Today’s Reason You Love Hockey comes from Mara. This is an especially exciting reason to get to post today, because think about it Gentle Reader: in less than a week NHL arenas (or at least the ones in London) will be waking up, too! So sit back, relax, enjoy Mara’s writing, and then commence pommerdoodling!
An Arena Wakes Up
This old place is the closest thing in my life to a cathedral. I like it best when it’s almost empty two or three hours before game time, and the lights in the bowl are off and all you can hear is the HVAC system humming and maybe someone up in the catwalks checking the spotlights.
I like walking out to center ice and looking up in every direction at empty seats and 32 years of banners hanging from the rafters. Cam Neely called this arena home and Grant Fuhr and Trevor Linden skated here. I like the ice when it hasn’t been cut or skated on for a day and it’s not shiny anymore (condensation freezes on it and the surface goes matte). It smells like snow and if you’re lucky there’s a couple feet of fog blurring the ads on the boards across the ice.
I like being in the arena as it gradually comes to life in the hours before a game, as the workers arrive and the team straggles in wearing their suits and drinking Rockstars and the lights come on and the concession workers bake cookies and spin the cotton candy and pop the popcorn and the goal lights get tested and the scoreboard boots up and someone turns on some music over the PA system.
I like seeing the players wander in and out of the press room, wearing spandex pants and Under Armor shirts and basketball shorts and ugly running shoes and bizzare touques in search of coffee or Goldfish Snack Mix. The equipment guys and stick boys load up the benches with water bottles and clean towels and a couple rolls of tape stacked on the boards by the backup goalie’s seat and then spend a couple of minutes throwing the practice pucks at the far end of the ice to see who has the best aim. The opposing team arrives all at once and heads straight to their small, smelly locker room. The two teams’ radio broadcasters sit down together and check their pronunciation of the opposing players’ names, and when a staffer comes in with the freshly-printed game lineups, everyone grabs a copy to see ‘who are we playing tonight, again?’ and which high-profile future Dion Phaneufs and Ryan Getzlafs will be on the ice.
Strange men in suits or NHL team jackets come in and gravitate to the back table in the pressroom, where they compare notes on the players they’re scouting that night and drink bad food services coffee. Game staffers pick up game op scripts for the night and see who gets the good jobs (escorting players) and who gets the crappy jobs (running the prize wheel table up on the concourse). The big box of 2-way radios disappears as their assigned staffers pick them up. I will probably forget to turn mine on until halfway through the first period. Beat writers from the local papers boot up their laptops and tune the TV in their filing room to the football game and the TV in the main press room is silently playing the pre-recorded intermission interviews being checked by the crew in the TV truck.
90 minutes before puck drop, the central game-ops staff meets to go over the structure for the night. A regular game with regular promotions and nothing special going on is a 5-minute meeting, unless the game-ops director has forgotten the meeting (again) and is late (again), or if someone has forgotten to unlock the meeting room and we stand around in the hall watching the visiting team play tape hockey. Partway through the meeting, the door separating the meeting room from the visitor’s locker room starts vibrating under assault from awesomely bad techno that the players are too young to have heard when it was first released.
Staff comes out of the meeting to hear a competing techno song coming from the other side of the ice where the home team is getting psyched. Some players play hockey, some play soccer, some just sit in the stands with their iPods taping their sticks, but the whole team comes together for the Jump Around. Game staffers scatter to organize promotion prizes and get dressed, a guy goes into a room and comes out as a big white bird with colored feathers, and I personally try to casually catch glimpses of half-dressed refs in their room across the hall.
60 minutes before puck drop, the Zamboni cuts the ice and it’s shiny again. The players aren’t allowed on the ice but they stand in the Zam door in their shower sandals and white socks up to their knees, dribbling pucks and shooting at where the net will be later. The visiting players sit in the stands on their side of the ice, and you’d think it’d be a duel of intimidating stares, but it isn’t. As the first die-hard fans trickle in, both teams disappear into the locker rooms, lest the public spy them in their underwear. The bowl lights come up to 100% and everyone puts on their public faces.
35 minutes before puck drop, the PA guy lets out his signature call to announce the start of warmups, for about the 600th game in a row…
”HEEEEEERE COME THE HAWKS!”