A Storm In Carolina
Chapter 1 Sample
Growing up in North Carolina, hockey wasn’t the first sport that typically came to mind. Baseball? Sure. Football? Of course. Hockey, however, wasn’t something that I heard a lot about in my early childhood.
I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house and they subscribed to several magazines (Bon Appétit to National Geographic). Being the curious kid that I was, I would sift through them to see what I could learn about the world around me. This is how—at the age of 8—I first really started learning about hockey. The trigger? A cover featuring a man sitting behind an array of microphones, dabbing tears from his eyes.
The man was Wayne Gretzky.
I sat on the floor and read about his trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings, a move that fundamentally altered the hockey landscape. At the time, I had no clue how significant this trade was, how it would spur the game’s growth in non-traditional markets, and how interest in the sport would explode in the United States. Within a decade of this trade, the National Hockey League—through a combination of expansion and relocation—had teams placed in markets like Dallas, Anaheim, San Jose, Miami, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, and Raleigh.
Of course, being in North Carolina when I first read the Gretzky article, I wasn’t able to watch many games. During those early years, my greatest excitement came in the form of ESPN’s National Hockey Night. I waited each week for a game, eagerly anticipating the voices of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement. No, such sparse availability was not ideal, but it’s what I had and I loved it. There was something about the game that spoke to me; I can’t explain any better than that. There was just something special about it that drew me in.
As I got older, I developed a desire to actually play hockey in some significant way. My childhood best friend, Bryan, would come over and we would play on the walkway in front of my mom’s house. The screen door—and a few panes of glass—suffered, but she didn’t complain, at least not much. Soon after, our street hockey endeavor migrated to the parking lot of a church down the street. I had dedicated myself to the position of goaltender and spent hours skating around the lot in full gear, despite the heat and humidity of summer.
It was a lot of fun, though I did draw some curious looks from passersby. I loved it but I wanted to do more, so I joined the Parks and Recreation League in Raleigh. This was my first taste of organized hockey and, despite getting thrashed 8-2 in our first game, I was hooked. We played behind the Parker-Lincoln Building, in a parking lot, and I still have vivid memories of guys trudging down a small hill to retrieve roller hockey balls that sailed wide during warmups.
The next chapter came one night, just before dinner. I sat in the living room reading the paper when I came across an article about roller hockey at a rink a half-hour from my house. I ate, threw my gear bag in the car, and went. Walking in, I expected to find a bunch of teenagers like myself. Instead, I found a mix of people my age as well as adults. There were guys from all over the US and Canada, most of whom had played at various levels throughout their lives.
One of the players was the facility’s manager, meaning we could play for hours. It was challenging and it was fun. Most of the guys bonded well and the few water breaks we took were littered with conversation and (mostly) good-natured chirping. Unfortunately, all good things must end. New management came in and our time was reduced. Soon after, I moved out of state. Save for the random game of floor hockey, that was it for my playing career.
That, however, is only a fraction of my love for the game.
Hockey—more than any other sport, I’d argue—is best viewed live; television coverage, even as much as it had improved, cannot do the game justice. The first game I took in was some time in the early-90s (I still have the ticket stub somewhere), seeing the Raleigh Icecaps at Dorton Arena. I went with my grandfather and, while he wasn’t a huge hockey fan, he got into the spirit as soon as the puck was dropped. It’s one of my fondest hockey memories.
Once I got my license, I went to as many games as I could. Win or lose, I never had a bad time. Well, there was the night that my car—and several others—were broken into and vandalized, but that’s a story for another day.
Of course, East Coast Hockey League games weren’t the pinnacle of my fandom but I’ll save that for the book. Can’t give away everything in a prologue, right?