[…wherein the author learns just what she’s been missing all these years.]
Step One: Overlook the sport of hockey for your whole life. You blame the popularity of football and the relatively temperate climate in your home state, but you really don’t have a good reason for why you’ve never cared.
Step Two: Accept tickets to a game from a true-blue hockey enthusiast. Note that they are not just any tickets — they are for the final game of the Class AA Minnesota Boys Hockey State Championship.
Step Three: Hear native Minnesotans describe the tournament as a b.f.d. — a serious cultural event that people burn vacation days to attend, that families look forward to for the other 360-odd days — but don’t fully believe those Minnesotans until you see the crowds pouring into the Xcel Center.
Step Four: Study everything that happens from the moment you walk in the arena until the puck drops: the significantly colder air in the stands compared with the concourse; the fluid grace of the zamboni(s); pep bands and their repertoire (you always have been such a sucker for “Hey Baby”); in warm-ups, the shooting motion so much like a pendulum.
Step Five: Let yourself be transfixed. Find yourself rooting for the green team, for no other reasons than you’re sitting in their section and during introductions their poor goalie looked like he was going to throw up. Feel the boom when someone hits the boards. Swear the boards must be amplified.
Step Six: During the first intermission, approach the grown men in matching “Chiefs” jerseys, moppy brown wigs, and Buddy Holly specs and tell them you’ve never been to a hockey game before and you want to know why they’re dressed like that. Be made to feel like a moron when they ask you if you’ve also never watched a movie before. You have no good comeback, but one of them throws you a bone. “Slapshot,” he says, and then you get pushed out of the way by a mother who wants her kindergarteners to take a photo with them.
Step Seven: Feel a tingly little thrill when a player from the red squad gets a hat trick. Love that spectators throw things onto the ice and guys in sneakers have to come out and clear the mess. Think about pitching your own hat but remember that you’re supposed to be cheering for green.
Step Eight: Appreciate the devoted chanting by both student sections; wonder what it would sound like in a smaller venue, like Mariucci Arena.
Step Nine: Assume that 4-1 is going to be a difficult thing for green to overcome. Hope for it anyway.
Step Eleven: Raise your brows when swift number twelve scores his fifth goal for team red. Know that green knows that they can’t contain his breakaways. They just can’t. Wonder how the green goalie feels about red barreling toward him unslowed. Covet how fast the kid moves on skates.
Step Twelve: Watch red celebrate, feel good that their long and strange season ended this way.
Step Thirteen: Realize that Paul Newman is in Slapshot and like hockey even more.