Fangirl Thursday: Hope, Happiness, and Hockey

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I love sports. March Madness is one of my favorite times of the year. I celebrated my 25th birthday at Yankee Stadium. And I love Sunday afternoons spent watching my beloved Buffalo Bills.

Although there are several sports teams that I love beyond reason, there’s only one that holds the top spot in my heart. And that’s the Buffalo Sabres, whose regular season happens to start tonight.

Hockey is a passionate game that inspires passion from its fans. And I’ve never been as passionate about another sports team as I’ve been about the Sabres. I’ve cried more tears over them than I have over any TV show or fictional character. I’ve spent more money on them than I’ve spent on probably all of my other fandoms combined. Being a Sabres fan led me to start my first blog, so I give them credit for being the first to really get me out of lurking around fandoms and into becoming an active participant. The Sabres taught me about communities of fans, families of blog commenters, and the importance of the connections we make with others based on the things we love.

Being a Sabres fan is a way of life in Buffalo, and loving that team has helped strengthen my relationships with family members and friends, as well as the relationship I have with the city I call home. I have so many fond memories of going to playoff games with my best friend, my sister, and my dad. And I also have fond memories of talking to my mom about past and present teams and players, learning about how fandoms can be passed from parent to child (and learning that women can be just as passionate about sports as men).

Despite the communal experience of being a sports fan, my love for the Sabres has always been deeply personal—at least since I was a freshman in college. We all have those fandoms that come along exactly when we need them, and that’s what the Sabres were for me. I struggled a lot with the transition from high school to college. I was lonely and anxious and filled with self-doubt. But the Sabres—who were in the middle of a very successful season that brought joy to our whole city—were a genuine source of happiness for me. I watched their games that season and felt like I was a part of something special, which I really needed at the time.

To make a long story short, the Sabres reminded me to never give up. On a May night in 2007, I sat in a sold-out arena and watched them send a playoff game to overtime with only 7.7 seconds left and then eventually win that game. There was something so magical about that moment, hugging strangers and crying happy tears and feeling like my entire city was bursting with pride. And it was all because the team didn’t give up in the face of adversity. That was a huge moment for the team, and it was a huge moment for me. It was the kind of optimistic moment I needed—a reminder that sometimes good things do happen, so you can’t ever stop hoping they will.

That’s what I’ve learned from being a Sabres fan: You can’t ever give up; you can’t lose faith just because things seem like they’re not going well. So even though this season might disappoint us again, and even though we’ve still never won a Stanley Cup, I can’t give up on them. They’re my team. They were there for me when I hit a rough patch, and I want to still be there as a fan even when they’re struggling. I’m forever grateful for the happiness and hope they gave me when I really needed those things, and I’ve learned that those are the best things to be a fan of—the things that make you feel hopeful and happy. Sports teams, TV shows, and anything else you can be a fan of will break your heart sometimes—that’s part of the deal. But the even the smallest moments of pure joy are worth all of those little heartbreaks in the end.

For those of you who are sports fans, tell me about your favorite team. And even if you don’t have a team, tell me about a fandom that was there for you when you needed it.

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8 thoughts on “Fangirl Thursday: Hope, Happiness, and Hockey

  1. I don’t have any stories about sports teams but I do have a fandom that came into my life at just the right time.

    It was May of 2009 and the 8th season of American Idol had just wrapped up. I had just finished up my junior year of college and was getting ready to start the process of applying for grad school. I was still struggling with the aftermath of a friendship that dissolved a few years prior that basically made me Emma Swan, pre-Storybrooke. I was closed-off and had basically refused to let anyone new into my life for fear that they’d leave and I’d be hurt again.

    Then came Kris and Adam (and the rest of the s8 Top 10 eventually but it was just them at first). I found a crazy group of fans on LiveJournal and just lurking at first helped me see how supportive online friends could be. For all the insanity and drama that later came, those first few months were beautiful. These people were caring and enthusiastic and so much fun. There were twitter trends and fundraisers and cellcasts and way too many late nights.

