I liked international hockey before I liked the NHL. Sort of. The whole Canada beating USA for the gold medal at Salt Lake thing kind of helped. But it didn't convince me to start watching hockey all the time. I would have to take a few more steps to get there. One of those steps was the World Juniors.
Five years ago today I watched the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship for the first time ever. Or, at least, the first time I remember. There were a few earlier instances in which I wondered why anyone would want to play so much hockey right after Christmas and waste away their whole winter vacation. It's Christmas, people. (I still sort of feel that way, because as much as I love watching the World Juniors, I feel a little bad for the players. You know these guys have at least twenty more holiday seasons where they might not get to relax for a few days and spend time with a family they almost never see.)
Anyway. Cut to late December 2005. Everyone but me has a fever and the only prescription is more Crosby. My older siblings kept ribbing me because he was my age and very good at hockey and on pace to be very, very rich someday. I didn't care. I saw no point in fawning over some horse-faced, overrated jock when there had been so many Rory Gilmore boyfriends who were so much more perfect? Plus, I had already claimed Carey Price as an alternative (sight unseen, and that worked out pretty well for me).
It turns out that watching guys my age playing hockey would be what got me just a little bit interested in the sport. No, not to find a hockey boyfriend. Okay, maybe just a little, but mostly I liked being able to relate to the players I was watching. I still do.
I don't remember much of what actually happened during the tournament, but I remember watching the games and I remember Canada winning. And really, when you think about it, what else matters? The tournament ended and I was richer: I remembered a handful of players from that team when I started watching NHL hockey. I'm happy every time Justin Pogge plays an NHL game. Every time I realize I'm watching a player who played for the 2006 squad, I smile a little. It was pretty cool to have three of the team's players briefly reunited on the Habs' roster this season. I even found my first hockey boyfriend (then-unseen Carey Price notwithstanding) on that team. Sasha Pokulok didn't skyrocket to NHL fame like a couple of his teammates, but he belonged to the Washington Capitals for a while and that's pretty cool. I look him up from time to time to see his stats. He's currently playing in Germany, after bouncing around a few teams I'd never heard of last season. He might be far away right now, but he's originally from Vaudreuil so maybe at some point, if I'm ever in the West Island during the offseason I might see him somewhere and tell him that five years ago, before I even liked hockey, I watched him play.
I'd like to say that I was immediately hooked on hockey after that, but it didn't happen that fast. Still, I can't believe it's already been five years since that WJHC, and how many of these players keep coming back to me. (There have been lots of random exclamations during my research for this post, most of them beginning or ending with "OF COURSE", as if I should have known that there was a subliminal reason why I like a certain city, player, or team.)
I liked cheering for Canada's world junior team in 2006. That hasn't changed, and I don't think it ever will.