Welcome to HAA (Hockey Addicts Anonymous). I will serve as your sponsor for the next six to nine months, depending upon the fortunes of the object of your hockey obsession. Ironically, the longer I am here to serve you, the less likely you are to need me, as your team will be progressing nicely through the playoffs. However, ultimately, 29 teams will fall short of the goal, leading to various degrees of despair, anxiety and a spectrum of other emotions too vast to enumerate.
HAA is a simple six step program designed to help you navigate the ups and downs of the NHL season, whether you follow an Original Six club (see what we did there? Original Six . . .six steps?) or one that has not had even a sniff of the Stanley Cup (there are, 12 such franchises). Please understand that the object of HAA is NOT to cure your addiction to hockey. Far from it -- we absolutely encourage it! There is no other sport quite like hockey, and those addicted to it tend to be more intelligent, better looking and richer than fans of other sports. OK, maybe not richer . . .
Instead of curing your addiction, we want to help you manage the more self-destructive components of the disease, making your journey more enjoyable, whether the ultimate destination is the Stanley Cup Final or the Draft Lottery. Ready? Here we go.
1. Past Results Do Not Predict Future Performance - Sure, teams can go on good runs and bad runs, but ultimately, you can't rely on the past to make you smug (or desperate) over future prospects. Every team is just a first round draft pick or an injured goalie away from agony or ecstasy. Keep this in mind. The only constant is change. Buffalo was celebrating a good off-season and some bright prospects . . .until Jack Eichel got hurt . . .in practice. Toronto was planning the Stanley Cup Parade route as Auston Matthews tallied four goals in his debut . . . except that they lost the game.
2. One Game at a Time - Yeah, we borrowed this concept from A.A., but let them sue us . . .we have sticks. It's really kind of a corollary of Step 1, but focused more on the in-season progress. Just because your team lost its first eight games last season (picking a number at random) doesn't mean that an Opening Night loss portends that the next seven are toast. This is a destructive tendency that cascades downhill quickly. "We lost the opener. That means we are likely to lose the next seven. That means we will fire the coach by the end of the month. That means we will be out of the playoffs by mid-November. That means nobody will come to the games. That means that the team will be sold and move to Quebec City. " You start with a completely logical observation, and move to an absurd result by incremental steps. Enjoy the game in front of you. Extrapolation and prognostication only work so far, and in general cause more pain than pleasure.
3. Avoid Being a Perma Bear — If you follow the financial markets with any regularity, you have likely run across the Perma Bear. This is an individual who, regardless of external indicators, predicts an imminent market crash. Eventually, of course, that individual will be correct . . .to one extent or another . . .and will hasten to remind you of that fact when it happens. What he will not tell you, however, is the millions of dollars he missed out on while the market soared. It's sort of like worrying about dying tomorrow — you will eventually be right, but will miss out on a lot of living in the meantime. Being right is not all it's cracked up to be . . .
4. Enjoy the Game, Not Just the Result — We are addicts because we adore the game of hockey. We will (and have) watched junior, NHL, AHL, ECHL, International, NCAA . . .you get the idea. I don't even get up from my seat at the 1st intermission until the six year olds finish their on-ice scrimmage. We have devoted a significant part of a vacation visiting junior arenas in Nova Scotia, PEI and Quebec. Yes, we are sick people, but that is why we founded HAA. The point is that we have the privilege of seeing some of the most amazing athletes in the world playing the most amazing game in the world. Watching Alex Ovechkin, Henrik Lundqvist, Jaromir Jagr etc. ply their trades is a treat, in and of itself. Sure, we all appreciate a game well played more when it's our guys playing well, and when our team is on the good side of the score. That shouldn't mean that we can't appreciate skill for skill's sake. Sort of that whole "don't miss life waiting to die" thing.
5. Manage Your Enthusiasm — We're not trying to restrain your allegiance or enthusiasm. For Blue Jackets' fans, we fully encourage blue hair, blue fingernails, face painting, tattoos, verbal abuse of Crosby, and virtually all other displays of allegiance. However, be mindful of your surroundings. If you're at the game in the stands, don't let loose with a string of "F-bombs" with kids around. Not necessary, doesn't prove you're a better fan, but just makes things uncomfortable for all those around you. No need to express your fandom in a manner that ruins the experience for others. Similarly, keep the abuse of fans from visiting clubs within the bounds of reason. Penguins fans can't help the fact that they are misguided, and we are acting as ambassadors for Columbus in treating visitors well. We've traveled to a number of other venues, and have taken note of those where we are unbelievably well treated (Ottawa) and those places where the rudeness was over the top (St. Louis). In between are places like Detroit, where you will take some good-natured ribbing, have Detroit fans point out the banners, but all done in good fun.
6. Always Shake Hands — one of the great, great features of the Stanley Cup playoffs, is the formalized hand shake after the series ends. Yes, other athletes shake hands, but in no other sport is it elevated to the institutional level that it holds in hockey. It's a terrific reminder that at the end of the day, it's just a game. An honorable effort is acknowledged, and no matter how many games are won or lost, how many season of success or futility have been enjoyed or endured, the sun will rise tomorrow. One of the great experiences in sports (or life) is being able to battle like hell to beat the other guy on the field, then shake hands hand have a beer (or whatever). That applies to fans as well.
See, that's not so bad, is it? It takes A.A. twelve steps to do what we did in six. Must be that whole smarter, better looking thing, eh? Besides, if things get really bad, you can always just yell "HAA!!!" at the top of your lungs. Means nothing, but you'll feel better. Stay tuned.