Last weekend, I was treated to an unusual phenomenon at Comcast Arena in Everett. I had been asked to sing the national anthem before the Silvertips took on Kootenay. As I warmed up in the women's dressing room, Rob Ramsburgh, the team's Director of Game Operations, popped in. After telling me the schedule of events, he offered up an unusual warning.
It seems the crowd yells the word "Love" during the line "True patriot love" of the Canadian anthem, and the word "Fight" during the line "Through the perilous fight" of the American anthem. He didn't tell me why. He just said it's something the crowd has done for years.
I thought I was prepared. I stepped out onto the ice to sing. I got to the line "True patriot love", expecting the crowd to shout the word "Love" as I sang it.
They didn't. They waited until a beat after I sang, and as I took a breath to sing the next line, the arena erupted into one big roar.
That shout startled me into silence. For a split second, I could not remember the next line. I glanced down at my left hand and silently thanked my lucky stars that I always write the words on a scrap of paper before I sing. I glanced at it, remembered the line and started singing again. The crowd roared its approval. I was ready for them during the American anthem. I held the words up in front of my eyes, just in case, but I plowed through the "perilous fight" and kept going. The crowd roared even more loudly and I knew I had passed some unspoken test. My sister and I took our seats and I tried to focus on the game. But I couldn't stop wondering why the fans shout "Love" during the Canadian anthem.
I didn't have to go far for the answer. In fact, the answer came to me. During the first intermission, a nice man sitting at the end of our row made his way over. He said he thought we should understand what fuels this tradition and told me about a former Silvertips player named Mitch Love, who had been a fan favorite. They began shouting in tribute to him and have kept it up, even though he no longer plays for Everett. I asked why they shout "Fight" and he shrugged. "Maybe it's because they want to see a fight." He made his way back to his seat and we settled in to enjoy the rest of the game.
His explanation should have appeased me. It didn't. I spent the rest of the weekend obsessing over the fact that I had stopped singing. My sister Kimberly tried to make things better. "You only stopped for a second or two. And you sounded great!" I appreciated her support but it didn't make me feel better.
See, I have been singing national anthems for 16 years. Canadian and American (even the German anthem, once). 16 years of singing and I've never stopped in the middle of a performance.
I didn't stop when I realized I was singing the wrong words in the middle of the Canadian anthem at a college hockey game (our team's goalie had made them up because he was too ashamed to tell me he didn't know his own national anthem. This is also the reason I write the words on a scrap of paper every time I sing).
I didn't stop when a boy stood behind me at a Tacoma Rainiers game and meowed like a cat through the entire anthem.
I didn't stop when the audio delay at a Huntsville Stars baseball game was so bad, my voice echoed back to me a full 6 seconds after I'd sung a line.
I didn't stop when I was 7 and a half months pregnant and singing, by request, before a game between the Stars and Birmingham Barons, featuring Michael Jordan in the lineup (I scored an autographed baseball for my then-unborn son- Michael says he was afraid I'd go into labor when I hit the high note on that hot July day).
Okay, so ego plays into this story. A 16 year streak had been broken by one word: LOVE. I had to learn more about the player who inspired such dedication, even years after his departure from the team.
I went to Google and found Mitch Love within seconds. He's now playing for the Houston Aeros of the AHL. I contacted the team's communications manager and requested an interview. Within ten minutes, he emailed me Mitch's phone number and a time to call. I dialed the number at the appointed time. He answered on the fourth ring.
And I learned why Mitch Love is loved by the Silvertips.
We talked first about his hockey journey since leaving the 'Tips. He's played in four cities with four teams over the last four years: the Lowell Lock Monsters (now the Lowell Devils); Albany River Rats; Lake Erie Monsters and now the Houston Aeros.
But every off-season, without fail, Mitch returns to Western Washington. He lives here, rehabs here, trains with the Silvertips and conducts camps for kids who want to learn about hockey. During the season, he finds time to make short trips home to catch the 'Tips in action.
He told me he's from BC (Quesnel, a small city between Prince George and Williams Lake, located on the main road to northern British Columbia and the Yukon). He feels a strong sense of community here in the Puget Sound and says this will always be his off-season home, no matter where he plays hockey.
I asked him if he knows exactly how the "Love" affair during the Canadian anthem began. He chuckled and told me the story. In 2003, the first year the Everett Silvertips began playing hockey, they made it to the Western Conference Finals against the Kelowna Rockets. Mitch remembers a group of hardcore 'Tips fans making the trip to Kelowna for games, where they heard the Kelowna crowd shout the word "Guard" during the line, "We stand on guard for Thee." That was in tribute to Kelly Guard, Kelowna's goaltender at the time. (Kelly has retired from the game, after playing in Kelowna, Charlotte, Binghampton and China).
Silvertips fans needed a comeback, and they saw their opportunity to show their own team spirit and pay tribute to Mitch at the same time. They began screaming "Love" during the Canadian anthem to combat Kelowna's rowdy fans. They've been doing it ever since.
Spend time talking with Mitch, and you'll come to know that he loves Silvertips fans as much as they love him. He says since he left in 2005, he has not played in an arena that gives him the chills as much as playing in Comcast Arena does. He says nothing compares to the support that Everett fans shower on their beloved team.
As our conversation wound down, I found I was able to forgive myself for being caught off guard during last weekend's anthem. I, too, had become a fan of Mitch Love. And I have found a unique way to track his career: I've asked Mitch to write a blog about life in the AHL. He has graciously agreed.
So, Silvertips Fans, monitor: www.king5.com/sports/hockey for game wrap-ups, musings and memories as only Mitch Love can provide.
You may find even more reasons to spread the "Love" for this talented guy.