I am a Washington Capitals fan that lives in Vancouver. I get questioned about this, about how this happened. I know people who follow the Bruins or Red Wings. They don’t get interrogated about it. It’s like I’m having some kind of dirty hockey affair. All I know is it happened during the short season. Before that I had spent 16 years in England, and I had to adjust to liking hockey again when I moved back here.
On October 29th, six hours before game-time the afternoon threw it down with rain. I was desperate to get outside and stretch my legs and I went for my eight mile walk up East Hastings. I’ve walked up here all last summer, dealing with different emotions and work stress. I hope in some ways it will remind me that summer is somewhere ahead, even if it is months. Days when I need sunscreen when I’m out walking or buy an ice-cream from Dairy Queen and carry it down the street. This stretch of East Van has memories for me. It was where I stayed with friends or at the Waldorf Hotel in 2015, in November last year, when I was homeless and on welfare. I still remember walking up and down past the vegetable and fruit stands, on some sunny November days that somehow weren’t rained out. Recently I have bought dragon fruit, taken them home and scooped out the speckled fleshy insides. Game day though, it was the kind of rain that made me feel crazy for walking through the puddles, getting soaked. My clothes and hair were wet even though I had my umbrella up and wore my black beanie hat.
I am on the way home from my walk, and crossing a place to turn off when a van stops right in front of me, short of running me over. I look and it is my ex-boyfriend. After stopping in the middle of the road, he drives on and pulls into the gas station nearby. I walk over to the station and through the door. He is grabbing a paper from the newspaper stand, like he did on so many past mornings after we had breakfast together. I ask him if he was trying to run me over on purpose. He says he didn’t see me. I ask him how his new girlfriend is, not in a particularly genuine way, and he says they are doing fine. He has moved on and I still have not. I’m just not good at things like that, and I find it more difficult as I get older. So this is still on my mind. I am sad about it, the hours before the game.
I live downtown for the first time ever, and so I walk to the arena. I know it will take me 25 minutes to walk across downtown to Rogers. I grab my own Vancouver Sun from the drug store on West Pender on the way, to read while I’m waiting for the game, then cut back up to West Georgia. I have to walk a while down Georgia before I start seeing Canuck jerseys.
At the game I am sitting right beside the visitor’s penalty box. When I am first there I sit with my legs crossed, wedged between the penalty box and the seat in front of me. I’m wearing knee-length sparkly converse sneakers. The NHL official in the visitor’s penalty box noticed them and being friendly, joked that just the laces on their own must have been expensive. I don’t know why he thought that, but I laughed.
I didn’t know the pucks were kept in a fridge. Occasionally a ref skates over for a new puck and the guy has to reach into the puck fridge in a hurry and get a new puck out and hand it to a ref. Two kids sat behind the penalty box, about 6 or 7 years old. I thought if a puck sailed over the glass and I ended up catching it, I would surely give it to them. In the second half of the game, the NHL official in the penalty box spoke to me through the one-inch space in the glass of the box. He asked if I would pass a couple of pucks to the kids behind the box, if he handed them to me. I said I would. He took two pucks from the fridge and stacked them up, one at a time, one on top of the other, passing them through the gap. I had never held an NHL puck before and they were cold. I picked up each of them, reaching up to the row behind the box and handed them to the kids. I had to get their attention first and they weren’t expecting the pucks. Their mother thanked me even though it was the puck guy’s idea, and the kids were grateful, trying to get the puck guy’s attention to thank him, but he had turned towards the game watching for when he had to hand out the next puck.
Philipp Grubauer was in goal, and this was the first time he has played in Vancouver as far as I am aware. I saw him play at Madison Square Gardens when I went to the Caps vs. Rangers game in December 2013.
There were four Capital penalties in all, T.J Oshie for holding, Karl Alzner for high-sticking, Lars Eller for hooking, and Nicklas Backstrom for cross-checking. It could have been the case there weren’t any Capital penalties. I hate the Caps getting penalties when I watch from home. Sitting next to the penalty box, it was definitely more interesting having a Caps player in the penalty box for me. I know Karl Alzner is from Burnaby.
I was streaming a Capitals game a few days before and Craig Laughlin commented that Backstrom rarely takes penalties. In that particular game he had one, and once again on Saturday he did. When Backstrom was in the box, I turned to talk to the girl next to me. As we started talking she motioned toward Backstrom, then looked at me and raised her eyebrows up and down a couple of times.
There were two other kids sitting in front of me off and on during the game, in the front row. They saw Backstrom in the box and tapped the glass, waving, asking him if he could give them his stick, I guess thinking it was near the end of the game. I couldn’t hear what he said in response but eventually I think he said something like “No! I still need my stick!” and they stopped asking. Then his penalty was over and the box door was open and he skated away. The kids also asked the puck guy if they could have any pucks at the end, but he said he was sorry they could not. I guess their timing was a little off that night for getting souvenirs.
The win looked easy. Last year the team hadn’t won in Vancouver for a number of years, but now they won 5-2. I could be a Canucks fan and go to games all the time here. I could be a Washington fan and go live in Washington. But I live here and I go to the one game here, and maybe I will be able to go back east again sometime, or catch them at Verizon if I ever make it to Washington, D.C.. I never regret what I spend on a ticket.
Three nights after the game I walk towards the Downtown Eastside, past the one spot that smells like pee that I dodge around, and through a narrow passageway surrounded by boarding due to construction. The rain pours and I wear a new raincoat with my hood up listening to music. I think I see my ex-boyfriend walking with two friends of his, going through the same passageway. It is dark though, and he looks small in the rain. I’m not sure if it is him until I get close up. He doesn’t recognize me because he’s never seen my coat before, and I say nothing to him because I don’t think he wants me to. We pass by not saying anything. My heart drops into my stomach.
I had Iggy Pop on shuffle, and as I walked on past the construction, past the bit where people curl up under tarps and umbrellas against the street walls, The Passenger blasted into my ears and my hood just then. It was a good thing. I hoped the three-pronged approach would make my soul feel better. A Capitals game, Iggy and a new raincoat.