For everyone that has come into the Wilderness, there are a thousand stories. Stories of heartbreak, stories of jubilation, stories of tragedy and stories that tug on your heart strings. For every one of you, hockey has in some way or another affected your life, it has brought you through a roller coaster of emotion and out the other side, sometimes for the better, and sometimes leaving you reeling and wondering why you put yourself through it each and every season.
At some point in your life, you fell in love with the sport. For most of us this occurred sometime in our youth while a for some of us, we did not discover our love for this sport till much later. Whether you have been a life-long fan, or you are just starting your journey, we all have that moment, or moments even where hockey grabbed us, held on tight, and refused to let go. Our world would never be the same.
For me, this came at a young age. I had always been a fan of hockey, always followed the North Stars about as well as a child can be expected to. I used to stand in front of my TV, stick in hand, making all the great saves with my heros on ice. Like most of us, I've had my ups and downs with the sport, but that moment when hockey pulled me in and refused to let go is a memory I will carry with me until my last breath.
For those of you that have been around here a while now, you've undoubtedly heard my tale before, so bear with me as I share it again.
My moment came October 26th, 1991. I was just 10 years old, the North Stars were still almost 2 full seasons from breaking the hearts of Minnesota hockey fans everywhere and 1 off-season removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance.
My mother happened to work at the Met Center in Bloomington, MN, and with that, I was granted a little extra access and of course, free tickets.
It was a Saturday matinee game against the Boston Bruins. My father, my little sister and I had seats on the glass behind the North Stars goal. I remember being amazed at these giants on the ice, the skates digging into the ice, the big hits along the boards, and the mighty Jon Casey making save after save on his way to a 4 - 0 shutout over the visiting Bruins.
These moments made an impression on a much younger version of myself, but the thing that sticks out the most actually had less to do with what was going on on the ice, and more about what was going on a few miles up the road at the Metrodome.
That same night, The Minnesota Twins would do battle in an 11-inning classic, game 6 against the Atlanta Braves. That's right kids, there once was a time when the Twins were in the World Series, and even won it, TWICE! But at the Met Center that day the last thing on my mind was what was to be later that night, until I heard the ungodly chant start reigning down from the upper reaches of the Met, we all heard it. The Tomahawk Chop had invaded the Met Center.
It didn't take long before the Minnesota faithful chopped these would be Braves fans down to size, and the Met Center erupted into a chant of it's own.
"BRAVES SUCK! BRAVES SUCK! BRAVES SUCK!"
Oh my god, it was glorious, and perhaps not the kind of thing a father wishes to hear bellowing out of his 10-year old son (although, given the circumstance I'm sure he understood). The Met Center was so loud that day, and I've never heard a building get that loud since. For me, every aspect of that one game has stuck with me almost 13 years later. It's a moment that will not find an equal until the day the Wild hoist Lord Stanley's Cup.
It was that day, I discovered the passion that all those fans at the Met not only had for hockey, but all the local sports teams. A moment where an entire fanbase banded together, regardless of their opinions on everything else, and in chorus showed an impressionable kid just how great the Minnesota fans can be.
That's my story, now I'll turn it over to some of the other writers here to share their tale, and no better place to start than with the new guy.
I love hockey for a variety of reasons. To me, it's always been one of the most exciting sports to watch in my opinion. To see the effort that the players put in to each second their on ice, playing their hearts out is inspiring.
The Wild have been near and dear to my heart since I was a kid. I truly fell in love with hockey back in 03 when the Wild made history, coming back from 3-1 series deficits two times in a row. I remember staying up every night with my dad, watching every game. When you followed the wild long enough and watched enough of their games, you truly felt as if you became part of the team. There's no greater feeling than that.
I've never been known as the athletic type. In fact, a congenital heart condition guarantees I'll never have that feather in my cap.
Even in high school, my claim to "jock-dom" was JV Golf, which was never a contributing factor to my letterman's jacket. However, I've always been an avid outdoorsman, and still paid a good deal of attention to football and baseball, but I was never gung-ho in regards to being a fan of a particular team. That would change pretty quickly after graduating high school.
As I attended a local school, I decided to save some money and live at home for a few years. My parents had just switched cable providers, and now had Fox Sports North. I watched hockey games occasionally, but didn't really have my head forcibly turned until the 2010 NHL Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and Tim Thomas' Boston Bruins. It was literally a classic setting. Snow was falling, players and fans alike were dressed for the weather and life was simply wonderful. That's also when my own personal love affair as a Tim Thomas fan began to develop, something that gave me great satisfaction in seeing him collect the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smyth and Vezina trophies eighteen months later.
Later in the Spring of 2010, I found myself laying in a hospital bed a state away from where I was supposed to be chasing gobbling turkeys facing the very real possibility of not leaving until after having received a heart transplant. Of course, in the mind of a 19-almost-20-year old, the worst part was that turkey hunting was the only thing playing on all the outdoors channels. Clearly not wanting to be reminded of what I was missing back home, just about my only other option was playoff hockey. I guess I could settle for that. It's been all downhill from there, folks.
