For the first time since May, I watched the Detroit Red Wings play hockey on my television. Thursday night was the first preseason game televised in the Metro Detroit area. And I was excited and nervous.
“But it’s a preseason game!” you tell me, shaking your head. “There’s nothing at stake. Just turn it on and enjoy it.”
That’s not why I was nervous.
I will admit that since this time last year (when the lockout was only five days old), I’ve been very distant from the sport of hockey. It pains me to say that, but it’s true. It was once such a core part of my daily life that my moods depended on how the team had played the night before.
But that pointless lockout that took half a season away from us fans kept me separate from hockey. I vowed that I would not buy any memorabilia, any jerseys, any NHL-related objects, and I would not be attending any games if the sport ever came back. And it was the first time since 2004 that I did not attend a Red Wings game in a season.
When the lockout ended and hockey returned, I watched the first handful of games, happy to see the team back in action. But I felt like everything was just fake. Lackluster. Maybe it was the fact that all the analysts predicted the team would do nothing before the season started. Maybe it was that Nicklas Lidstrom was finally gone, Brad Stuart had left, and our defensive hope sat on the shoulders of guys like Kyle Quincey. Also, Mikael Samuelsson was back on the team, and I was never a fan of Jordin Tootoo.
No longer did I schedule plans around games (only during playoffs because you can’t miss playoff games, come on). If I missed a game, I missed a game. Half the time I wouldn’t even watch all the highlights the next morning to see what had happened.
I used to check TSN every single morning to see the happenings around the NHL. The only time I really checked it in the last few months was during the start of the playoffs when I gorged on the amount of games on my television (like always) and then the start of free agency.
I was worried all of this disconnect would carry over for yet another season. I was worried that the magic I feel when I watch hockey games would never return, that the love I had for the sport had diminished.
It only took hearing a few words of banter between Ken Daniels and Mickey Redmond to have me sitting on the edge of my seat, ready for the puck drop.
I screeched after every goal. “Oh my god, that was a beauty by Zetterberg!” I exclaimed on the Red Wings’ goal that was a gorgeous pass from Pavel Datsyuk. My fiancee looked up from his homework and started laughing at me, seeing nothing but pure joy on my face. Danny DeKeyser‘s goal had a similar response.
The fact that realignment has given us a smorgasbord of awesome match-ups. The fact that Daniel Alfredsson signed with us because he thinks we have the best chance at winning a Stanley Cup. The fact that I’m still proud of how far we pushed the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs with a group of ragtag players. The fact that we’ve only added good players to that ragtag team that did surprisingly well.
The start of the NHL season should not be approached with any sort of nervousness (unless you’re a Toronto Maple Leafs fan). The start of the NHL season should have a feeling of mystery and excitement around it.
Watching one preseason game last night brought that feeling rushing back to me.
Who knows what this season will bring? It’s always an adventure. The ups and downs will drive us apart and bring us together. New rivalries will emerge. New Datsyukian dekes will happen. Guys like Stephen Weiss and Tomas Tatar are ready and willing to be a core part of this team. Justin Abdelkader will have a chance to be awesome. Guys like Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi will frustrate us.
Coming back into the sport of hockey after a brief reprieve has rejuvenated everything. Maybe it’s a feeling of delayed gratification. But I’m very much ready for the puck to drop on October 2nd. I’m ready to live and breathe hockey again.
And make sure to grab some cheap Detroit Red Wings tickets for the October 2nd home opener against Buffalo.