April 2015, my first NHL game: staying on a friend's couch
in Saint-Henri, I discover a boon
of tax-return mad-money in my bank account,
and soon I’m doing my best
impression of middle-class, rambling through the slush
on Saint-Cat's in a Canadiens sweater, loaded
by way of micro-brewery, on my way to the Bell Centre
to watch Carey Price set the team record
for most wins in a season. The chanting of fans
distorts and bounces around in the fog beneath
half-finished condo towers, the lonely lights at the ends
of high steel beams like beacon fires
signaling homecoming or invasion.
My toque is doffed. Standing for the national anthem
is to return to elementary school:
I half-expect a lunchtime prayer and eight-year-olds
hawking stubby cartons of milk down the aisle for a quarter,
but here I’m disappointed, and sit down with the rest to watch Price put on a rare lacklustre performance
in a season where he's tapped to win the Vezina
and maybe even the Hart. The standout player this night
is an old veteran (almost thirty-seven!) on the visiting team.
Like an errant Bolshoi dancer, he weaves
through the defense to slip one by Price, assists on two more.
Still, Les Boys keep Price in it. Stop the tape and zoom in to see
me, pixelated in the nosebleeds, cheering,
scraping my knuckles on the rafters (almost) after every Habs goal,
slapping the back of the stranger beside me
and having mine slapped in turn, jumping and yelling,
quietly facepalming when they blow the lead late,
finally being raised to my feet again when, on the rush,
a middle-six forward picks his corner and wins it for us.
Four-three the final in this Original Six match-up.
Stay standing. After the squad circles at centre,
sticks raised to salute the crowd, after the three stars,
Price comes back out to receive more praise
and answer a reporter's questions. From the upper reaches
of the stadium, where weather patterns whirl
atoms of dry ice and smoke from the pyrotechnics,
thousands of us are chanting his name,
muting him with our boom of Carrr-ey and M-V-P.
These moments are what I’ve been primed for all my life.
The cirrus and cirrocumulus mists— I’m lost in the joyful
mass-moment, the adoration of a great man, his name,
his name, his name, beaten in rhythm across the cavern
of the stadium interior. I don’t remember
his answers to the questions. Those details don’t matter. I am a man in uniform together with more men the same,
calling a name, wanting what I fear and fearing what I want.