Thursday, March 18, 2010

The birth of Hockey Broad

I'm going to start off my blog with a little background about me, and then I'm going to have a little rant.

If you asked me how or why I first came to like hockey, I couldn't tell you. Maybe it was meeting Kevin Dineen - fresh-minted rookie for the Hartford Whalers - along with a few of his teammates in the middle of Zurich Airport, of all places. (I was on a class trip. The players were en route to the World Championships in Czechoslovakia.) 

But I think I was interested in hockey before that. The problem was that nobody else in my family was. After all, the Whalers were the Cubs of hockey: lucky to make the playoffs and never even in serious contention for the Stanley Cup.

Part was to blame with the team itself. Although two of hockey's greats, Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe, both played for the Whalers, they both did so in the twilight years of their careers. And while Hartford had some good, solid players like Dineen matured into, the team just never managed to attract the kind of rabid fan base that their two closest rivals - the NY Rangers and the Boston Bruins - have always had. 

So nobody in my family liked hockey, and I couldn't drag anybody else to a game, either. Hockey just wasn't that popular in the Hartford/Springfield area at the time. 

It's not to say that Whalers fans weren't hardcore in their own way. Even now, more than a dozen years after the team got moved to North Carolina and transformed into the Hurricanes (and finally won the Cup), I still run into people every so often sporting a well-worn (or even new) t-shirt, hat or jersey. 

Back in high school, I played field hockey - and was a goalie. Those were the days when protective gear for goalies was limited to leg pads and a helmet; it was only a few years later that chest pads would come into play. That was 20+ years ago; back then, female ice hockey players were rare, and all-female hockey teams even more so. However, the league my high school belonged to had a rule: if no equivalent female sports team existed, girls could try out for (and even play on) the boys' teams. 

And I would have tried out for the boys' ice hockey team, too - but my friend who had the locker next to mine was the hockey goalie, and he warned me, "Our coach is so sexist, you would have to be twice the player of our very best player, just for him to even look at you, never mind think of giving you a spot on the team."

My hopes were dashed; but my hockey fandom was not. 

I ended up at a college where the predominant sports were rugby, lacrosse and hockey. Our hockey team was pretty good, although I don't recall them taking home any championships during my years there. But we had a nice rink on campus, a highly enthusiastic fan base (which was more than the basketball team could lay claim to), and a great bunch of guys out there playing. 

After college, I ended up in Raleigh, NC, for a few years (pre-Hurricanes). My roommates and I were all hockey fans, so we used to go watch the Raleigh IceCaps play. If I recall, tickets were $5. Maybe they were $10 down on the glass, but Dorton Arena on the NC State Fairgrounds was small, so there was no such thing as a bad seat. The IceCaps played 1991-98 in Raleigh; when the Hurricanes came to town, they ended up moving to Augusta, GA.

Movng back to New England for a few years left me feeling stranded as far as hockey went. The Whalers had left for North Carolina; I had no desire to support the other geographically-close teams (NY Rangers, NY Islanders, NJ Devils, Boston Bruins). The Hartford Wolf Pack was just starting out; the Springfield Falcons didn't yet exist. I was working three jobs and certainly had no time to attend Wolf Pack games, anyway.

It all changed over ten years ago when I moved to Chicago. Bulls, Bears? I couldn't care less about football, and just never got into pro basketball - although I enjoy college basketball, which is more about the love of the game and maybe earning your ticket to the pros, versus the showboating, diva-ridden pros. Baseball? Well, I had to root for the Cubs - the Boston Red Sox are my home team, and I liked the Cleveland Indians for many years, so I guess I have something for "loveable loser" teams.

But hockey - oh, glorious Chicago hockey. Thank you, Blackhawks, for finally putting me in my hockey-loving happy place. 

My first live game at the "Madhouse on Madison" was for my 29th birthday; friends came from three states for a weekend that included a hockey game. I don't even remember who was playing the 'Hawks - I just remember the awe and excitement and happiness of my first live NHL game. If I remember, the Hawks won. 

The number of live games I've attended has varied from season to season. I have absolutely no problem going to games on my own, but let's face it: sporting events are more fun with friends, and I don't know a great many hockey fans. (Although, I'm starting to discover, post-2010-Olympics, that more of my friends like hockey than I realized.)

Prior to the 2004-04 NHL lockout, you barely could've paid people to attend Blackhawks games. The United Center was frequently half-empty. In an interesting piece of irony, the Blackhawks owner at the time, Bill "Dollar Bill" Wirtz didn't allow home games to be televised in the local market, claiming they were "unfair to season-ticket holders". Despite poor attendance records, Wirtz raised ticket prices, further alienating local hockey fans - who instead turned to supporting the AHL's Chicago Wolves - who not only had far less expensive ticket prices, but who also consistently sported winning - and championship - seasons.

