It’s three o’clock on Thursday afternoon. I’m sitting on a seat at the mall waiting for Nanette to finish shopping. I’m feeling good. About twenty blocks away, David is sitting in a coffee shop listening to Kirsty and a couple of her friends talking girl talk. He is also feeling good. No, this is not a fantasy story or a window into a parallel universe – we have tickets to the hockey game tonight.
It’s now four-thirty. David and I are on the skytrain heading west. A guy in headphones is playing air guitar and mumbling the words to some song known only to him. A dad in front of us is instructing his son, dressed in full Canucks regalia, in the secret arts of beating the crowds to the food and drink stalls at the game. Outside, the suburbs roll by on another grey afternoon.
We finally pull into Stadium station and join the crushing throng of the blue, green and white clad faithful. David shouts to get my attention. “Try to get to that exit over there. The food will be much cheaper across the street!” Five minutes later we are at the door of a joint called Fatburger (I kid you not). It seems we are not the only fans to work out that you can save a few bucks eating near, but not at, the stadium. The place is crowded but we manage to snare the last seats. Our fatburgers arrive with some kind of yellow ooze dripping from the paper wrappings. Now – just add the Canadian equivalent of a milkshake and we’re ready to go.
It’s six o’clock. The stadium doors have just opened. Our seats are on the upper level but David guides me to a lower entrance. “We can get down near the glass to watch the players warm up.” Once again, a few other people have the same plan. We join an all-age crowd to wait for the emergence of the local heroes. At last the music system blares into life and the ice is filled with guys stretching, skating or just dashing about. I note their bulgy uniforms and wonder whether it’s padding, or does the coach cut costs too and get the team meals from across the road?
Seven o’clock. We’re in our seats and the atmosphere is electric. Everyone jumps to their feet as the mighty Canucks skate onto the ice. Oh, and the other team comes out too. To fully appreciate the excitement of the next couple of hours, you may need to understand the basics of hockey. Put simply, five guys from each side try to hit a small black disk past a goalie and into a net, while avoiding being smashed into walls or knocked over by their opponents.
It’s nine forty-five. The Canucks are holding on to a one-nil lead and there’s one minute to go. The other guys know they’re defeated but try a last ditch play somewhat akin to Captain Kirk redirecting all life support systems to the forward lasers. Oh no! They score! The crowd is stunned, but not as stunned as they will be when, five minutes later, one of the obviously biased refs sends the local hero to the penalty box and opens the way for the other guys to score again and clinch the game.
We exit the stadium around ten. Despite the loss, it’s been a good game and the snippets of conversation all around us seem to focus on the certain knowledge that the locals will definitely win the next game, which is less than three days away. I start to follow the crowd of about twenty thousand fans towards the skytrain station but David grabs my arm. “Not that way – too many people. There’s another station a few blocks away.” I must look a bit dubious. “Don’t worry,” David says, “I work around here, so you’re on my turf now!”
David takes us down one dim street after another, casually making comments like “you don’t want to go down there” or “don’t look directly at any of these guys when you pass them.” As an Aussie, I’m used to finding the odd deadly spider or snake in our backyard, but this is a whole different dimension. Surprisingly, we arrive at the station unharmed. We board the next skytrain and settle in for the long ride home. It will be around eleven-thirty when we get home, but we’re both feeling good.