Yea, last night was fun. Our friends Nela and Kenny decided to take me to a hockey game for my birthday (which is technically Wednesday, but this was when the game was), so they bought Mary and I tickets for the Florida Seals (formerly the Orlando Seals, formerly the Orlando Solar Bears). I have to say, I had a really great time.

First, there are some things you should know about minor league hockey: 1) it is in no way like the clean, professional-style hockey you see in the NHL. NHL hockey is very neat; they skate around the ice, checks come expectedly and in a relatively proper manner. I don’t want to degrade NHL players, since they are mostly very talented athletes, but for the most part it’s straight-forward hockey the whole game. Not so with minor league. These guys were all over the ice. They weren’t really that great at certain things, like playing as a team (couldn’t tell you how many times our guys passed the puck to nobody) or staying on their feet (often due to being tripped by the other team), but I found myself empathizing with them. They were kinda like regular guys playing hockey rather than professional athletes.

2) I can actually hear things. The puck hitting sticks, players yelling at one another, all of this is perfectly clear. The reason why is that attendance was probably around 200 people. This works both ways: I know that they could hear me, too. When I loudly implied that one of the officials was taking bribes from the opposite team, I know that he could hear me. When Mary was egging a fight on, they were getting that message loud and clear.

3) Because of small attendance, they rely heavily on theatrics. I think it’s safe to say that the opposite team’s head coach was playing the part of pissed off evil villain really well. At one point during the second period, the Seals presented him with a bouquet in honor of being the league’s “Lamest Coach” which he threw down on the ice in a huff. He was later ejected from the game in the last minute of play. They had cheerleaders, something that you don’t often find at a hockey game, and I was surprised when they were greeting people at the door (What? Skin? At a hockey game?). There were traditions of all sorts that all 12 Seals fans knew. Last night was “Guaranteed Fight Night,” and the last minute of play, when the Seals were ahead 6 to 1, no less than five fights broke out. Literally, they would face off, the puck would be dropped, and two guys would immediately throw off their gloves and go at it. They would fight for a little, be kicked off the ice, then everyone would face off and they would start again. About four to six seconds would pass before they’d have to stop the clock again. I know it was for the fans’ benefit, but it was wonderfully dramatic and a lot of fun.

4) Because the fan base is so small, I have the feeling that I actually have access to this team. Mary was making suggestions to the guy who decides what merchandise to make when we were on our way out, for example. It’s not like being one of millions of Rangers fans where if you don’t buy a ticket, somebody else will. They realize that they are out in the sticks and have to hold on to every fan if they want to have a team next season, so they actually listen and make an effort. I think almost every jersey I saw people wearing last night was signed.

Ken and I agreed that we would be willing to adopt this team as our own. I would love to go to more games. It’s like blue collar hockey, and for some reason I feel like even when they win, they are somehow the underdogs. It was a really good time had by all.

We went to Denny’s afterward and Mary laughed so hard she had an asthma attack. We got home around 1am, no issues.

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