The Game Of Our Lives

MARTIN HUDSON -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

It is a game of polar opposites.

You love the Flames and hate the Leafs.

Nothing can change that.

She loves the Oilers and hates the Flames.

She, too, refuses to budge on the subject.

Hockey, it conquers and divides.

My team wins, you get the gears.

You win, the trash comes my way in spades.

Yet at times it unites us as a country where all other attempts fail.

When our favourites are wearing the Maple Leaf -- and we're not talking about the nasty blue one -- there are no other teams.

When they win gold, we toast each other and high five strangers we'd otherwise ignore.

Hockey, it truly is The Game Of Our Lives.

As kids, we can play road hockey or shinny well past the peak of our endurance. It can even drag us away from the PlayStation. We are our heroes. We wear their names on our back and live their dreams in our heart and mind.

Dinner is an inconvenience. Cars a delay of game. Chinooks and sanding trucks make us pout.

As parents, we encourage the sacrifice necessary to play the game at an organized level. And we, too, make that sacrifice. Do we ever.

Moms, the ultimate team players, turn over their social lives for the greater good of hockey.

Stinky equipment and all.

Early morning aren't for feeding babies anymore, they're for feeding the almighty hockey machine at ungodly hours in far-flung arenas.

A night out is more often than not celebrated in a dingy rink with the familiar hockey scents that cling to your nostrils for hours like only that 'hospital smell' can.

It's parkas, not pearls, for mom.

Hot chocolate, not champagne.

Blur's celebratory Song 2, not maudlin Sarah McLachlan.

And team jackets are the hot new fashion for special occasions. 'Mom' proudly stitched on the arm.

Dads are silent, sometimes stewing, as they soak up the action. They usually stand, too.

It's up to the moms to yell out encouragement and sometimes bizarre advice.

Dads just bite their lip. Their emotions are fully invested in the action, whether it's watching the six-year-old chasing the puck with the pack or the man-child delivering bone-jarring collisions in the Mac's tournament.

We dream of fundraisers and 50-50s. Our kitchen calendars are filled with colour-coded ice times. We raise our babies at rinkside until it's their turn to grow their hockey hair, strap on the blades and slip into hand-me-down game-worn equipment.

Those without kids watch nephews or nieces, neighbours or friends.

And the big boys.

Whether it's major junior, college or pro, we often live and die with the results.

We bemoan the latest loss or trade around the water cooler.

We live vicariously through our pool players. The money on the line is secondary to our pride in recognizing the best players.

We scour game summaries with the intensity of religious scholars deciphering ancient scriptures.

And at game time, we commandeer the TV at home or our favourite watering hole.

Some of us even dare to dream we still matter, suiting up at all hours of the day to face like-minded, would-be warriors in beer leagues across the country. Rag-tag teams exchanging pleasantries in empty arenas. Matching uniforms optional.

Or tiptoe between seriousness and simple exercise wherever there's shinny ice available.

We weren't good enough to play for pay, but we can still pretend.

It's hockey.

And it's The Game Of Our Lives.


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