Sunday, October 09, 2005

Lighting the Lamp

I am a relative late-comer to my hockey fandom. Being a native Texan I did not really become aware of the game until sometime towards the end of high school. I know I have been aware of hockey far longer than I have been a fan. I was already familiar with the names Howe and Gretzky when I started watching games in 1992, and the first picture that comes to mind when I think hockey is a flag-draped Jim Craig searching the stands for his father. The first time I can remember watching hockey was during the 1993 Stanley Cup playoffs. Not knowing anything about the game I chose to root for the Montreal Canadiens because one of my friends in high school had given me a Canadiens puck. As it turns out the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup that year and I had a new addiction.

Over the next couple of years my interest in hockey branched out from just following the NHL. I started to watch college and minor league games, read magazines, and even collect hockey cards. I even bought some rollerblades and started to learn how to skate so my friends and I could play street hockey together. Then in 1994 my hockey world changed. In January Houston was awarded a hockey francise in the IHL and on October 7th, three days after my birthday, I was one of the 15,552 people sitting in the summit to watch the Aeros face off against the Atlanta Knights. I watched that first Aeros game on the edge of my seat. I don’t remember whether we won or lost, but I knew I was hooked. From then on it became my tradition, as long as I lived in Houston, to attend opening night. I attended many other games as well and got to see some great moments, like the 5-3 defeat of the Orlando Solar Bears in 1999 which won the Aeros their first championship, and not so great moments. Out of all of these moments, opening night is the one night I look forward to each year. There is a magic to the whole night that I cannot put in to words. The atmosphere is electric. There is a purity to opening night. It is a new beginning.

Thus I came to find myself sitting in the Toyota Center on Friday night, the buzz of the crowd washing over me, the scent of ice heavy in the air. It had been too long since I had made my fall tribute to the gods of hockey, having not made it to an opening night in several years. I had excellent seats. Eight rows back from the ice behind the opposing bench.

I was here. I was ready.

The puck dropped and the game was on!

The Aeros held up their end of the bargain, winning the game 6-5 on the back of a hat trick from Roman Voloshenko and 25 saves from Josh Harding. The Aeros out-shot the San Antonio Rampage 41-26. There were a lot of penalties, which broke up the flow of the game but lead to some exciting breakaway chances.

None of this mattered. For the 60 minutes those guys were out on the ice nothing else mattered. The Aeros were back. I was back.

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