Every hockey game begins with a clean sheet of ice.
It’s sitting there right now in arenas all over the world. It remains one of the only constants in a game that showcases individual creativity, and it’s ready and waiting for the first skates to step on it and usher in another season of NHL hockey. It’s waiting for the skates of the greatest in the world to trace elegant grooves into its smooth surface. It’s ready for the best-of-the-best to throw down a hard stop and create a shower of snow on the glass that separates spectator from superstar. It’s ready to hold up dreams and support disappointment. It’s ready to catch the blood and sweat of those individuals who take to its surface to compete not only for individual and team pride, but also for the pride of a city and the people who inhabit it. It’s been painted and primed, its caretakers ensuring it’s as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day, ready to take the breath away from all those who gaze at it.
It was ready in 1926 when a group of men named the Detroit Cougars took to the ice at the Border Cities Arena in Windsor, Ontario. Those men, many who had come from a team that bore the same name in Victoria, had no idea that their steps would launch one of the greatest organizations in the history of the NHL on it’s path to success. For those men, it was a chance to play the game they loved. It was ready in 1935, when a different group of men from the same organization – now known as the “Red Wings” – stepped on to it to begin a season that would bring the city its first professional hockey championship. It was ready in 1946, when another pair of skates hit its surface, and it supported them without fail. Maybe it knew it was supporting one of the greatest to ever play the game. Maybe it didn’t.
It was ready on December 15, 1979 when it hosted its final guests in the old barn known as Olympia, and it was there again when “the Joe” opened its doors. It was ready as the dynasty grew and it was ready as the bottom fell out of a proud organization. It never wavered, not even when a city lost faith in those “Winged Wheelers” and their inability to recapture the magic of years gone by. Of course, it was there when names like Yzerman and Fedorov began to shift the tide of the franchise and it was all too happy to catch the blood of a villainous opponent when a man named “Mac” put fist and foot down and roused an entire city to the cause. It was there when Vernie smoked his cigar in 1997, it was there supporting the heavy hearts of a city while it also held up the wheels of a chair carrying a man called “Vlad.” It’s been there for the start of every Stanley Cup run and it’s been there when the final team picture has been taken.
While some will argue that it’s nothing more than a frozen sheet of water with lines painted into it, the true hockey fans know that there is much more than meets the eye. And while we all know that the stories and the history live in that sheet of ice, no matter how hard we squint or how many hours we stare, the icy surface will never show us her past or divulge the secrets that she contains. Maybe it’s because the experience is different for each person that sees it and skates on it. For Mike Modano, it’s a return to the ice that he began his young career on. But does Mikey Mo know that just last year a young man journeyed all the way from Brazil and gazed upon its surface for the very first time? Probably not, but that’s OK. In the church of hockey, the many different experiences at the altar of the ice surface are what makes the moment special for all those fortunate enough to partake. Yet no matter how far apart we may feel from those men that skate on that surface, we are all uniquely tied together in the bond of a city and its franchise.
Tomorrow, the 84th edition of the Detroit Red Wings will walk out of the tunnel and see that sheet of glimmering ice in front of them. Tomorrow, fans both young and old will walk through the red plastic curtains and see a surface that means something completely different to every set of eyes that view it. For some, it will be the first gaze of a lifetime. For others, it will serve as familiar source of comfort and reassurance that one of the constants in life has returned yet again. Many will watch the game on its surface and will worry about things that they just can’t control. It’s the nature of the beast and it’s difficult to contain, but emotions are a powerful force and a very real one at that. Some will wonder if this is the last time a guy named Nick will take the ice for a home opener or whether or not a young goalie named Jimmy has what it takes to lead his team to a series of victory laps around the chewed up surface next summer. Yes, there will be worry and there will be excitement. There will be joy and there will be despair. There will be wins and there will be losses. It’s inevitable and ultimately accepted.
Through it all, though, IT will be there for each and every game, knowing full well that the game it supports is what all of those emotions are ultimately about. And while it can’t ultimately dictate the wins and losses on any given night, there are some who believe that a frozen sheet of water is a living, breathing thing. Maybe it shifts ever so slightly to pool the water in a certain way that causes an errant pass to somehow find the tape of a teammate. Maybe a fortuitous bounce off of the surface leads to a goal instead of a save. Who are we to tell them they are wrong? Who are we to cast doubts on those beliefs? Some people believe in God. Others believe in a higher power. Some believe in fate, luck and chance. Us? We believe in hockey.
Red Wings hockey to be exact.
The season is upon us. Hockey is back.