Monday, February 22, 2010

Happy to be there

By the time I was back in the rocking chair with a beer and watching the replay of the game on Time Warner Sports, I was a little sad.

End of winter? I'll mark that with a smile.

Coming down from the high of screaming along with 21,000+ mostly upstaters as a man parachuted to center ice to the theme from Rocky? Maybe.

But I don't think that's it.

I think I was a little sad because I was tired, and because the AHL's first-ever outdoor game was perfectly emblematic of the AHL I grew up with, perfectly emblematic of the cities that truly speak to the AHL's history, and perfectly emblematic of everything I love about hockey. And some of the things I don't.

It was ugly as piss. And it was everything we could have hoped for.

The New York State Fairgrounds is a gravel-strewn conglomeration of drab, utilitarian buildings bordered on one side by highway ramps, on another side by a nearly depopulated borderline city neighborhood, and marked at the entrance by a sign for Crucible Steel, a historic polluter that destroyed nearby Onondaga Lake.

We walked through and around the whole thing on our way into the game. Snow mounds, slush puddles, broken roads, tailgating fans, beer cans, piles of scrap metal, and finally, the gravel road to the dirt track grandstand.

I live outside of all of this, in a little place called Tully, where the natives have an Ice Harvest Festival and play very well at being the kind of town Garrison Keillor could adopt as his home and exploit for professors and professional students the world over.

But I am from Binghamton, which fittingly provided the opponent for the outdoor game, and which knows ugly and forgotten. Not all of it, of course, just like Syracuse, but enough that if you grow up with your eyes even partially open, you will have an understanding of the most powerful of the community-destroying effects of the global economy.

So that was there. The long dreary moan.

But there was also this.

I'm going to refer to him only as Ray Fucking Maynard, because he provided what has to be the sort-of sporting highlight of the year: Landing his USA parachute at almost-center ice to the partying roar of 21,000+ fall-drown drunks, Camaro-driving white sneaker-wearing AHL lifers, and all in all happy as fuck hockey fans. And he did it to this.

Ray Fucking Maynard.

You can dig around a little for a game recap and other analysis including the passionate booing given to Gov. Paterson, the early rock 'em sock 'em fight between Mirasty and Yablonski, and the "it was so cool" quotes from players.

But here, you get the cheese doodle guy.

And you get us with Bobby Nystrom.

The Rev. on the left, a four-time Cup winner in the middle, and Mr. Bad Example on the right

And you get us standing 10 feet from the boards, taking advantage of a clear lapse of security/planning, smelling skank fucking ass weed and hanging out with the drunkest of the drunk.

It was fun. Kick ass classic rock and canadian beer fun. There have been a few complaints (very few) about the drunks (we didn't see any fights and everyone actually seemed as jovial as could be considering some of them had been tailgating since the wee hours) and the parking (it was shitty, but so what? We walked a little, it kept us warm), but overall the reception has been glowing and grand. As it should be.

It's already taken on a sort of "you were there?" quality, not surprising because things like this don't happen often enough up here (Syracuse hoops doesn't count, mostly because, well, it's basketball). And I'm happy I was there.

I'm happy I can tell people about walking through the dirt track tunnels on the way back to the car, watching drunks and not-so-drunks falling on a sheet of uneven ice in the dark and then climbing up stepped-on, uneven mounds of snow to get out of the tunnel.

I'm happy I was there when a "security" person told the crowd we were standing with to "get off the platform," to which one reveler said "no comprende," and the security guy, who looked like an extra from Fargo, proceeded to re-deliver his instructions in four languages. Here in Internet land I believe we say "win."

I'm happy I was there to see it. I saw a few people I knew from high school. I saw a few people on the verge of hypothermia. I saw Bobby Nystrom. I saw the best fight I've ever seen. I saw a big ass hockey party bringing some happiness to the middle of February in one of the most depressing physical settings on the non-warring, non-Third World earth.

I'm glad I saw it all. And now I think I'm ready for spring.