Gods – has been what’s happened since we packed up and headed for LA and then home.

The Wings promptly beat the Anaheim Ducks, 5-0, in the first game after we vacated the Joe.

Then backed it up with a 5-2 belting of Colorado. Then beat Edmonton, 3-0, and finally beat Dallas, 5-2, on Sunday. Defender Ian White showed the commitment that has seen the team roar back by diving in front of a Dallas goal-bound puck and stopping it with his unprotected face. One broken cheekbone later, he’s out for maybe seven games, but he protected the lead when it mattered. Full respect.

Our crappy seats at our last Wings game ...

Tomorrow, our time, the Wings play an away game at St Louis and I have no reason to think they won’t rattle home 9 or 10 goals.  We are half a world away …

The Wings are back in it, as one of the form and most feared teams of the competition, with some kind of early claims for Stanley Cup contention.

Me? I’ll do my bit and bunker down in Melbourne, a long long way away, working on my pivots and other moves, trying to improve my on-ice balance and waving flags that I am no longer on-site at the Joe. As long as Will, Mack and I don’t go anywhere near the Wings, they’ll be fine.

Playtime for the Sporting Gods

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Above: The Joe Louis Arena, pre-game, this week.

In 2007, I was at one of the lowest ebbs of my life. I was lurching toward an inescapable conclusion that I couldn’t stay in my marriage. No need to dwell here, but when you deeply love the woman involved and have two boys, that is a very hard place to be.
So, to distract myself, I did what all sports fans do and went to lose myself in some live sport.
I know, I thought, I’ll go watch Richmond play Geelong in a Sunday twilight game at the Docklands stadium! That will be awesome!
If I had thought to look, the Icehouse was probably under construction at the time, just a little over to the west.
I caught the tram from Fitzroy to Docklands with an uncomfortable awareness that the afternoon might not go according to my plan. See, Richmond v Geelong has a certain history in recent times. Yes, my Tigers kicked Geelong in the 1967 Grand Final but that was quite a while ago. Almost perfectly matching the time I spent as a football journalist for major Melbourne papers, and The Seven Network, Richmond had fallen into a hole deeper than the Romanche Trench. It wasn’t so much that successive Geelong sides of the late Eighties, Nineties and new millennium, featuring several Hall of Famers, would beat the hapless Tigers, whose back line would struggle to get a game in the VFA, but more that the Cats would slice and dice with the needless brutality of A Clockwork Orange. Gary Ablett Snr would perform party tricks that made the entire press box* burst into spontaneous laughter and applause (journo humour being what it is, I was ALWAYS sent to cover these games; to suffer it out) and I’d laugh and clap along. What the Hell. It wasn’t as though we had a chance. One day at the MCG, I can recall Ablett flying so high and so ridiculously early (over Brian Leys, maybe, or Mark Summers, or both) that he found himself metres into the air, looking around for the ball. It finally arrived as he was well into his potentially painful descent. The great No. 5 marked it one handed, jammed into his elbow, moments before he hit the turf. He booted 10 or maybe 12 that day …
So anyway, Richmond had improved a bit by 2007 but the Terry Wallace five-year plan was lurching and our young kids would be up against it on this day. But I needed a change of headspace, I needed some light in my life. Surely, my mule-headed lifelong devotion to the often hapless Tigers would show mercy and give me something to smile about.
Richmond lost by what I believe was an all-time record against the Cats. 157 points. I didn’t need to look that margin up for this blog. It’s scarred into my withered soul.
The loss was so huge that by mid third quarter, I was smiling. Even chuckling. Ah, Tigers, you never fail to let me down. It’s not only that you continue to kill us fans, you run the truck over us four or five times to make sure of it, when we are most hurt. The funniest part was that the sheer black humour of The Universe that day strangely did the trick. The massacre was so horrific, it was awesome. I walked all the way home, lighter, thinking: OK, you’ve got more planned for me, huh, Universe? Bring it.
And it did. And it has.
What has all this got to do with hockey?
Well, a key component of my current massive American trip has involved watching the Detroit Red Wings live. To actually witness some games at the Joe Louis Arena. And Will (aka Kittens), Mack and I have now seen three of four.
