We’ve all heard the saying “There’s no crying in baseball.” Tom Hanks made that abundantly clear in one of many unforgettable scenes in “A League of Their Own.” There’s. No. Crying. In. Baseball. Period.
If that’s the case with a sport where contact is mostly incidental (barring hitting someone with a pitch, sliding into them or engaging in a good, bench-clearing brawl), then crying is definitely outlawed in the rough and tumble sport of hockey. There’s just one problem with that.
Someone forgot to tell me.
I am emotional by nature. I cried when Bambi’s mother was killed. I cried when Racer X saved Speed’s life in one cartoon episode and just when I thought he would reveal himself to be Speed’s brother, he walked off into the sunset instead. I cry at Folgers’ coffee commercials. I could go on, but you get the picture.
When I started liking hockey back in the 80’s, I saw the game differently. It was pure, superficial entertainment, like a bar brawl on skates. When I got to college in the 90's and became our school’s national anthem singer, I started learning the nuances of the game, taught to me by hockey players who became friends, and friends who loved hockey. I grew to love hockey and the UAH Chargers so much, a loss would leave me devastated, and not just for myself. My heart went out to my friends who gave it their all out there on the ice, only to fall short. Of course, no team could win EVERY game all the time, but I never said I was rational about this. I cried after every loss, but in private. The players would not know just what a wimp their national anthem singer was.
That was several years ago. And I can say that I am now even more emotional about hockey than I was in school. Last year, my beloved Penguins took it to 6 games in the Stanley Cup finals, only to lose on home ice to a very talented Red Wings team. I spent hours after that loss curled up in my bed, weeping my heart out. The looks on the faces of the guys, who fell short after coming so far, remain fresh in my mind’s eye. And if I think about it too much, I will fall apart all over again.
This year, I confess that things got even worse. Why? I added two more teams to my “favorites” list: the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds. I went to games, interviewed players and somewhere along the road, forgot to remain unbiased. Sitting up in the media section at ShoWare Center, I cried every time they lost. It’s a good thing that area up there is pretty dark, although I think one of the WHL people saw me wiping my eyes once. I cried when the Silvertips lost their final home game of the regular season to Chilliwack. The 'Tips had already made the playoffs, but that didn't matter. And I wept when both the Silvertips and T-Birds were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by Tri City and Spokane. My heart went out to these kids, because they are kids, no matter how mature they sound or act. They played their best, but their opponents played just a little better. I cried for their heartbreak and then I cried for the players who would be moving on because they had reached the WHL age limit. I had gone to games in years past, but the teams had been at arm's length then. I didn’t keep up with who was going and who was staying.
This year, things were different. I knew I would miss Taylor Ellington, Graham Poteur, and Daniel Bartek making great hits and plays at Comcast Arena. It would hurt to not see Chris Cloud, Devon LeBlanc, Greg Scott, Jim O’Brien and Thomas Hickey in T-Birds blue, ruling the ice at ShoWare Center. I’m happy for the guys who moved onto the AHL, one step closer to fulfilling their NHL dreams: Taylor with the Manitoba Moose, Jimmy with the Binghamton Senators, Greg with the Toronto Marlies and Thomas with the Manchester Monarchs. As a fan of these guys, I now have new teams to learn about and cheer for. I hope that Graham, Daniel, Chris and Devon find new opportunities to continue their hockey careers as well so I can expand my horizons even more. But that doesn’t change the fact that I miss them, along with a host of Everett and Seattle fans.
This brings me to today. My favorite team is once again in the hunt for the Stanley Cup. The Pens opened second round action today against a very strong and determined Caps team. When Varlamov somehow denied Crosby what looked like an easy goal, I knew in my gut that it would come back to haunt the Pens. And it did. My guys lost 3-2, and as the clock ran out, the tears came. Jeez. It’s only Game 1! If the Penguins actually make it to the Finals, I may have to be committed because I’m sure to have a nervous breakdown!
Back when I was crying about the T-Birds' and ‘Tips' seasons ending in the first round of the WHL playoffs, my friend Shawn tried to make me feel better about being so emotional. After all, I am a sports writer. I edit a hockey page at a TV station website. I should not cry! The newspaper reporters who covered the games with me surely did not cry after each loss. Shawn, being the good friend he is, pointed out that he doubted any sports writer who had covered Ray Bourke for as long as they did, could remain stoic when, after 22 seasons, he finally won the Cup with the Avalanche in 2001. I remember watching that game and seeing Joe Sakic hand the Cup to Bourke on what would turn out to be his final night as an NHL player.
But of course, that’s not nearly the same. That was a momentous occasion more than two decades in the making. It’s OKAY to cry at times like that. What I do is much more trivial and has me thinking hard about giving up hockey as a sport to watch. I mean, really. I cannot be taken seriously if I dissolve into weepy tears over games that I should be IMPARTIAL about. I should not care so much about the players. I should just do my job and go home and be done with it. But in my heart of hearts, I know I can’t do it. I am emotional. I’ve always been emotional. (Remember Bambi?) On the other hand, I love hockey. I love watching the game, from the Pee Wee level to the Big Show itself.
So, where does that leave me?
Well, I guess I could undergo surgery to plug my tear ducts up. Or, not go to T-Birds or Silvertips games next season and just report the scores like most everyone else. Or, I could go and hope no one sees me wiping my eyes after a particularly difficult loss. I still have a few months to decide. But do me this favor if you think you see me crying at a hockey game: please don’t laugh. Or at least, have the decency to turn away first.
'Cause I know there’s no crying in hockey. But someone forgot to tell that to my heart.