Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals only happens once every few years. Soak up electric air inside the arena. More people than seats, dressed in the same color. A hush for two countrys’ anthems and then, three measures from the end, all love and white noise breaks loose. The love echoes off the roof and eardrums and each other and you can’t escape it. White hankies wave, men’s voices grow hoarse. Little girls bounce on their tippytoes with hands folded in enervated prayer for their favorite. You know, number eleven, who plays center, who scored the hat trick in Game 5, who signed her program after the public practice back in February. Now the men and boys’ hearts beat like an elephant stomping somewhere in their arms, or maybe their intestines. The air so loud it bangs into you as you stand and the ref finally drops the puck.
For three hundred and sixty frenetic minutes plus overtime they’re not paid for, the gladiators have learned over the last twelve days to hate each other’s speed, elbows, knees, and sticks. By this, the beginning of the seventh clash, they have acquired a palpable lack of charity for their opponents. Everyone knows who has been talking trash and who will get the next stick across the chops.
Last night Game 7 happened in Vancouver. By cliffhanger standards, it was not a great game though people in Boston this morning might not agree with my assessment. Even when the outcome’s not in doubt, the game is irresistable to watch when you’ve grown up with TV signals from Hamilton, Toronto and Buffalo penetrating your roof. When your best friend’s twelve year old sister had a bubble gum collection on her bedroom wall, and the gum was chewed – by members of your beloved Sabres.
Easy to fall helmet over blade for the game if you really did grow up with a pond in the field at the end of your street that froze over three months out of every year. If you and your brother were the first kids on the street to own sticks, and pucks, and skates and you still remember, forty one years later, what the winter air smelled like as you won your first fight on the ice. And the kid you clocked was bigger than you, and had a different last name from yours.
Three gruelling hours, and the gladiators go back to being men. Only feelings were seriously hurt. They shake hands and say things like, “Great game. Have a great summer.” They smile, showing each other where teeth are missing. They left it all out on the ice. We used to do that, on the pond, between two sets of railroad tracks.