London Junior Hockey

I’m sitting in the last row of Budweiser Gardens, the 9000-seat arena that’s the home of the London Knights. These young men, ages 16-20, dream of a career in professional hockey, perhaps as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, or maybe the Detroit Red Wings.

This is my first Knights game of the year. I only know of three players – Alex Formenton and Evan Bouchard played a few games in the National Hockey League and were then returned to junior hockey. Liam Foudy is merely a name I’ve heard of. So I haven’t been engaged in a deep feeling of “team”, a group that I’d be passionate to cheer on. My connection is simply that I live close to London. Unlike the Leafs, players on the Knights have a short shelf life before they’re on to something else in their hockey career.

The game has just started. It’s dark up here but brilliantly white on the ice, which is shiny with the lights. My first thought? It’s so pretty! Human jewels, some in black with gold, and some in white with gold, are flitting over the surface. It feels like a white Christmas tree. Perhaps this isn’t the analysis you were expecting from a hockey fan but it works for me.

The Knights have just scored the opening goal on a “2 on 1” (two players rushing towards the opposing goal while one defenseman tries to fend them off). The goalie leans toward the puck carrier who then slips the disc over to his friend > goalie out of position > empty net > goal! So sweet. Such grace in motion. I stand and applaud although my heart doesn’t really soar with the Knights. It’s just fun to cheer.

The computer on the big screen is exhorting us to “Make Some Noise!” I’m always suspicious of such forced enthusiasm. I figure that the brilliance of the play is what should get me out of my seat. I stay on my bum.

Okay, now it’s time for the great Harvey’s hamburger giveaway. Everybody in one section of the stands (out of perhaps 30) gets their hunger appeased. I’m in 315. There’s a counter on the big screen, going pretty fast. And now it’s slowing down … 311 … 312 … 313 … 314 … (pause) … 315! Oh, Harvey, I love you. Folks around me are standing and cheering.

After a few more goals, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for: the McDonald’s Big Mac Attack Challenge. It’s 6:48 left in the second period. If the Knights score by 4:48, everyone in the building gets a burger. Oh my. And then … a close-in play in front of Erie’s net, a flick of the stick, and in! 5:34 to go. A two-burger night!

Now I’m in Harvey’s, having consumed my free Original Burger and my not-free fries. I’m happy. The game ended in a very short overtime period, which is played with just three skaters on each side. It’s très exciting since the skilled players have so much room to wheel and deal. Alex Formenton roared down the ice for the Knights, with ending the game on his mind. But he was checked neatly by an Erie defenseman and the play surged the other way. In five seconds, the puck was in the London net, and the game was indeed over. I was okay … the final flourish was spectacular.

My only sadness concerned the woman I had been laughing with most of the game. She gathered her family, turned away from me, and left. No goodbye. I felt the loss.

It was a night out with spiraling energies, happy moments and sad moments, sublime skill and silly mistakes. A lot like life.

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