I have jumped on the Connor Bedard bandwagon. I can’t help myself; I’m just another lemming in the mob of lemmings going over the cliff. I was a certified hockey fan at one time. I grew up with Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights and not just because we only had one channel, though that may have been part of the reason. I can still hear the original theme song in my head as I sing along. I especially enjoyed the Molson commercials; the one with the old guy playing badminton with himself was my favourite. I was glued to the television when the Oilers won the Stanley Cup in 1984, mostly because Samantha was taking her sweet time being born and I could no longer get out of a chair without a great deal of effort. It was Edmonton’s first Stanley Cup victory and the start of a serious run of domination. Samantha thoughtfully waited until the Cup was lifted before she emerged.
Gretzky’s trade in 1988 broke my heart, as it did for many Canadians. Oilers owner Peter Pocklington cashed in his chips to solve his financial woes. I couldn’t bear to see Gretzky go. I chanted it’s just a game, it’s just a game in my head but that didn’t ease the despair. The game got rougher and rougher over the years, fighting in most games. I didn’t have the stomach for it, so I eventually tuned out. It completely ended for me in 2011 during the Winter Classic hockey game when Washington’s David Steckel blindsided Sidney Crosby with a direct hit to the head. Crosby wasn’t in possession of the puck at the time. No penalty was called, and the debate went on at length on the legitimacy of the hit. “It’s how we play the game,” some fans and pundits shouted. Is it? Does the NHL rely on thugs to entertain us, physical abuse that challenges the skill of the game? There was no concussion protocol, at that time, within the NHL. In 2011? We knew a lot about brain injuries, yet Crosby stayed in the game. He was hit from behind by Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman four days later which ended Crosby’s 2011 season and a delay to his start of the next season and the end of my fandom of the game.
I’m not sure I’m here to stay, which isn’t a big issue for you or me. I don’t have cable, nor do I own a television. All I can do is check scores online and watch highlights. But Connor Bedard has me entertaining the notion of a month of streaming from Sportsnet to dip my toe in. Why have I been pulled back in along with thousands of other retired hockey fans? That’s easy. There is more than enough bad news to go around these days. We are desperate for something positive, a story with a light side to it, and something simple as young Connor Bedard does the trick for me. He worked hard to hone his skills for most of his childhood. He is not a big guy, but he has his 10,000 hours in that provides him with precise accuracy and a few tricks. He still has a child-like awe of the game and of those hockey giants he grew up admiring and emulating. He knows that hockey is bigger than him, and he seems genuinely happy to be invited to the big game.
He was asked what he was thinking during the game opening puck drop against Sidney Crosby in his first NHL game. “To win the faceoff,” he said. “Which I failed miserably at,” he added with humble honesty. The commentators didn’t go easy on him. One went so far as to say Chicago was going to have to get someone who can win a faceoff. I think the lad has earned some patience from the fans and media and I would bet most of us are prepared to go the distance with him.
It’s fun to cheer for someone we admire. We pile a lot of our hopes on to our favourite athletes and others we hold in high regard. It is just what we need at times to give us an energy kick. That’s a tall order I realize and probably a misplaced notion of putting my hopes in a game that continues to be laden with violence. But for now, it feels exciting and fun, a quick antidote to what ails me.