Zach Hacker: Learning to love hockey
I hope this doesn’t get me kicked out of Minnesota, but I must admit I haven’t always been the world’s biggest hockey fan.
I’ve never disliked hockey. I was known to attend Minnesota State University-Mankato games off and on throughout my childhood and when I went to school there. I even starred in a commercial for Maverick hockey broadcasts during my freshman year of college. But, aside from that, I didn’t pay too much attention other than watching Team USA every four years during the Winter Olympics.
You see, I grew up in what I consider to be a “lost generation” of hockey fans in Minnesota. (Which, I’m sure varies greatly depending on what part of the state you grew up in and things like that, but for all intents and purposes of this column, just roll with me on this one.) I was 7 years old and in the infancy of my sports fandom when Norm Green took the North Stars and bolted for Dallas. By the time the Wild opened their inaugural season in the fall of 2000, I was nearly 15. Those seven years in between were my formative years of beginning to understand, appreciate and love sports. So, with no NHL team to grab onto and call my own, I — and I suspect a lot of other people around my same age — quickly became enamored by the Vikings, Twins and (as was the case with a lot of kids who grew up in the 90s) the Chicago Bulls. Hockey sort of just got lost in the shuffle.I started watching the Wild some when they came about, but never really bothered to follow them all that closely. If I was flipping through the channels and saw they were on, I’d probably stop and watch at least for a little while but, aside from the playoffs, didn’t go out of my way to watch them. When I got into college, I started to follow the Mavs with a little more diligence and I have kept that up, but hockey still was a somewhat distant fourth on my list of favorite sports.
I lived in Minnesota for more than 26 years and never really considered myself much more than a casual hockey fan. I watched it sometimes, I understood it, but it was just never really that high on my list of priorities. But a funny thing happened after I moved to Kansas in March 2012: I missed hockey.
Kansas, like many of the states south of Minnesota, doesn’t have much of a hockey following at all. There are semi-pro teams in Topeka and Wichita, though from what I could tell, there isn’t a huge following outside of the players’ immediate families and girlfriends. But suddenly, now that I was living about 400 miles from any substantial population of people who paid any attention to the sport, I cared about it and watched almost every chance I got. (Which didn’t amount to much other than the NBC game on Sundays and the occasional St. Louis Blues game on Fox Sports Midwest).
It seems I’ve moved back to Minnesota at the perfect time. During the Wild’s current playoff run, I think I’ve been more excited about hockey than I’ve ever been. The games have become “appointment television” and I find myself soaking up more and more about the team with each game I watch. I’m not sure why, but I just have a feeling that it’s going to stick this time and that the Wild have made a permanent “big” fan out of me.
The beauty of the Wild is, unlike every other team I root for, they’re yet to break my heart. (I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the 1998 or 2009 Vikings). Hopefully they can even things out with Chicago in game four tonight and that fact will remain.
I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.