Hockey at Dawn – A Mad Tea-Party

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My eyes are glazing over and lids drooping with fatigue. Outside, the world is dark – well, as dark as a city night can be with the flickering illumination of street lamps – and the odd fox scampers stealthily across the estate.

Neighbours sleep soundly on either side of the silent house, its other occupants lost in dreams and unmoved by a casual obsession.

Obsession used with a touch of irony of course, because we all need an excuse when faced with accusatory stares into bloodshot eyes the following morning. Each of their glances agonising “Was it really worth it?”

Your team is on the West Coast, It’s 3am and suddenly night feels like an inappropriate word. Puck-drop is a mere 10 or 11 minutes away; a period that seems to drag as only it can at this time. Maybe the clock has frozen?

These moments are a rarity now, shifting priorities meaning weekends offer a brief peek back behind the curtain, to heady but treasured days. It was hockey nearly every night back then and it was truly amazing.

Tea warms my hands as a bombardment of ads for single dating and online poker ensues. Yes, the humble but glorious cup of tea. Others may choose a different beverage to adorn their own experiences, but whether it be the heat, comfort or burst of caffeine, tea will always be mine.

It’s underway. The flash of speed, physical edge and explosive energy is like seeing an old friend for the first time in years. You will always be close but they’ve been promoted and have a child with ginger hair.

An air of familiarity but so much to discover all over again – the updates of great blogs, apps and websites can only ever offer so much – and the first period passes in an impossible blur. Does the hour between 3 and 4 have an agreement to take a day off every few weeks? Perhaps the other hours are doing overtime and no-one’s yet had a chance to check.

The second period wreaks havoc on a tired mind, violently spitting questions during every break in play. Its voice is curiously persuasive, even political at times.

After the occasional icing, it even tries a spot of shape-shifting, manifesting in an apparition of someone you know, convincing and brutally honest in their assessment.

Surely it’s time to head up to bed? The new mattress is pretty squishy – like sleeping on a cloud – and besides, you have to be up in 5 hours? You’ll be moody and unproductive tomorrow? Does it really make sense to stay awake this late? You could always just watch the highlights, couldn’t you?

As though carrying some wondrous shot of adrenaline, the third period arrives in earnest and now your fate is sealed. It would be churlish to stop watching now and more importantly, there’s only a single goal in it. The refreshment is short lived, and irises threaten to abandon your pursuit, throwing in the metaphorical towel.

As though written with all the transparency and clunk of a Michael Bay script, a stunning deke followed by a game-winning one-timer from just outside the slot reminds you. It reminds you of everything.

Why this sport is so special, why being an entire continent away couldn’t matter a jot and most of all; that up and down your country, and world, there are others, with work in the morning and responsibilities that far exceed your own, who stayed awake to witness that same split second of cataclysmic joy.

You may be alone in your living room, punching the air in celebration and terrifying your sleeping cat, but you are not really alone.

Follow Sam on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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