My household growing up was probably very similar to a lot of other Pittsburgh area households in the late 1980s-early 1990s when it came to the local sports scene. For the most part, we were a Steelers house, with the Pirates occasionally mixed in, and hockey on the back burner (if the burner was even turned on).
When you are a kid, you tend to watch and follow what your parents watch, and hockey just was not something that my parents were ever really into. I grew up going to baseball games and spending my Sunday’s watching football.
I remember being really young (like, say, six years old) and catching a few minutes of a game on TV and never really understanding what all was happening because it just wasn’t something that I was familiar with.
The big tipping point for me was during first grade when I sat next to a kid (his name was Mike) that actually played hockey, which absolutely fascinated me. All of my friends growing up played baseball, and I had never known anybody that actually played anything else.
He loved it. It was all he talked about all day long. He would ask me if I watched the Penguins the night before (usually the answer was no) and go into detail about everything that happened.
One day for show and tell he actually brought in one of his hockey sticks.
So because he was into it, I started to get into it. I would go home at night, finish my home work, and grab whichever TV in the house was free and start watching hockey games. It was the perfect time to do it, too. It was the 1990-91 season, and the Penguins were starting to win. A lot.
I remember being fascinated by that guy named Jagr because I thought his name sounded cool and he was always doing cool shit during games.
I found myself repeating all of the funny sayings from the announcer on TV after every goal.
Then, after a few weeks of me watching games by myself, my parents started watching, too. It probably didn’t hurt that the team was starting to win a lot, but eventually everyone in the house was watching and starting to get just as hooked as I was.
After a while, my parents bought me my first street hockey stick. Then I got signed up for floor hockey at the local YMCA and started playing there. Eventually Mike invited me to his house and let me play hockey with him and his brothers in his driveway.
By that point, the playoffs were in full swing and as they kept winning every game became appointment viewing. By the time the Stanley Cup Final came around it there was real excitement, and the 8-0 Game 6 win to clinch the Stanley Cup in Minnesota is one of the first real vivid sports memories I have regarding a specific game (I vaguely remember the clinching game over Boston and hearing about how “that is not the Trophy they want”). I knew going in there was a chance they could win the championship, and the thought of that was extraordinarily exciting to a seven-year-old. Then they scored an early goal. Then another one. Then another one. Then they did not stop scoring goals.
From that point on there was no turning back. I knew every player on the team by name and number, and was starting to buy hockey cards instead of baseball cards.
Would it all have worked out that way if it did not happen to be the Penguins’ first Stanley Cup run, the first as part of a back-to-back, and the start of a mini-dynasty? I have no idea. Maybe it would not have. But the timing was perfect, and Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Paul Coffey, and Mike Lange just got me absolutely hooked. The importance of the latter name can not be understated, either. His call on TV and the way he presented a game had an absolutely massive influence on me and my early hockey watching experience. I remember a couple of years ago after a random regular season game I was leaving the PPG Paints Arena press box at the same time as him, and we rode the elevator together, and I actually had a chance to tell him that.
From that point on hockey started to become my thing, at times even more than the Steelers or Pirates, and it remains that to this day. All thanks to some random seating assignment in first grade, the beginning of a dynasty, and a couple of Hall of Famers (players and an announcer).
That is my hockey fan origin story.
What is yours?
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