For Hockey Weekend Across America , A Cup A Bruin and all of the NHL sites affiliated with Aerys Sports are contributing their own pieces of writing for each day of the weekend. While today may be Saturday, I will be contributing pieces on Friday’s Topic as well as today’s. (You’ve got to love work and travelling)
The Very Beginning:
For me the love of the game started at age four. I was at my grandmother’s house when my mother came in to pick me up and asked if I wanted to go to my first hockey game. Not really sure what it was, I obliged and went along, excited to see what it all entailed.
She led me down to the glass where the players were skating and had me watch, banging on the glass as each one stopped in front of us. A few of the players would tap their sticks on the glass, acknowledging we were there, others would just keep skating by. This would become a game ritual for us, as we attended every home game of the season for the Portland Pirates. After a few games, one of the players began to recognize me and while I was standing at the glass for practice, he came over, bent down,picked up a puck with his gloved hand and tossed it over the glass to me. I remember feeling so excited that I had just gotten a puck from one of the players and feeling like I was someone special to at least that one player. Looking at the number on the back I remember reading the #5 with a really long last name that I couldn’t pronounce on my own (Baumgartner). Every time #5 hit the ice I would watch him. I felt if he took the time to recognize me, I should recognize him.
As my mother was talking to some of her friends at the game one night, they informed us that if we were to wait after the game, we could meet the players and get autographs. At the beginning of the game my mother had taken me to the souvenir stand and bought me a pack of the 1995-1996 Pirates Roster hockey cards, which would later become a full-blown collection. Walking into the crisp, Maine winter air, we made our way to the lower entrance of the Cumberland County Civic Center and waited with a dozen fans underneath the street lights of Portland.
By this time I had come to know who each player was and what they looked like so as each player came out of the double doors, I would search my deck of cards for theirs while my mother would get their attention for me. (I was a bit of a shy child.) I had almost all of the cards signed, but I still hadn’t seen the one player I wanted to meet the most, Nolan Baumgartner. Finally, after waiting outside for around forty-five minutes after the game had ended, he exited the arena, hair still wet from his post-game shower.
The fans that remained swarmed towards him and I stood in the back, patiently waiting my turn, still too shy to speak up. As he made his way towards me, I spoke to him;
“Thank you for the puck,” I said exposing the hard rubber disk that I held in my other hand.
“You’re welcome,” he said as he signed my card and gave it back to me.
My collection of pucks from then on would grow, filling basket after basket in my closet. (Luckily my mother had a basket fetish and we always had extra ones lying around the house.) I would draw pictures of Nolan and hold them up to the glass at practice and give them to him at the end of the games. He would graciously take every one home and thank me for them. We got to know Nolan fairly well, standing outside after games for half an hour to an hour at a time. While it was normally my mother who did all the talking, he made sure to include me in their conversations as well.
Every time we would stand at the glass for him or wait outside to talk to him I would get butterflies in my stomach because I was so nervous. (A feeling that would never really go away to this day for whatever reason.) It was a feeling of excitement and shyness and pride all rolled into one. The idea that I knew this player that hundreds upon thousands of people cheered for and he took the time to talk to me every night after he would play a game.
As I grew older I came to know everything about “Baumer” and the game of hockey. He and his teammate Brad Church had a morning talk show that my mother and I would listen to on the radio every day. It was called the “Baumer and Churchy Show.” I remember they had a catchy little tune they would play and they would tease each other throughout the whole thing. While I don’t remember any specifics that the two would converse about or competitions they would have, I do remember that it was always fun and would keep my mother and I laughing for a while.
One night while I was waiting after the game, my drawing in hand, I watched Baumer walk through the doors with a hockey stick in his hand. He walked straight over to me past the other fans waiting for him, and knelt down in front of me. Pulling a marker from his jacket pocket he signed the stick and handed it over to me.
“This is for my number one fan,” he said.
Being only seven or eight years old, this was without a doubt the coolest thing that had ever happened to me. I was so excited to be called his number one fan and to have this game-used stick as my own. Only I could say that, and only I could be known as his number one fan. I remember I had never felt so special and important in my entire life.