    I finally got up the courage to start commenting in the off-topic posts and let myself believe that maybe I could be an actual part of the community. Then Nikki came along and started talking to me about Heroes (thank god for ship-based usernames and icons lol) and because she’s Nikki, made me feel special and made me want to stick around. I spent the next year in those posts talking about anything and everything. I got advice on my grad school applications, I discovered a new band and the perfect friendship between two of its members, I got virtual hugs when I was sick and I found friends. I was still fairly guarded but those feelings were gradually lessening as I began to heal.

    I think you and I started regularly talking around the time the off-topic posts were fading out and you introduced me to Castle and Parks and Rec and Alias and supported me through my struggles with grad school and research and now we’re here and I can write this post and be willing to be more open and vulnerable. The fandom gave me friends that I knew I could trust and count on. It gave me a year full of memories and happiness that I will always look back on fondly, no matter how drama-filled it was. For that time, those 10 people (perhaps with the exception Danny) brought people together. They showed us beautiful friendships between very different people and made us love those friendships and what they represented.

    • So I know I texted you about this yesterday, but I need to say it again: This comment brought me so much joy, and it made me feel so proud of and happy for you because you deserve amazing friendships with people you know you can count on.

      The American Idol S8 fandom was one big collection of very different people who all were at places in our lives where we needed exactly the things and people that fandom gave to us. That fandom was there for me when I felt like I was losing some important friendships in my life, and it taught me that you’re never too old to make new friends. You are 100% right when you say that, for all the drama and ridiculous behavior that came later, that fandom was such a beautiful place when it first began. And it led me to some of my closest friends (like you!), so I will always look back on it fondly.

  2. I loved your hockey story. I have always loved the way sports foster a sense of community. Living in an area I did not grow up in, the local teams are not my teams, yet a part of me still enjoys when the home team wins, because there is just a different energy in the City. The joy and excitement is felt everywhere. I am one of those people that hates to see the home team lose, especially if they are one of the underdogs. Its one of the reasons that even though my A’s lost to Kansas City this year, the blow was softened knowing that the Kansas City fans got to see such an amazing win in their own stadium.

    There is also the pride that comes with being able to root for your team on foreign soil. When I go to watch the A’s play at Angel’s stadium, whenever I see green and gold, I feel an instant connection to that person. I know that complete stranger still gets at least a small part of me. They know the dedication it takes to watch a game in the crap hole that is the Oakland Colosseum. They know how heartbreaking that 2001 playoff loss was and all the other times in the past 15 years when we have been so close to greatness only for it to fall apart in the end. I know them. And they know me.

    As far as a fandom being there when needed them, that would be my lovely X-Files message board family from High School. I have talked about them a few times before, so I wont go into it again, but they were a huge part of my life, and I am eternally thankful for them.

    • First of all, I love that we’re bonded by our shared love for teams that have broken our hearts so many times by coming close and then falling apart.

      And I totally agree about sports fostering such a wonderful sense of community. It’s one of my favorite things about my city—the way we love our teams so passionately. I can go to Target or Starbucks on a Sunday morning and see nothing but Bills jerseys, and when the Sabres make a playoff run, it’s all the entire city can talk about. The joyful energy in a city after a big win for a sports team is just so cool. Like you, it’s why I always like to cheer for the home team when I don’t have a real rooting interest in a game.

    • I love what you said about rooting for your team on foreign soil. I’ve been in the DC area for over a decade and I love wearing my blue with pride into Caps games or Nats games. NY gets a bum rap for heartlessness and uncaring. But fans are the very best NY has to offer. And I see it when I go to sports games for DC local teams – fair weather fans is what is here (save for the diehard Redskins fans). It makes me appreciate my hometown teams even more.

