Friday, May 14, 2010

Home Ice Advantage

Again I ask: is there anything in sports greater than playoff hockey? To paraphrase the Bard (if the Bard were Rasheed Wallace), puck don't lie. Basketball is my sport, and damn it feels good to be home during the NBA Playoffs, but what I've appreciated more is the Canadian zeitgeist that is the NHL in spring.

Whenever I'm home (which is not often), I try to soak in as much Canadiana as possible. I've been drinking bloody caesars like they're water, using Sleeman's Cream Ale as body wash, trying my damndest to get my Canuck accent back, and, when I'm not busy (which is never), watching the NHL Playoffs. And I've realized, again, how beautiful the beautiful game is. The energy, the passion, the speed, the intensity...You have to be here to truly understand it.

Luckily, I am.

Without question, I'll watch an NBA game over an NHL one any time. That's just how I roll, how I butter my bread. I'm not saying it's the best decision, only that it's the most comfortable. I've been following professional basketball since before I could (jay)walk, and being home and able to watch games almost nightly while enjoying some barley pops has been pure joy. Fortunately, the sports gods stepped in in having the NBA conference semi-finals decided early, and tonight I was able to witness Game 7 of the epic Bruins-Flyers series, one for the ages.

It's a Friday night, and I could have gone out, maybe should have, but something told me Game 7 would be memorable, moreso than a night on the Robert Towne. I can go out anytime; it's rare, however, that I can enjoy the simpler pleasures of hockey at home.

I almost regretted that decision. Boston jumped out to an early lead in the first period, leading 3-0. All signs pointed to a blowout. The Boston faithful were wild, cheering at every hit, screaming at every open-ice advantage. The Flyers were done, right? I didn't care too much, had no dog in this fight; all I wanted to see was a good game. It didn't look that way in the first period. I have two good friends, one a Boston supporter, the other a Broad Street Bully, and I wanted both to have their moment of zen. It didn't appear to be an even match early on, like elephants and ants on see-saws, but near the end of the first period the Flyers saved a little ice-face, scoring to narrow the Bruins' advantage by two goals. Still, it seemed tonight was Boston's.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the Montreal Forum.

The Flyers, down 0-3 in the series and 0-3 in the game, pulled off a remarkable feat, scoring four unanswered goals to take the series in Boston, a stunning upset to sit among the pantheon of unbelievable sports moments. It was, like all great, transcendent moments in sports are, unreal.

For Flyers fans it's a euphoric moment; for Bruins fans a heartbreaking loss. As a bipartisan observer, for me it was a fantastic game, an instant classic, compounded by the fact that I'm here, in Canada, and I saw it live.

That's what I miss: those stark-yet-simple moments of glory that I can't appreciate fully when I'm abroad.

To quote the Rasheed-Bard again, both teams played hard. It could have gone either way, and in a Marvel "What-If" sense it might still; but in the 616 Universe the Philadelphia Flyers emerged the Victor von Doom.

PS - Gagne is French for "win."

Celebrate responsibly, PA.

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