Friday, February 12, 2010

E-TV On Ice: My First Hockey Game

So yesterday I finally went to my first ever hockey game. It's something I've wanted to do since high school and I got the chance when the paper asked me to go to the Kings' Black History Night since we were sponsoring it.

A little history. Growing up in L.A., of course I knew about Wayne Gretzky and I even had the LA Gear #99 shoes. Like most kids of my generation, I watched the Mighty Ducks movies and that was my exposure to the game. Everyone wanted to be Charlie Conway or the Bash Bros. Fullman and Porter. Russ with the knucklepuck and most guys either liked Connie or Julie the Cat.

I remember the night Wayne Gretzky passed Gordie Howe with his 802nd goal. I watched the Miracle at Staples when the Kings overcame a 3-0 deficit against Detroit in the 3rd to tie and win in OT. And I watched the Ducks Stanley Cup Finals run in 2003 (the last night I spent with my Dad, I listened to Game 3 on the radio on the way to the hospital and when they won in OT, it briefly brightened my night)

Prior to the game, I had interviewed Kings right winger Wayne Simmonds for a story and I was pretty psyched to see a Black hockey player on the team. So imagine my excitement as I walked into Staples Center and enjoyed the beautiful lights outside the arena.

It was tough keeping track of the line shifts because they happened so fast. I'm so used to bball subbing coming at dead balls but hockey subs come in live so you have to just watch the puck and keep track of the players eventually. It's fast as heck and that's why I couldn't tweet as much.

Before the game, they honored a former member of the Tuskegee Airmen, Claude Rogers. And Tichina Arnold from "Martin" sang the national anthem - who knew she could sing? Better yet, she did a phenomenal job. And dropping the puck was the legend himself - Willie O'Ree, the NHL's first black player.

I kept an eye on Simmonds mainly because I wanted to see if what I was told was true. He was physical and seemed like he was in the middle of every scrum when he was on the ice. But the Kings reminded me of the Lakers because they were explosive (over 40+ shots on goal). They turned a 2-0 deficit in the 3rd into a 2-2 game in the blink of an eye.

O'Ree - who is full of life and energy as anyone - came up to our box and I had to introduce myself to him. Knowing his story as well as I do, I just wanted to thank him for paving the way. He told me about the NHL's diversity program "Hockey Is For Everyone" as well as some of the racism he faced coming up. All he cared about was representing his teams to the best of his ability - a quote I heard so many Black baseball pioneers say back then. Living history.

When the Kings failed to score in OT, it went to a 10-round shootout (longest in team history). Tied at 1, I thought the roof would blow open when Simmonds came out. The crowd gave him a standing ovation and when he scored, everyone went nuts. The perfect ending for Black History Night right?

Wrong. The Kings goalie blew it on the next try and the team ended up losing 4-3 in the shootout. Go figure. But I was definitely psyched and ready for another game in the future. Who knows, maybe I'll follow the team more closely - they're young and could be talented for years. Even better, I love the experience of watching hockey live and for something I've wanted to see for years, it was worth it.

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