  3. “a reminder that sometimes good things do happen, so you can’t ever stop hoping they will.”

    I love this with every fiber of my soul. I am a born and raised baseball fan. Grew up loving the 49ers even as a New Yorker and have great love for my Georgetown Hoyas every March. But nothing for me is like being a hockey fan. I am old enough to have memories of the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid. That sparked my love for the game. With an older brother and a real love for the beauty and skill of the sport I hardly remember a time when I didn’t love hockey. I played street hockey until Jr. High when field hockey was an option. All the while living and often dying with The Broadway Blues, my NY Rangers. I feel about the Blueshirts how you feel about the Sabres. They are my team. The only team I have never hedged or wavered on during all the years growing up on Long Island (when frankly it would have been easier to be an Islanders fan during their dynasty run). But I remained loyal. Ron Greshner was my first sports crush and Vanbiesbrouck my first hockey jersey. I have a signed shot of Messier scoring his 300th career goal that hangs proudly and prominently in my home (and in my daughter’s nursery when she was born). Hockey fans are unlike any other. It is almost like a secret society and language all its own.

    It is the rare bonding that happens in NYC. I remember when the Rangers were on their 1994 run to the Stanley Cup. Merely sitting at a bar during a game bonded you to a group of strangers in a way I never experienced during the Giants parallel run or the many Yankees championships I lived through. Rangertown is different. Hockey is different. Maybe because it is the forgotten sport, maybe it’s the Canadian ties, but for me being a Ranger fan is the very definition of what being a fan means. I remember so vividly when the Stanley Cup playoffs started in 1994, I marched into my bosses office and declared there would be a day in June that I needed to take off. I wasn’t sure when, but sometime the 2nd week of June there was going to be a parade in the Canon of Heroes in Downtown Manhattan and crazy 21 year old that I was, I was willing to quit my job over it. Because as I said, being a receptionist is something I can always do. A Stanley Cup championship might be a once in a lifetime experience and I wasn’t willing to pass that up. I laugh as I think about the sheer gumption I had back then. But after racing from my apartment to Madison Square Garden after game 7 it was a gloriously bright summer day that I watched my boys. My Adam Graves, My Mike Richter and our Captain Mark Messier lift the cup in a ticker tape parade that rings in my memory like Hi Def. I remember needing to take buses and trains to get back to NYC after having just moved to Washington, DC a week earlier because they were honoring Game 1 tickets to see the Stanley Cup banner raised. It had been the last hockey game I saw at the Garden before this past May.

    I have such vivid memories surrounding hockey from watching Gretzky score his last career hat trick as a Ranger to this past Spring sharing an unlikely playoff run on the 20th anniversary of their winning the cup in 1994. To share it with life long friends from another part of the world was magic and my brother via text message across the country was pure elation. Just as you described I jumped, screamed and hugged strangers as we went in to OT and on to win the game in dramatic fashion. The cheering buses in the streets before and after the game. And the view of the red and blue Empire State Building from my hotel room. There is something in the joy of sports and the camaraderie it instills that I cherish every time I meet someone new who ‘gets it’. I won’t ever forget walking down to the ice this past May and crying as the team was announced. My team. 32 years is a long time to love something outside your family and friends. My Ranger fandom is one of the great loves of my life.

    • So maybe I’m just emotional from Sunday TV, but this made me cry. Hockey fans are such a special and unique breed, and I’m so happy to know you understand what it means to have a hockey team be one of the loves of your life. Michael Peca was my first sports crush, and I kind of freaked out when I found his name on one of the trophies in the Hockey Hall of Fame last summer. And Paul Gaustad, my first jersey, will always be one of the most important and formative loves of my life. He taught me about the beauty of not being the most talented but having the most heart, and that’s a lesson so many of us hockey fans learn from our favorite players and carry with us into our lives.

      Thanks for sharing your stories with me, and thanks for “getting it.” A true kindred spirit, indeed. 🙂

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