Myself, I watch from greater emotional distance this year, since my own favorite team, the Washington Capitals, didn’t even make the playoffs. (Which is embarrassing enough, given that half the league makes the playoffs.)
As I was consoling friends from Chicago last night, it occurred to me that I have, over the years, developed a fairly solid program for hockey grieving. It’s a seven-step plan.
Step No. 1 PRETEND IT DIDN’T HAPPEN
Your team didn’t lose last night. You didn’t stay up past midnight to watch the opponent score on a double-deflection in overtime.
Hockey doesn’t exist.
Canada doesn’t exist. Just woods up there. Woods and snow. No people. No pucks or skates. No glorious hulking silver trophy which will be handed off to some OTHER team in a matter of DAYS.
To keep yourself from checking the internet or discussing hockey, put a thick rubber band around your wrist. Whenever you find yourself reading or talking about the forbidden topic, snap the band as hard as you can.
True, the rubber band becomes less effective, and incredibly painful, if you have children who play ice hockey, and who practice four days a week at a rink where hockey is constantly discussed.
But you still need to wear the rubber band and snap it hard every single time. It’s a mandatory step.
Step No. 2 EAT YOUR ANGUISH
Dull the pain by eating constantly and voraciously.
By the time I finished the pie, I felt bloated, disgusted, ashamed, and mentally weak. But I survived those 12 hours. I didn’t jump off a roof. Which is amazing, considering my team’s performance in Game 7.
Step No. 3 YOUR OPPONENTS WILL ONE DAY DIE
This step is not the most enlightened or compassionate step.
But it’s vital to surviving those first few days.
Remember that the players on the other team — the guys whose very names make you want to smash windows or vomit into your breakfast cereal — they will each one day go the way of all mortal flesh. They’ll croak. Some will even suffer long horrible illnesses. (Which they semi-deserve, if you think about it, for not folding under pressure and for not GIVING AWAY THE DAMN GAME LIKE, OH, I DON’T KNOW, A CERTAIN TEAM WHOSE NAME RHYMES WITH APPITALS?)
Step No. 4 YOU TOO WILL ONE DAY DIE
Sounds like a bummer, right? Seems like a counterproductive thought.
It’s actually liberating. Remind yourself repeatedly that you will one day die and that when you do, you won’t have to keep re-playing over and over the moment Pat LaFontaine scored in QUADRUPLE OVERTIME of Game 7 to knock the Capitals out of the 1987 playoffs.
Nor will you need to obsess about Sergei Gonchar bobbling the puck against the Penguins (it’s always the Penguins) and gift-wrapping an overtime goal for Martin ‘May His Name Be Eternally Damned’ Straka.
When you are dead, you won’t replay those moments in your head anymore. Because the moments will not exist. Because you will not exist. And neither will Martin Straka, thank God.
Step No. 5 THINK ABOUT BANGLADESH
I’m talking about grinding poverty. I’m talking about India, Africa, and rural China.
I’m talking about places where people do not give a RAT’S ASS who won the conference finals. Where people don’t know Nick Leddy or Nick Backstrom or Nick Lidstrom or a single hockey-playing Nick. Where the fact that the Rangers – the Rangers! – might win the Stanley Cup this year doesn’t cause immediate heartburn, tightness in the chest, and rapid, shallow breathing.
People in Bangladesh don’t give a shit. They have bigger problems.
Admittedly it’s hard, in your current state, to imagine a bigger problem than Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell suddenly deciding NOT TO SCORE A SINGLE MEANINGFUL GOAL, EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE PAID MILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO DO PRECISELY THAT.
But bigger problems exist.
In India, Africa, and China.
Think about those places.
Step No. 6 THINK ABOUT THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
If your mind keeps drifting back to hockey, if you find you really couldn’t care less about Bangladesh, shift your thoughts to those less fortunate than you within the hockey world. Believe me, there is always some other team which crapped the bed even worse than your team did.
And the Bruins blowing a 3-0 series lead against the Flyers in 2010.
And the Sharks doing the same thing this year against the Kings.
And the Capitals doing pretty much all these things, over and over, year after year, for 40 straight years.
Important clarification: by suggesting you think of others, I am not suggesting you feel compassion for them. That’s a lot to ask of you right now.
You can think of these other teams with scorn and derision. The point is, at least you’re thinking about them, not your own pathetic band of overpaid candy-asses who couldn’t be bothered to set up shop in the crease, or create a single headache for the opposing goalie, or SCORE ONE PATHETIC GOAL WHEN IT REALLY MATTERED.
As long as you are focused on the Maple Leafs, you don’t have to contemplate any of that.
Unless of course you’re a Leafs fan.
In which case, you should think about the Blackhawks losing last night on a weak, double-deflected wristshot from the left point. The puck deflected off Tyler Toffoli’s stick and then Nick Leddy’s arm before fluttering, slowly, agonizingly, over goalie Corey Crawford’s shoulder.
At least it didn’t happen to the Leafs!
Yes, the Leafs failed to make the playoffs. But that humiliation happened weeks ago. That’s ancient history during the playoffs.
Step No. 7 SNAP AT YOUR LOVED ONES, OVER AND OVER, FOR NO GOOD REASON, FOR DAYS ON END
Yes, this step will be rough on your loved ones. But screw your loved ones. You don’t love them, or anyone, or anything, anymore. You’re all done with love, hope, trust and charity.
You sure as hell don’t believe in hockey anymore, nor the importance of helping your child with homework, nor the value of throwing the baseball with your daughter or preparing lunch for her, because LaFontaine – it had to be the golden boy! – put a weak-ass shot past Bob Mason in the fourth overtime at 2am on Easter Morning in ’87. Four overtimes. It was the next day when the stupid game ended.
Maybe if your loved ones could understand this for a second, could wrap their feeble, non-hockey oriented brains around the concept of such an atrocity, perhaps they wouldn’t keep bothering you with mundane, annoying requests.
Like being picked up from school.
Or having their heavy suitcase carried upstairs after a long business trip.
Are your loved ones totally unaware that Sami Kapanen’s goal against the Capitals in 2008 shouldn’t even have counted because his Flyer teammate Patrick Thoresen straight-up shoved D.C. defender Shaone Morrisonn into netminder Cristobal Huet, knocking Huet well out of the goal? What in the actual hell? That was goalie interference.
Are your loved ones blissfully ignorant that the Capitals capped their thrilling President’s Trophy season in 2010 by blowing a 3-1 series lead and collapsing in the FIRST round of the playoffs against a Montreal Canadiens team whose average rostered player appeared approximately 5’1” and 120 lbs?
Really, if your loved ones cared at all about you, they would be brooding about these same cosmic injustices, instead of making insane demands such as ‘Please walk the dog,’ or ‘Can you pass the salt?’
You may say: What about my child? He roots for the same team I do, and so he’s grieving, too. I can’t yell at him.
Sure you can! Extreme hockey grief is like a sinking ship. It’s every man for himself. You need to be selfish and ruthless to survive. Do not wait in line for a lifeboat. Knock over everyone smaller than yourself to procure a lifeboat.
Plus, if you don’t yell at your child now, how will he learn the family tradition of hockey heartbreak? How will he pass along the 7-step program to his own children?
You may say: I actually feel guilty. My kid only roots for this team because I do, and now he is going to bed in tears every other night because the team ALWAYS SUCKS.
Such feelings of guilt and shame are natural. The most effective way of coping with them is to tamp them down and suppress them very tightly. Pack down the feelings until they are the same approximate consistency as the vulcanized rubber of a hockey puck.
This too will help build the foundation for your family’s annual experience of hockey bereavement.