I blame Texas. If the broiling heat of a typical summer doesn’t trap your senses, then it’s the banging noise of a dislodged piston pin inside your air conditioning compressor.
They say that heat and violence go hand in hand. Prison fights are more likely to occur the higher the temperature. Horn honking “road rage” increases, and Dutch officers in psychology simulations grow more threatening toward suspects in hot conditions.
Even more amusingly, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology claims you can cure your anger with a cold drink.
Obviously this is all just correlation science at best. But it’s how I try to rationalize the fact that my fandom started with Don Cherry’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em videos back when it was the only hockey-related material you could rent at your local Blockbuster - where apparently, they still survive but in Alaska. It was the hot Texas weather obviously! Nevermind that the game is played on 24 degree ice.
I got introduced to Don Cherry’s series through my uncle, Richard Gwozdz. He used to play the organ for the Fort Worth Texans, as well as some Fort Worth Brahma’s games when they arrived later in 1997. Cooler fact: he played the organ for an Edmonton Oilers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins game. At Reunion Arena in 1988. His fingers still got it too (he’s the one on the left).
Uncle Gwozdz grew up on hockey. And so my cousins grew up on hockey. Except unlike me, they actually played. They appreciated the craft of the game. Me? I just enjoyed the fights.
I enjoyed the fights so much I became fascinated by the sub culture of hockey enforcer fandom - a stew of curmudgeons and hockey fans who happen to love fighting who long for the “halcyon days” when it was less 'European' and more Irish.
I wanted to know about these so called “goons”. Who was the heavyweight champion? Bob Probert? Cool. Who was his heir? Tony Twist? Sweet. Wait a second - Dallas has one of these goons, right? Shane Churla and Todd Harvey? Awesome!
Hockey enforcers were my jam, and the Stars were where I got to see them up close. So much so that I recall actively reading a Dallas Morning News clipping about enforcer UFA’s in 1998 like it was Shakespeare. Mike Modano needed "protection" they used to say.
Dallas did sign an enforcer that season. He wasn’t my first pick, which was Stu Grimson. But in his regular season debut he looked as advertised.
I wasn’t fully invested in Stars hockey until the 1998 season. I just kind of liked the fights. The sport itself felt secondary.
That game changed my perception of hockey. Well, not really. I loved Severyn’s fight. I loved Richard Matvichuk pancaking a Sabre at center ice earlier that game. I still loved the physicality. But Daryl Reaugh’s commentary took it to the next level. His unfiltered enthusiasm, and manic wordsmithery like Hemingway with a Sam Raimi microphone kept my attention even when the Stars were doing things I didn’t actively care for - like pass, shoot, and score.
Dallas ended that season the same way it began - in victory.
My fandom has changed. If you follow my writing you know I'm more likely to write about histograms and coefficients than whether or not Dallas needs Ryan Reaves and Chris Neil in Victory Green. Even my journey to DBD is somewhat ironic - I got my blogging start writing about concussions.
Did I develop patience? Something that has supposedly evolved to explain declining violence. I don’t feel more patient. What I do feel is a collective appreciation of hockey. I still love the physicality. It’s part of what makes the sport unique. I like that the sport isn’t steeped in metaphors for dominance. Case in point:
There’s no metaphor here for Jamie Benn contributing to a goal by crushing Jeff Petry. He literally crushes him. Plus there’s that little something extra about being a fan of something they say doesn’t quite belong to you. No, not the North Stars, silly. Hockey in the south baby!