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BIRD'S-EYE VIEW: Hooked on Hockey

Wednesday, April 29th
BIRD'S-EYE VIEW: Hooked on Hockey

BIRD’S-EYE VIEW: Hooked on Hockey

Blog #10 – April 29, 2020

by John Peterson

If you’re reading this, it is safe to say that you love hockey.

Otherwise you just like to follow along to my ramblings on a weekly basis because you’re so bored, you can’t possible think of anything better to do.

For argument’s sake (and for my own self-esteem), we’ll go with the first one.

At one point or another, you fell in love with this great game. Whether that was at an early age or later in life, that’s where we all differ. Maybe your moment was putting on your first pair of skates. Maybe it was going to your first hockey game with your mom or dad. Maybe it was watching your hometown team winning a championship on TV.

Perhaps you’re like me and there are several moments that stand out. Multiple reasons you got hooked on hockey. When you’re done reading this, I want to hear from you. What events in your lives brought you into the warm embrace of this one-of-a-kind sport.

If you haven’t been able to figure it out by now, hockey is like oxygen to me. I live and breathe it. You could call what I do a job or a career, but if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

(Keep reading after the photo)

ICE IS NICE

My first taste of hockey came on a small community rink in Anoka, Minnesota. I was four or five years old and my dad signed me up for a learn-to-skate program at Anoka Ice Arena called “Ice is Nice”.

It was one of the last years before the Minnesota North Stars packed up and moved to Texas to become the Dallas Stars. Coincidentally, the K-Wings were affiliated with the North Stars at that time. Crazy how things come full circle, huh?

I loved playing hockey as a kid. Our team didn’t have a regular goalie during my first year as a Squirt, only a team set of goalie equipment. A few of us gave it a try and when it was my turn, I fell in love with the position. I finished out the season as goalie, somehow kept the equipment, and played a few more years until I got to an age where I no longer liked waking up at 5:00 a.m. for practice.

I also outgrew my pads. I vividly remember the practice when I lost the passion for playing the game. The rest of my team was down at the far end of the ice and one of the coaches shot pucks at me. It seemed like every shot hit me above the knee where the pads stopped, but below the breezers where there wasn’t any padding. Ouch.

My playing days were over and the North Stars were long gone, but hockey never left the picture.

(Keep reading after the photo)

PRIDE ON ICE

Without an NHL team, my dad took me to several University of Minnesota hockey games as a kid. He was an alumni and one of his friends had season tickets, so we’d get to go a few times each year.

Golden Gophers hockey goes back over 100 years and when you enter Mariucci Arena, you’re reminded of the history when you look up and see all the banners hanging from the rafters and the murals of old black-and-white photos all over the concourse walls.

I was awestruck. From the game itself to the concessions, the band, the raucous student section and their chants, it was one of my favorite memories of my childhood. My favorite player in the mid-90’s was Brian Bonin.

One night, we bought a pennant at the merchandise stand and went down to the players tunnel for high-fives after the game. I lucked out and got Bonin’s autograph with a #21 on it. As we were leaving the arena, a random fan tapped me on the shoulder asking if I wanted a puck from the game that flew up into the stands. It was still freezing cold.

To this day, I still have that pennant and puck.

I'll never forget watching the Gophers come from behind to beat the University of Maine in the 2002 National Championship Game in overtime. It was the happiest sports fan moment of my life up to that point.

(Keep reading after the photo)

FORESHADOWING THE FUTURE?

My parents have a story to tell. I don’t really remember it, but knowing what we know now, we’ll have to take their word for it.

Apparently when I was six or seven, I’d play my NHL ’94 video game on Sega Genesis and broadcast the game to myself without an audience. I think they thought something was wrong with me.

Now it all makes sense.

The Minnesota Wild didn’t arrive until 2000, so in the late 90’s I just watched whatever games were on TV. Needless to say, I enjoyed seeing the Russian Five and the Detroit Red Wings on a regular basis. They were a powerhouse and always on ESPN. My favorite player growing up was Sergei Fedorov.

But as I got older, even as a fan of the brand new Wild franchise, I found that I enjoyed watching old highlights and appreciated some of the great calls of Gary Thorne, Bob Cole and Rick Jeanneret. By the time I graduated high school, Doc Emrick was the unofficial “Voice of Hockey”.

I’ll be honest here. I never fell OUT of love with hockey, but for a short time in college, it was a sport I latched onto from afar. Almost none of my friends at Arizona State University even cared that hockey existed.

(Keep reading after the photo)

THE DEFINING MOMENT

Through my first three years of college, I gained experience broadcasting Sun Devils football, basketball and baseball. Hockey was an afterthought. ASU didn’t even have a Division 1 program at the time (they do now). Their ACHA club team drew a small crowd of diehards each game, but it was far from a popular attraction.

As a senior, I was named Sports Director of our campus radio station and made a decision that would change everything. I added Sun Devil club hockey to the radio programming, so that the few of us who were interested could try broadcasting a few games.

I wish I still had the recording of my first game. I’d probably cringe, but it would be fun to relive. I bet it was awful. My peers seemed to disagree, and told me that I might have just found my calling.

My adrenaline levels were off the charts that night. I just remember how nervous I was leading up to that broadcast and how great it felt when the game ended.

On the drive home from Oceanside Arena in Scottsdale, Arizona, it hit me. Hockey is in my blood. It always has been.

This is what I was meant to do.

Okay, now it is your turn. When did you fall in love with hockey? Comment on Facebook and let us know. We may need to do a follow up blog with some of your best stories.

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Bird’s-Eye View is a Kalamazoo Wings blog, written by the team’s Director of Public Relations/Broadcaster John Peterson twice weekly. The thoughts, opinions and behind-the-scenes stories are that of the writer alone and not a reflection of the organization as a whole. Fans are welcome to submit questions and ideas for future blog posts to jpeterson@kwings.com. Enjoy!

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