Post-NHL lockout, the NHL seems to have woken up and pulled its head out of the sand and taken a look around. Hockey was perceived as a game for the "cold-weather" states and predominantly, its demographic was men. All the teams of the NHL started spucing up their arenas; pumped money into fresh, up-to-date marketing; and tried to lure fans back to the game - as well as to attract new ones. 

A number of hockey teams created squads of "Ice Girls" - essentially cheerleaders, but they don't cheer. They go out and "help" clean the ice, and do a lot of pouting and vamping, and wear very little clothing. (I've seen bathing suits with more material.) They also show up to things like local car shows or events where there may be/definitely will be a pool of hockey fans. 

This is, of course, assuming that all hockey fans are male.

I'm not suggesting having lycra-wearing cheerleading males out there to even the score. After all, we have two whole teams full of virile, strapping young men out there, playing their hearts out. 

I think I'm just disgusted by the fact that most sports team assume that since the vast majority of their fans are men, that it's ok to put the team women (whether you want to call them cheerleaders or ice girls or whatever) in the skimpiest outfits possible and let their... assets hang out.

Turnabout is fair play, gentlemen. Let's convert all male sports uniforms to boxer briefs and no shirts. I can guarantee you that you will attract more women that way. (Well, maybe not for football.) 

Women make up a larger part of the population now. Women have more spending power and they're making a lot more of the spending decisions. And while salaries are not as equal as we wish they were, a lot more women have jobs, and are taking home pay, and guess what? We like sports. 

Just take a look around at any sporting event. Not all the women were dragged there unwillingly by their boyfriends, husbands, family. (In fact, I would bet that there's plenty of instances where it's the reverse.) 

Men always seem surprised when women like sports - that is, sports other than baseball. It seems acceptable to like baseball and be female, and not be thought of as any less feminine for it. Maybe it's because baseball is really just an excuse to hang out, catch some sunshine and drink a lot of beer, and men especially like it if the females are wearing the skimpiest clothes possible. (Duh. Hello, hormones.)

Back in high school, I remember the looks of shock on male friends' faces when I expressed how much I liked hockey. "You... do?" they'd gasp out, as if I'd just told them that I came from planet Vulcan and landed here last week.

But even today, there is still the unexpected shock from friends (male and female alike) who realize I not only like hockey, but I love hockey. Bring it on, baby! 

I'll tell you why: Minute for minute, I can't think of a more exciting professional sport than hockey. (Oh, sure, soccer is pretty good, too, but I've never been a big enough fan of the sport to watch it much.) The rules are pretty straightforward, possession can change in the blink of an eye, and the adrenalin from a good game will keep you charged up for hours. Hockey is never boring.

Watching hockey during the Olympics was like a week and a half of one glorious All-Star game after another. Sure, I would've preferred if the U.S. brought home gold in Vancouver. But the entire week was mind-blowingly exciting, full of a lot of close games, and the final game was so awesome it was all we could do to not jump around the room. 

Here's my other rant about hockey: it used to be that sports fan gear was pretty much like-it-or-lump-it in its simplicity. You pretty much had a choice of one or two jerseys (home and/or away), maybe a couple t-shirts, a baseball hat or knit cap, maybe a scarf, and if the team was really savvy, perhaps a sweatshirt or jacket.

Today, of course, "variety" is the keyword, and it seems like most teams have decided that "variety" for "ladies" apparel means that it must be pink.


Look, I'm sorry. Even some of the girliest, frou-frou-fashionistas I know have zero interest in the color pink. Personally, I'd never wear pink because of the simple reason that it clashes with my coloring, and I'm not going to wear pink just because I have boobs. (I am also not interested in any other shade of pastel coloring, including but not limited to baby blue, pale green, lavender, or canary yellow.) Also, in case the sports wear apparel-designers haven't noticed (and apparently they haven't), women come in more sizes than just XS, S, M and L, and want more fashion choices than tank tops and baby-doll t-shirts.

What are you designers trying to say? That female sports fans must be/ought to be slutty? If the guys at the game want to look at women in scanty clothing, let them oogle the Ice Girls. Isn't that why they're there in barely-there outfits?

See, there's a reason I didn't pick a cutesy variant of "hockey girl" or "hockey grrl" or "hockey chick" or something for this blog. I don't think that female fans - of any sport - should be looked down upon as "cute" for liking sports. "Hockey woman" seemed to suggest that I actually played the game myself (I still don't), and "Hockey lady" seemed a little more polite than I probably will end up being. 

My great-aunt is eighty-something years old and she is a "broad" in the absolute best sense of the word. She calls herself a broad, even. A broad is a woman who speaks her mind and doesn't care that others might be shocked at the honesty of it all. 

That's me: Hockey Broad.