The Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway. I can tell because my friend, a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, made me come over and watch the third period of last Saturday’s game before we took our kids on a somewhat death-defying bike ride. I can also tell because the five other people in Seattle who follow NHL hockey must have been home watching the game that day, judging by the 624,300 riders we later encountered on the Burke Gilman trail. The remaining 100,000 citizens apparently congregated at all of our other pre-designated stops, including Gas Works Park, Lake Union (in various watercraft), and every brewery in Ballard where we subsequently could not get in to drink beer. Well, my friend and I, at least. The kids were going to have to fend for themselves.
Okay, obviously, there is, in theory, a large population of hockey fans here in Seattle. Otherwise, the whole “It’s the Seattle Kraken” or whatever the forthcoming professional hockey team is called wouldn’t be forthcoming, nor would the $930 million Climate Pledge Arena. And the newly constant, spontaneous outbreaks of fistfights in the streets – complete with “Jerseying” (the act of reaching over somebody and pulling their shirt over their heads, but not off, so their arms are not usable for fighting or defending themselves, and their eyes are not usable for seeing), ripping off of sunglasses and hats, snatching of wallets and tossing them into the street, and other general mayhem – lo, that would not be happening either.
As I watched the Pittsburgh Penguins battle the Staten Island Islanders or whatever deeply considered name that team is called, I marveled at both the incredible speed and hand-eye coordination of the players (the other night, some guy on the Penguins tapped a puck in the goal with the teeniest part of his stick, just below the handle, as it sailed towards him at 133 m.p.h.), as well as their long, greasy “party in the back” haircuts. Their visible desire to impart sheer, wanton, cruel physical violence onto virtually anything (including the ice, the wall, the frame that holds the net on the goal) was also really impressive. I imagine Uber bans hockey players from their ride-sharing service out of a fear that a given player will hop in the back and start smashing things out of habit.
There is a stark contrast within these folks, though – I’m not sure how one develops the bloodlust, cruelty, and physicality of a Tasmanian devil (at least the cartoon kind) while cultivating the ability to skate with such elegance it makes a grown man weep (or so I hear). Still, whatever Saskatchewan-based forced labor camps these guys are sent to at birth certainly have the training regimen down. It’s probably taken from the playbooks of the Bollettieri Tennis Academy, the training center for the Russian National Olympic Gymnastics Team, or any parochial school.
I will say, as a 7-time visitor to Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, home of the appropriately violent Everett Silvertips, hockey is super fun to watch in real life. Which is why you should pick me up as soon as we can all go back to sporting events, take me to Angel of the Winds Arena, buy me a ticket, give me some cash for snacks, leave, and wait in the parking lot for me to text that I’m ready to be picked up when the game is over.
The Everett Silvertips are a major junior ice hockey team and current members of the U.S. Division in the Western Conference of the Western Hockey League (WHL). The WHL itself is based in Western Canada (apparently Canadians are really into hockey, Molson Canadian and being weirdly nice) and the Northwestern United States. It’s one of three leagues that constitute the Canadian Hockey League as the highest junior hockey level in Russia. I mean Canada.
Players are basically 15 to 20-year-old ex-convicts on work release. It’s like The Running Man; their crimes have been fabricated, and their only way out is to make it to the NHL. So they’re super motivated, as evidence by their frenetic punching of each other at any given moment.
Outside of Everett, if you live in one of the following areas, you can watch your local WHL team in action:
- Portland (Winterhawks)
- Seattle (Thunderbirds)
- Spokane (Chiefs)
- Tri-Cities (Americans) – although we all know the Tri-Cities don’t exist.
The rink (at least in Everett) offers an intimacy hard to come by in other professional sports. You can almost feel the reverberations as players ricochet off the plexiglass no matter how cheap your seat is, and I have yet to have a bad view of the ice. Plus, there are all sorts of family-fun hijinks for the crowd to enjoy, many of which are now my all-time favorites:
- T-shirt bazooka: Dude walks around pointing a 60-millimeter, air-powered, tubular, non-lethal rocket launcher at whichever section screams the loudest, and people go nuts trying to get him to pull the trigger and receive that precious, Chinese chemical-smelling piece of t-shirt schwag, despite a 90% chance it won’t fit. This joyful weapon also makes a satisfying “wump” with each discharge.
- T-shirt cannon: Local car dealership’s nicest Ford F150, completely emblazoned with said dealership’s logos, trolls around the rink with a dude in the back pointing this truck-bed mounted, t-shirt shooting version of a TOW Anti-tank Missile at various desperately screaming sections of fans, resulting in the same outcome as above, but with a much louder “wump.”
- The Everett Hindenburg (actual name) remote-controlled blimp: Strangely, this mini dirigible is filled with explosive hydrogen gas ala its namesake, despite the protests of and pending legal action by the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management. Nonetheless, it appears at least twice a game, releasing toy surprises from one of the eight or so also-remote-controlled-which-is-cool clips fastened to its underside, much to the delight of the howling, salivating crowd, regardless of their age.
- Chuck-a-puck: This one I think you have to pay for, I can’t quite remember. But basically, let’s say Angel of the Winds Arena holds about 10,000 fans. Roughly 6,000 of those fans, including me, buy one or more of these soft, rubber-ish pucks with a number on them. Then, during one of the 18-minute intermissions, everyone throws their puck at a series of tires lined up in the middle of the arena. The closer you get to the tires, the more likely you are to win a prize. Even if you don’t win (I never have, to the point I question the actual existence of these “prizes”), it’s great fun to watch pucks land in people-with-the-rink-side-seats’ nachos, beers, and dip ‘n dots, coupled with the occasional bounce off the noggin.’
- Some other hijinks: At some point during another intermission, you may be delighted by a relay race with humans battling each other over inconsequential trinkets while falling all over the place, some lady trying to score a goal from center ice for a prize, and sometimes a cute dog race, although I may have imagined the last event based on consuming copious amounts of Molson Canadian.
Also, throughout the game, the local Ford dealership parades that F150 across the ice like a 17th-century landowner looking for an aristocratic suitor for his daughter, even during the briefest pauses in play, to the point I’ve seen a last-second shot on goal actually bounce off the rear drivers-side tire much to the chagrin of Silvertips forward Hunter Campbell, but obviously that dealership is trying to squeeze every drop out of the promotional dollars invested from whatever (likely cash only) shady arrangement they made with the team, and Angel of the Winds Arena.
But it’s all good family fun. Even if you don’t like violent sports, a hockey game is worth checking out, especially when you’re watching young kids trying to go pro, which virtually every WHL player is trying to do. I admire their drive and moxie – it inspires me to try and do great things, even something simple like buying a new truck.