Between sticks, stick blades, hockey cards and pucks, signed jerseys, my collection of autographed Baumgartner belongings was ridiculous. To this day I still have the first puck he ever gave me and all of the sticks and blades.
I got so attached to Baumer and the game that my mother would take us to Providence, Rhode Island for a play-off game that would go into triple overtime. The game didn’t get over until almost midnight and we waited for Baumer at the end to show our support. He stood and talked to us until the other players would call him to the bus, being the last player to get on, something he would do every time he had to leave for an away game.
He ended up meeting a woman at one of his away games by the name of Liz. He had introduced us at one of the games and we instantly got along with her, knowing her just as well as we knew him. In July of 2003 he invited my family and I to attend his wedding in Banff, Alberta, Canada. A vacation I would never forget.
I remember the day I was told he got traded from the Portland Pirates. I was so upset that I wouldn’t be able to see him anymore. The first team he was traded to was the Norfolk Admirals and every time they would play in Portland, I would attend as an Admirals fan. For my birthday I had received a Norfolk Admirals jersey that had yet to be signed. Per usual, my mother and I waited at the lower level of the arena where Baumer came out with yet another stick blade, he had broken it on a shot during the game, on it said:
Thank you for coming to all of my games, Nolan Baumgartner #5
It was and still is one of the most touching autographed items I own. Being miles apart he still thought of me as his biggest fan and remembered me. That would forever mean the world to me.
He went on to get traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a few games, then the Flyers and then the Dallas Stars for a few games each, but would land himself in the Vancouver Canucks Organization. Playing for the Western Conference, he never made it to Maine again. I was upset to not be able to see him play at all around my area, but I was happy for his success. He became the captain of the Manitoba Moose and that Christmas I received a jersey in the mail from Canada. In it, a Manitoba Moose practice jersey with the words,To my #1 fan, Nolan Baumgartner, scribbled on the front.
I wouldn’t see Nolan again until the 2010 AHL All-Star game that was hosted at the Cumberland County Civic Center. The one and only game that I willingly traveled in a snow storm to see. (I am petrified of driving in the snow.) It had been ten years since I had last seen Baumer and I was extremely thrilled to find out he was the captain of the Canadian All-Stars. I sat right at the tunnel where they would enter in hopes of him seeing me and recognizing me.
His team ended up winning the game and I was extremely proud, just as I was every time I would hear of his success, being named Captain, scoring a goal, everything. I stood at the edge of the wall, just above where he was entering after being interviewed, and watched as he signed his stick over to a little boy that was waiting by the glass. I congratulated him on the game, to which he nodded but didn’t seem to fully recognize me. Perhaps it was because I had called him Nolan and prior to I had always called him Baumer. Regardless, I was happy that I got to see him again and cheer him on. Unfortunately, I was unable to stay after and reminisce, the road conditions weren’t the best and as I stated, I’m a pansy in bad weather.
It’s 2012 and Baumer is now the captain of the Chicago Wolves and a part of the Twitter universe. While I have been able to keep in touch with his wife and occasionally him over the years, I can now get in contact with him personally via @Baumer_5.
While I have so many memories with Nolan, and am a life long fan of his, with him playing so far away I was able to find a love for the Pittsburgh Penguins and obviously Boston Bruins.
For the Love of Boston:
My first official National Hockey League game was January 1, 2009 when the Pittsburgh Penguins took on the Bruins at TD Garden. I had never been in such a large arena before. Yet at the same time, I had never felt more at home. There is a certain sense of belonging with the smell of Coors Light and popcorn filling the air as you walk around. (I know it sounds strange, but any hockey fan can agree with me on this one.) The poster boy had gotten me into the Penguins, I will be the first to admit it. I was a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins because of young gun Sidney Crosby. However, it wasn’t for the reasons most may think. In fact, at first I hated all of the hype about Crosby. I thought he was overrated and only got publicity for being eighteen years old. One night I flipped on the television during a Vancouver Pittsburgh game, looking for Baumer, and realized what rare and raw talent Crosby possessed. I had never seen a player with so much stick work and the more I watched, the more I began to like him as a player. I conducted some research, as I do most players and found him to be extremely admirable.