The Red Wings are the most consistently successful team of the past two decades. They haven’t missed the play-offs in 20 seasons, despite salary caps, equalization, etc. They are very much a Geelong, not a Richmond.
The Red Wings home-grow players, churn them out and create great team after great team. In that 20 year span, the Wings have won four Stanley Cups. In poor, half-deserted, out-of-money-and-luck Detroit, they have been a shining light. Because Detroit IS Hockeytown and the Wings MATTER.
So, our first Wings game ever was in Washington DC, against the Capitals at the Verizon Centre. Detroit lost, 7-1. A massacre.
No, matter. Bring on the Joe Louis Arena, hometown Detroit with a Wings crowd revving them on. Against the San Jose Sharks, who knocked the Wings out of the last two play-off series but haven’t been as dominant this season. The Wings lost, 4-2.
Tuesday night, we were there again to see the increasingly worried Wings take on Minnesota Wild. By now the losing streak, home and away, was at four, the worst straight streak since 2008. The Wings hit the ice like skaters possessed. A goal inside of 5 minutes to Nick Lidstrom, with Zetterberg and Datsyuk on assists; our main line sparking. The Wild barely had a shot on goal for the entire first period. The Wings lost, 2-1 in Over Time. We were totally robbed by the refs on the final goal, but still …
The lesson: No matter which side of the world you are on, in any sport, the Sporting Gods will fuck with you, given half a chance. “Hey! It’s that Richmond loser in a Lidstrom jersey!” they must say to one another, sniggering.
Happily, I am in a much better headspace than 2007. I have genuinely shaken my head with nothing more than bemusement at Detroit hitting such a trough at the exact moment we are in town and have paid hundreds of dollars to be in excellent seats at the Joe.
It actually occurred to me after the Wild fiasco that I must be in a good place. I have genuinely loved every game – just being at NHL games, with all the excitement, hoopla and energy. The sheer breathtaking level of skating and shooting and skill of NHL players. Seeing my heroes, “Hank” “Zee” Zetterberg, Dats, Lids, Mule, Helm, Abby, Jimmy Howard in the flesh. Gazing at the retired numbers and all the pennants hanging from the roof of the ageing Joe arena. Being surrounded by genuine Wings fans and being accepted, unquestioningly into the fold.
Between games, we have wandered the eery streets of Detroit and fallen in love with this art deco, decaying city. We have examined every inch of the Hockeytown Cafe – sort of a Red Wings version of the Hard Rock Cafe – and grinned at old time Wing names like Honey Walker, Ebbie Goodfellow, Art Giloux and Wilf Starr (all 35-36 Cup-winning team), Gunzo Humeniuk and Red Kelly (49-50 Cup team, with Gordie Howe) and Lefty Wilson and Enio Scisizzi (51-52 Cup). I’ve loved building my knowledge of Wings lore and general hockey history.
The NHL home and away season is 82 games, so the Wings don’t have to panic yet, although this form slump is worrying. They have barely scored since we arrived in America – five goals in five games, which is ridiculous.
Maybe tonight will be when the drought breaks? At our final game, when we’re sitting on the glass. Row 1, Seat 1. And the Red Wings are giving us a personal tour of the Joe before the game. and it is Bobblehead Thursday, so we get to add three Henrik Zetterberg bobbleheads to our already groaning baggage.
Or maybe the Wings will lose again, to the struggling Calgary Flames and I’ll head home to Australia on Saturday, possibly never to see the team play live ever again, having not seen a win, having not sung “Don’t Stop Believin'” to celebrate victory because we’re enough goals clear with a minute to go.
I don’t really care either way. I have a lifetime of Tiger training on absorbing match day disappointment to fall back on.
I’m just happy to be here. Getting momentarily annoyed by opposition goals, dud ref calls or whooping at Wings brilliance. Letting my passion soar.
Watch for the three of us, behind the glass in Section 120, screaming our lungs out, whichever way tonight goes.

LATER THAT NIGHT UPDATE: Wings played like crap and got beaten 4-1, the last goal being an empty netter after they’d pulled Jimmy Howard. Laugh it up, Sporting Gods. Like I said, I can take it. On a brighter note, we stood on the ice at the Joe Louis Arena, during our tour. The ice maintenance guy wasn’t thrilled but we did it. Stood on that famous ice. Now we’re leaving the country, Detroit can get back to winning …

* As I was typing this, auto-correct on my iPad changed Press Box to Pessimism Box, which is so perfect I never could have come up with it.

Below: happier days at the Joe. The celebrations after a Cup victory.

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