2004 was, without a doubt, the worst year of my life so far. I had just begun attending the University of Carleton and even though I was in Ottawa, a city which I have loved since I first visited as a young man, things were not going well. The insomnia which still haunts my life to this day, began to occur with increasing frequency. I began to rapidly put on weight, drink way too much and despite befriending a group of great people, I was beginning to sink deeper and deeper into a grey malaise of depression which I would not escape from for almost four years. By the end of November I began to come down with a virulent illness (though I never discovered what it was the most likely suspect was a bad case of food borne E.coli or salmonella) that would leave me effectively couch-ridden at my parents home in Calgary for almost eight months.
But despite how 2004 ended, I still have a few positive memories of that time. One of them is so iconically Canadian that Roche Carrier could have dreamed it up himself. I was in Alexandria, Ontario; a rural community roughly two hours outside of Ottawa. I had gone to visit my Aunt and cousins in nearby Vankleek Hill during an October weekend and before I knew it I was shivering my nuts off in this one horse town’s ratty old rink and yelling my lungs out in support of my cousin Nick. It had been the second game of his I had seen during my visit. The first game was in tiny Vankleek Hill’s equally ratty old arena. While the first game was largely empty, the away game in Alexandria had a respectable showing in the stands. At a break between the first and second periods I got a chance to mingle with the locals as we all huddled in the only warm part of the rink. Then after a few minutes of idle chatter we all filed back into the stands and cheered our respective hockey stars on for the remainder of the game. It’s an innocuous memory but a happy one. One which I frequently contrast with a memory from roughly seven months earlier. It was my first year in Calgary and my father had chanced upon a pair of tickets for a Flames game. They were facing the Vancouver Canucks in the opening seven game series in what would become their celebrated, albeit failed, run for the Stanley Cup. It was my first NHL game ever. I still remember the electric atmosphere of the packed stadium and the suprising heat of the fire-jets which ignite every time the Flames score a goal. None of the roughly twenty thousand people in the Saddledome that night, myself included, knew how far this play off run would go. With the exception of Stampede week Calgary is usually a fairly down-to-Earth, hard-working and serious city. I have never seen Calgary so passionate, so energetic, so alive as I did during the Flames’ run to the cup. The final loss (which was bullshit by the way. That goal in game six was good and was only disallowed because the NHL wanted to maximize on the publicity in Florida. Acheiving success in the South and South-West being Gary Bettman’s longstanding wet dream) hit Cowtown like a collective punch in the face.
I am not going to claim to be biggest hockey fan in the world. My sporting heart first and foremost belongs to “the Beautiful Game“. I don’t follow the regular season religiously like many do. But I’m a Canadian dammit! Which means there are certain things that are unavoidable. I played street hockey as a kid. I was raised in a house where Maurice Richard’s name is spoken with reverence. At any given moment I can give you five reasons why Gary Bettman is an asshole. I, along with the majority of Canadians, agree that Toronto fans are whiny and self-deluded (nothing personal, just stating fact). And I, like thirty million others, went ape when Canada Sidney Crosby slid that magically goal across the line to clinch Olympic Gold on home ice.