Being my first time in Boston, I got to the arena hours prior to the game. My boyfriend and I had planned on going out to eat and walking around the town before hand. After some quick consideration we decided to leave my purse in my car because he didn’t want me to get mugged being in a big city. Needless to say, I ended up locking my keys in my car and there we sat. We were in the parking garage across from the Garden and had no way of getting our belongings, all four doors were locked. I called Triple A, and they said they would be there within forty-five minutes. After two hours went by, no one had shown up to help us unlock the vehicle. It was already three in the afternoon and the game started at seven. We called a local locksmith we found through the telephone directory, and they informed us they would also be there within an hour. Meanwhile, I was wearing simply a sweatshirt and jeans in negative degree weather with the wind chill. (Not my brightest move, but I wanted to look cute) Needless to say, the car didn’t get unlocked until five o’clock and we walked into the arena frozen to the bone only to find that our nosebleed section seats were right under the vents.
To say that my first NHL game was memorable is an understatement. The Penguins went on to lose to the Bruins, not that I minded, I was a fan of both teams. As we were walking down the stairs to leave, the lovely people of Boston taunted me for wearing my Pittsburgh jersey, which I took all in good fun. It comes with the territory of being in Boston, I even got a cup of beer thrown at me head. Yet, I still have to say it was one of the funnest games I have ever been to because it was so memorable and I can never have a first professional game again.
The 2010-2011 season presented me with a lot of opportunities to see the Bruins play. It is now a tradition to attend a Pittsburgh vs Boston game every year, along with a few other choice games depending on the ticket prices. I can say that I cheered with the great fans of Boston when Shawn Thornton beat the hell out of Matt Cooke on his first shift after the Marc Savard hit,(I saw that game from the second row behind the Bruins bench, again in a Pitt jersey) which also happened to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Bruins Stanley Cup Winning Team. I was able to be within a few feet from the great Bobby Orr!! It was definitely one of the greatest games I have EVER been to.
I witnessed the Bruins annihilate the Canadiens in a 7-0 blow-out last season, take out the Flyers in a 3-0 sweep. I am proud and excited to say that I witnessed Tyler Seguin play in his first-ever play-off game against the Tampa Bay Lightning and make a name for himself on May 15, 2011. I can also say that I was there for the crowd-pleasing hit Milan Lucic threw on Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller that began to mark a target on the Bruins team, the game that helped turn around the nasty October drought.
I’ve been able to witness some pretty crazy and exciting things at the TD Garden and there isn’t any feeling in the world that can add up to that.
Ice hockey is and always will be my first love. It allows me to detach myself from the world as I know it and focus in on something bigger and greater than just myself. It allows me to feel that sense of belonging and pride that you get with every goal scored and feel the anxiety as a player gets in a fight, the rush that each hit exerts.
Ice hockey has been a large part of my entire life, helping mold me into the person I have become. There are three words that come to my mind when I think of hockey. Dream, Love and Inspire. I’m sure you are thinking that a sport so manly and ‘brutal’ could never mean such soft and heartfelt words, but you’re wrong. The sport reminds me to follow my dreams just as each and every player on the ice has followed theirs to get to where they are. I think of love when it comes to hockey because each and every guy on the ice loves what they do for a living and loves the sport just as much and more than I do and to me, doing something that you love for a living is the greatest job you could ever have. Which leads me to inspire, because each and every player on the ice is inspiring to someone. For me, it was Nolan Baumgartner. He inspired me to be a hockey fan and for that I will forever be grateful. The sport has also taught me to believe in myself and with a little drive and determination, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. Each and every one of these powerful words I have learned the true meaning of through hockey, and each one means something special to me.
While I can’t say that I have met any of the Bruins players, I can say that they have provided me with just as many great memories as Nolan Baumgartner. Hockey by far is the most underrated sport in America and if by reading this you are able to feel the sense of passion I share for this sport, then I have done my job for the weekend, to enlighten new fans or just simple sports readers on what the sport is really all about. To allow them to see that there is more to the game than fist fights and fast skating, it helps mold you into a better person just by watching.