For many North Americans, and Canadians in particular, the sport is practically a religion. Often its players are revered as gods, its many rinks considered hallowed ground, and the battles waged between its teams treated as impacting the very balance of mankind. To people of this type of fanaticism, there exists a sacred observance far more significant than the likes of Lent or Ramadan. From mid spring sometimes into early summer, they celebrate in mass the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Today begins that weeks-long period of unrestrained hockey worship. Like revelers of heaven to church on Sunday morning, followers of the National Hockey League will flock to arenas and pubs at game time, day and day again until the final face-off has passed and a group of victors been declared. Together the viewers will raise their eyes to the scoreboard above and devote themselves to the puck’s every movement. Thoughts, and even some actual prayers, will be directed with passion to the action of each period. Ritualistic cheering will ensue, with drinks consumed in tribute and hats passed around to collect bets.
Even of those who fail to keep up with the NHL during the regular season, many emerge during the playoffs to passionately endorse a chosen team which, for one reason or another, they deem worthy of obtaining that most sacred of trophies. Many inherit a love for the same competitors endorsed by their parents. Some decide arbitrarily, perhaps because they like a team’s name or logo. Others have a systematic method based on points, injuries, and trades throughout the years. The rest take a side based on region, lore, gut feeling, or some entirely separate process of selection. Whatever the basis of their choices, when the skates and sticks hit the ice this time of year, fans all over don their respective jerseys in allegiance to the athletes they represent.
Myself, I will be rooting for the Canucks, as I do every season of them making it at least as far as the conference finals. Yes, this despite Vancouver’s inability to win the cup since 1915, a time so long ago that the city’s team was then the Millionaires. That nearly hundred year gap does not dissuade me. Like a devout theist who maintains faith in spite of momentous tragedy and unforeseen anguish, I hold onto the conviction that Vancouver can achieve victory and that someday indeed they will, and that then the years of anticipation will finally pay off in a climax of shared exuberance amongst all those across the continent who proudly flaunt their blues and greens. In this inevitability I unwaveringly believe.
Of course, Canucks devotees are not alone in harboring such cherished ideals. The same kind of steadfast loyalty can apply to the fans of any team. We may not each favour the same set of players, but that feeling of euphoria exists alike for all of us who gather every year to pay homage to Lord Stanley and all that his name has come to represent. So let now the hockey revelry begin in earnest. Game on!
– Cory Stumpf