In four years since, I've yet to receive a heart transplant, but I've succumbed to a far greater illness-the love of all things hockey, particularly the Minnesota Wild. In that span, I've written literally hundreds of articles between The Hockey Writers, Gone Puck Wild, Hockey Wilderness and RotoRob.com (some of which have also been picked up by Yahoo! Sports), have interviewed current NHL players, amassed a considerable collection of player memorabilia and have gotten to know and work with some of the best sports writers and bloggers in the business.
Hockey is different. It's steeped in history and tradition, something many of today's most popular sports lack. Hockey players play for their team, their fan base, but most importantly for each other. The game is in their blood, and their blood is in the game. It's their passion. It's what drives them. And that driving passion isn't just limited to the players-it applies to every kid who has laced up his skates before playing some puck on the frozen pond out back, every parent that has given everything of themselves to make sure their kids have the opportunity to play, every coach that has taken the time to mentor and teach the game to the kids under their wing and the everyday fan that can't play but lights up like a Christmas tree when opening up a $3 pack of hockey cards.
I honestly can't imagine a world without this sport and the special kind of people that immerse themselves in it. I consider myself fortunate to include myself in that group. Less than a month until the preseason, folks! Let's drop the puck!
Back when the Wild were first approved, and they began building the X Center, my dad worked at the Minneapolis Airport, installing electronics in private jets. It just so happened that one of the investors in the X had a private jet, and hired the company my dad worked for to install some new components. Fast forward a few years, the guy has become a regular customer, and decides to give the company season tickets to Wild games, so they have something regular events to take customers to. When there weren't customers available, employees could "claim" a certain number of tickets per year.
Now, I had grown up in the 90's, and was completely devoid of hockey, beyond my own youth leagues. I remember the Minnesota Moose coming through, but they were gone in what seemed like a heartbeat. So when my dad asked if I wanted to go to a Wild game, I shrugged my middle-schooler shoulders and said "I don't really like hockey, but sure, why not."
I don't remember the team the Wild played against that night, but I remember how big the X seemed. I had been to the Metrodome, and that was big, and I and been to the Target Center, and THAT was big, but the X just seemed BIG. Like, WOW big. The lights seems a lot brighter than anywhere else, and I remember being surprised by how white the ice was. The season tickets the customer gave my dad's company were about 13 rows back behind one of the nets, and I was in awe pretty much all night. I didn't have a clue what the rules were, but I knew how fast and exciting the game seemed.
I was hooked. The next Christmas my parents gave me a Wild jersey (one of the home greens... it was so big I can still wear it comfortably), and we would go to a Wild game at least once a year; more if possible.
What really made me love hockey, though, wasn't just the bright lights, the big building, or the excitement of the game itself. What made me love hockey was for that night, it was just my dad and me. No sister needing a ride, no mother wanting me to do chores or my homework, just my dad and me spending time together.
Lots of old Wild memories:
Gaborik's 5 goal game.
Crushing the Dallas Stars playoff bid a few years back.
Fernandez saving every shot ever! Rolston Slappers!
I jumped from casual fan to hardcore hockey nut in college. Attending Fighting Sioux games at the Ralph, the best arena in hockey, as a season ticket holder in the student section was unreal. Even anti-hockey people(the worst people) become fans up there!
I guess it wasn't any one particular moment for me. It was just a a series of things that captured my attention if hockey.
My first real memory of watching hockey as a real hockey fan was the '97 Gophers Men's hockey team led by Doug Wood and players like Brian Bonin, Steve DeBus, Mike Crowley, Dave Spehar, Erik Rasmussen, and the other home grown talent of the '97 Pride on Ice Gophers team.
Mike Crowley was everything I loved about defensemen. His 1997 campaign placed him in top of the U of M record books for goals and points in a single season by a defenseman, until some schmuck named Jordan Leopold broke that mark in 2001-02.
Steve DeBus wasn't half the goalie that Kellen Briggs was, but for some reason I remember trying to emulate him as I played goalie in the back driveway of our home.
Brian Bonin, who resides on the murals next to John Mayasich and Pat Micheletti, was the first player that I remember that I noticed had real star potential. It was a bummer that a solid college player like him had difficulty cracking the National League.
The best part was that I was able to watch those games with my Dad every Friday and Saturday night. A friend of my Mom's husband had Gophers season tickets and when we were able to have a pair, we were able to make it to Mariucci on occasion and take in the awesome environment that only a college crowd can bring.
It was after that season that I became a huge fan of hockey. It was something that my Dad and I shared. So you can expect what my reaction was like when the Gophers won back-to-back National Championships. It was awesome to see the team I grew up watching reach the pinnacle.
It will be even sweeter when the Wild reach their pinnacle as I have been a rabid Wild fan from Day One.
Have a memory you want to share? Post it in the comments below!