Hockey

NHL Opening Night Fever

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It’s just after midnight for me, so it is finally the day I have been waiting excitedly for: NHL Opening Night! Not only am I a huge hockey fan, but I am also now a hockey writer and on the management team for Championship Sports Media. Many of my sports and writing dreams have been coming true. Yet nothing could begin to compare to the magic of this one opening night. Let me explain to you why tonight is so special.

To begin with the obvious, it’s been months since the Stanley Cup has been raised (again) by the Tampa Bay Lightning. I don’t know about all of you, but I need my hockey fix! Even with the season extending longer for 2020-2021 due to a delayed January start, it has still been three months without hockey. That is a hard pill to swallow. Granted, there was a lot of extra excitement this season with the expansion draft for and the build-up to the new Seattle Kraken. But hockey news, no matter how juicy, or seeing a team be built from scratch, just isn’t the same as hearing the sound of blades on ice. Ninety-seven days of waiting to hear the puck drop is long enough.

NHL Opening Night: The Teams

The team I have always rooted for has been the Pittsburgh Penguins. Hearing that they are half of the early game on opening night was thrilling for me. Even the fact that Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still out due to surgery recovery, and Jake Guentzel is out due to a breakthrough case of COVID-19, does not make it less exciting to see my team take the ice tonight. Playing the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning is exciting, also.

Fun Fact: the Penguins (2016 and 2017) and the Lightning (2020 and 2021) are the last two teams to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions.

I have a special place in my heart for the Vegas Golden Knights, one of the teams playing the late game, although the original reason I began following the team is no longer relevant. After the 2017 season, when the Penguins had just won the Stanley Cup for a second time, Vegas held their expansion draft, as they would be beginning league play that fall. My favorite player, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, was the pick by the Golden Knights from the Penguins in the draft. I am not one who can easily let go of players I feel a loyalty to, so I grew fond of Vegas. Watching them advance to the Stanley Cup Finals the next season–their inaugural season–was absolutely amazing. I’m saddened to say, this offseason, Fleury was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Fun Fact: Chicago is only about three hours away from where I live.

NHL Opening Night: A Premiere Performance

The last team playing this evening is the newly formed Seattle Kraken. I am more than thrilled to see them on the ice and working cohesively as a team. The expansion draft was interesting to watch as I took notes so I could analyze the draft for CSM. I have followed every transaction the team has made. I’ve been taking in all of the information I could about the 32nd National Hockey League team. I’ve been waiting for this night for quite awhile to see the Kraken, and I’m thrilled that it is finally here.

Fun Fact: In 1917, the Seattle Metropolitans were the first American team to win the Stanley Cup when they bested Montreal in the Finals.

My Biggest Reason

While all of these reasons that I have listed so far as to why NHL Opening Night tonight is so exciting for me, I have yet to reveal my biggest reason.

In April of 2016, my granddaughter was born. She came home from the hospital to our house. The Stanley Cup Playoffs were about to begin, and Pittsburgh had been on fire. On June 12, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. My little one had witnessed the playoffs from my lap, cuddling while I fed her. She was their good luck charm. As a memento, we got her a stuffed puppy that has a bandana around his neck that says “Stanley Cup Champions 2016” with the Penguins insignia. That stuffed dog we named Max the Penguin Dog has quite literally been dragged everywhere she has gone since she received it. It is still her most prized possession.

When hockey season came around in the fall that year, I wasn’t expecting her to care one way or the other if it was on TV. Instead, from the first sounds of the first game we tuned into that season, she was fascinated once again with the game of hockey. In June of 2017, the Penguins hoisted the Cup once again. She was clapping and cheering, waving Max the Penguin Dog at the TV. That year, she received a super soft blanket that has a giant Penguins insignia and “5 Time Stanley Cup Champions”. That blanket is still on her bed, and it is her absolute favorite.

Fun Fact: The next June, she was very angry when she saw Alex Ovechkin lift the Stanley Cup instead of “her Penguins.” She believed the Cup itself belonged to Pittsburgh.

The Hook

My little one is now 5-years-old. We have watched seasons of mediocre Penguins hockey over the last few years. She and I watched as Fleury has played in Vegas. She has followed the evolution of the Seattle Kraken with me.

Over her entire life, she has pretended to play hockey. She has watched on TV. She was stir-crazy with me when the season abruptly halted in mid-March 2020.

Yesterday, this little girl stepped onto the ice for her first practice of Mini Mite House League hockey at our local skating rink. She has wanted to do this “my whole life,” she says. The smile on her face for the entirety of practice was worth way more than all of the equipment she was wearing. She was in her element. I’m so proud of her, and I can’t wait to watch her learn and grow and play more.

little girl playing hockey
Photo by Gretchen Miller at ChampionshipSportsMedia.com

This is the reason NHL Opening Night is so exciting and special to me this year. For the many reasons I’ve cited, of course. It’s finally hockey season. The Penguins, the Golden Knights, the Kraken. A little lifetime of hockey shared with my youngest one.

Listen for the whistle to blow and the puck to drop.

It’s NHL Opening Night.

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