(Ed. Note: Our series "5 Reasons I Love Hockey" features puckheads from all walks of life revealing five things that either made them a fan or that keep them watching hockey. It will run every weekend. Have a suggestion for a "5 Reasons" guest blogger? Hit us on email. Enjoy!)
Jamie Bell is an online producer for TSN.ca, working with them since 2001. He's also an Ottawa Senators fan living in Toronto, which probably offers a few reasons to offer him pity.
Married father of two and a dedicated puckhead, Bell was nice enough to offer his list of hockey likes, ranging from hockey cards to video games to classic moments on the ice.
1. EA Sports NHL series
While most people consider NHL '94 to be the be-all, end-all of hockey titles, I can't be so specific. I have bought every EA Sports NHL game since 1993 (yes, that's pretty sad to admit for someone in their mid-30's) and I can't even begin to calculate the number of hours I have spent playing them. Honestly, if I had spent an equal amount of time working on a fission reactor, chances are by now I would have solved the energy crisis.
The great thing about these titles is how universal they are. In first year residence at Carleton University in Ottawa, I was paired with a bit of a farm-boy homebody from Winnipeg named Andrew Seymour. Me being the ‘cool guy' punk from Toronto (well, really a suburb) I thought that our rooming relationship was doomed for failure. That was until he broke out the Sega Genesis with a well worn NHL 95 cartridge. From then on I knew it would be smooth sailing.
We created a Sega League for our floor, which got out of hand in a hurry. Our dorm room became the de facto home arena of the Glengarry Sixth Floor Sega hockey league with my roommate acting as Commissioner. Whether it would be the resident pothead Isaac flaunting the league's substance abuse policy before every game, or breaking up near fist fights between competing owners, the ‘Commish' faced enough ridiculous problems that would have brought Gary Bettman to tears. When I reflect on the amount of time we spent playing that game, my mind boggles.
2. The 1987 Canada Cup
I was in my first year of existence when Canada faced off with the Soviet Union in the Summit Series, so you'll excuse me if my memories are a little hazy. However in 1987 I was 11 years old and as big of a hockey fanatic as one could possibly be.
At this time, Russian players were largely thought of as mythical automatons, who only emerged every so often to pound the rest of the world at the Olympics or the World Championship, however news of several key players had begun to filter through the cracks of the Iron Curtain.
I remember hearing about this Makarov character, who was supposed to rival Wayne Gretzky and that the Russkies had a defenceman named Fetisov who was allegedly a 50-50 mix of Bobby Orr and Jesus Christ. Of course in my 11 year old mind I knew that Canada was going to wipe the floor with them.
Well it didn't exactly work out like that. But what did occur was some of the best hockey my young eyes had ever seen. I remember watching in awe how the Soviets were able to move the puck around and their unbelievable patience. I also remember thinking that the USSR's coach Victor Tikhonov was the embodiment of evil and the single greatest threat to liberty and freedom on the planet. It was my firm belief that if Canada lost this series that Soviet tanks would be rolling into Toronto the very next day.
I remember watching the final game at the house of some family friends, the Smiths. While they had immigrated from the UK just 10 years earlier, they were already diehard puck heads. I recall this being as tense a game as I have ever witnessed. When Mario Lemieux ended up scoring what proved to be the winner, I remember the whole room exploding in glee. I also remember my dad's friend Dave Smith yelling something like "Take that ye Commie bastards!!!!" at the TV in a thick Northern accent.
In short Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux (along with Rocky IV) caused Communism to crumble and the Berlin Wall to come tumbling down...at least that's how I choose to remember it.
3. 1981-82 O Pee Chee Hockey Cards
This is really where my love for the sport began. When I was a kid, my parent's church held a rummage sale just before Christmas every year. Usually there was nothing but old Parcheesi sets and horrible "art work" from past decades, however on one occasion I came across cardboard gold.
Sitting in a nondescript brown paper bag was a complete set of 1981-82 O Pee Chee hockey cards (minus the Dave Keon card for some reason) that had been lovingly mutilated by their previous owner for the low, low price of one dollar. In retrospect it was probably the greatest purchase of my entire life.
I studied these cards religiously. I used to lay them out on my bedroom floor in order of highest scorer (Wayne Gretzky) to the lowest (Kim Clackson) and all sorts of other permutations. Years later when I was a "serious" collector, I would come to the realization that my cards were actually most likely taken from a giant uncut sheet likely directly from the manufacturer that was then butchered by some foolish kid. Those cards would be worth a small fortune today; but the amount of joy they brought to my 10-year-old self was priceless.
The 1980's were a particularly dark period for hockey fans in the Greater Toronto area. Maple Leafs' owner Harold Ballard's reign of terror continued unabated while the team on the ice was abysmal at best. To compound matters it was impossible to get a ticket to see the aforementioned abortion of a hockey team.
For my 13th birthday, my aunt scored me some ducats to see the Leafs play the New Jersey Devils. I had never been to Maple Leaf Gardens before so I was obviously stoked despite the fact that I had standing room only ticket for what was likely a meaningless mid-season game between a pair of also-rans.
While the game was a sloppy affair at best, it did give me one of my greatest ever memories from an event that I actually attended. Both teams had their fare share of goons, and the game turned into a bit of a gong show with one brawl after another.
Near the end of the second period the refs had completely lost control of the game. At this point Devils' goaltender Sean Burke decided he wanted in on the action. He motioned down to the other end of the ice to the Leafs' keeper Mark LaForest in the international signal of: "Come get a taste." Bless his heart, LaForest was willing. Unfortunately his balls were bigger than his brains and he was handed a savage beating by Burke who had about five inches and 30 pounds on him. Both guys were tossed for their efforts and I remember completely marking out and jumping up and down in one place screaming "Rip his F'ing head off!!!" That also marked the first time I was able to loudly swear in a public place with zero repercussions.
It was my first ever live NHL game, and it was epic.
5. Roch Carriere's "The Hockey Sweater"
Hands down the greatest hockey (and possibly sports) story I have ever read. Whether it be the original French version or the English translation or even the award winning short film, Monsieur Carrier sums up the feelings of Canadian hockey fans perfectly. I read this book to my own children almost every night and it never gets old.. It is as big a symbol for Canada as back bacon, toques and the game itself.