Throughout the season, several fans will provide insight into their experiences in and love for the game of hockey and the Checkers. This is the third installment, this time from Sprint Cup driver and Race Night headliner Regan Smith. Click here for more info on Friday's Race Night at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Hockey is back (But it never really went anywhere).
I hopped out of the shower and walked into the closet. I was excited. It was time to put my hockey jersey on and get away from everything for a couple hours. No racecars to worry about and there wasn’t another out of town trip the next morning, which meant it was time to clear the brain and do what I enjoy as a hobby – watching hockey! While I pulled the jersey over my head I couldn’t help but think: who’s going to start in goal? Which players will be on lines together? Will we see a fight (yes, I’m one of those who think they are necessary for the game)?
All these questions that were running through my head were about to be answered and I couldn’t be more excited. For hockey fans these are questions that haven’t been answered nearly enough this year, and as you read through the headlines, tweets, Facebook and other various forms of social networking posts, you begin to realize that, “Hockey is back!”
We climbed into the car and started the drive to the arena. We were about 30 minutes away when we hit the first traffic jam, and I had a minor meltdown. I can deal with almost anything except for people who still haven’t learned how to merge and cause gridlocked interstates for no reason. Thankfully, the crisis was averted and the dead stop turned into a crawl. Soon we were back to full speed.
While the delay was lengthy, it didn’t appear that it was going to keep us from seeing the whole first period. After finding a parking spot and sprinting into the arena, the sad reality hit me that the puck had just been dropped. Not all was lost though. The cold brisk air that cycles through a hockey arena hit me in the face like a prizefighter, bringing me back to the moment and I caught a glimpse of the scoreboard. We were only 30 seconds in, jubilation! One more stop at the concession stand to grab a cold one and we were on our way to the seats. As we sat down the smile that always takes to my face when I get to a hockey game hit me. While there is the occasional frown after the opposing team scores and arm-rest coaching that I try to give from my seat about something that I likely have no clue about, that grin remains for the next 60 minutes. Looking down on the ice I see the names from the players sitting on the bench, and a couple on the ice. Faulk, Boychuck, Staal, Sutter, Dalpe, Ellis, and the list goes on. The words that have been echoed by many for the better part of two weeks hit me, “Hockey is back!”
As the game transpired, it was pretty evident that it was going to be a close one. Up and down the ice, back and forth, it was as tight and exciting as you could ask for. After a 1-0 lead was spoiled in the third period, taking us to 2-1, the clock was winding down and it seemed that the smile on my own, and many other fans faces, was going to be temporarily replaced.
Then it happened! With 13 seconds left and the goalie pulled, a bomb from Faulk at the top of the circle found its way to the back of the net. Yes! After five more minutes of back-and-forth play we were headed to a shootout. It was time to bite the nails now. Seven shooters later, finally a deciding goal! “Hell yeah, we win!” The whole arena erupted and went nuts. Everybody had an extra bounce to their step leaving the arena. It was a perfect ending to a great night.
Once we were back in the car and headed home, my mind ventured back to the same phrase that I’ve been mentioning, “Hockey is back!” Surely with the names mentioned and the excitement of the game, I must have been watching the Carolina Hurricanes finally get back on the ice, right? Nope. I was at the arena back in December watching the AHL-leading Charlotte Checkers continue the tear they have been on all year.
As I keep hearing everybody talk about the return of hockey, I can’t help but chuckle and think to myself how so many people are clueless to what they missed out on while the NHL’ers were taking an extended vacation. Fortunately for every person who missed out on hockey and has been forced to fill the void with honey-do lists and whatever else they could find, there is another who either already knew, or has recently learned, about this nicely kept secret of minor league hockey.
Hockey never went anywhere. It has been going on all season, and the competition in cities like Charlotte, Syracuse, Peoria, and Houston, to name a few, has been as good as ever. Fortunately for me, the Checkers are the affiliate to my favorite team in the NHL, the Hurricanes. The 40 minute drive to the arena is as easy as they come, and games don’t have to be something that is planned weeks ahead of time, but instead a spur of the moment decision.
Admittedly, I’m among the many who are extremely excited to see the NHL back playing. Most of my time sitting at the racetrack on a Friday or Saturday night before races is consumed by watching hockey, and I have missed that. With that said, I am fortunate to be one of the many who have watched the minors for years now, and didn’t have to sit and sulk over the other guys not playing.
I’m pumped up about getting to see another live game this week at the Checkers annual race night. I know that as I prepare to head down to the game, the same feelings I described above will begin to stew in my mind. While the past couple weeks have been filled with thoughts of getting ready for the upcoming racing season and making sure that all the little details are taken care of, I again will get that brief moment to put it all aside and be a fan. I hope to see all of you there, come out and help support a great cause with myself, the Checkers, and about a dozen of my competitors! Until then….
David Hoffman is the official realtor of the Checkers and can be seen in his home-ice advantage seats at almost every game. For more information on how David can help you, visit www.liveinnorthcarolina.com.