March 17, 2011
Today is St. Patty's Day, which means we're about three hours away from you posting an incomprehensible Facebook status, calling your ex, and puking green beer. If you've grown up, I'll assume you're reading this on your phone at the bar over a Guinness, or sitting at work actively hating your job ...
Hockey and St. Patrick's Day go hand-in-hand for the obvious reason, and it rhymes with "muse."
The culture of the game carries with it a few things that aren't a ton of fun to talk about (you know, rampant homophobia, casual misogyny, etc.), but it also proudly unites those who like to have a good time, a pursuit in which The Sauce plays a fairly significant role. From rec leaguers to the show, drinking is just a part of the lifestyle. (In moderation, of course -- please drink responsibly.)
As a hockey player, the second you leave the rink, work is over (idle hands are the Devil's tools, and so on). That's one of the best parts of the job. There are no plans to go over, no presentations to prepare, it's just physical work until you leave the building, then you're free for the day. This gets dull after awhile, and in some cases (playing somewhere in Europe where you don't speak the same language as your teammates, for example), it can make a guy go a little stir-crazy.
So, you've got some hours to fill.
Long lunch, anyone?
I've been on a team that would meet at a sushi spot in the afternoon and drink the place dry of Sapporo and Kirin. I've been on another team that played more credit card roulette (everyone's credit card goes into a hat, you pull the cards out one by one, the last card left in the hat pays the entire tab) than I've ever played real roulette. And rest assured, it wasn't just the teams I was on.
For players, night drinking sucks — hockey is a competitive game that requires you to feel physically sharp to play games, and at least physically decent to practice. Thus, one captain I had (not named Morgan) assigned himself a self-imposed drinking curfew and amazingly stuck by it: no drinking after 7 p.m. "It's five o'clock somewhere" meant he was running out of time.
The way hockey players imbibe seems to change at every level. You certainly didn't have the day-drink option in college.
There, you only play on Friday and Saturday nights. That meant we wouldn't drink after Tuesdays to make sure we were at our sharpest for the weekend. (I talked about this with my college roommate who still plays pro hockey and had a laugh — a three-day buffer? In pro hockey guys drink the night before games and just take longer game-day naps).
When our games ended on Saturdays, it was an absolute race to the bar. At our house, the music was on loud and people rushed around like they were trying to catch a train, knowing last call was only a couple hours away. The best part was, the whole team would go out together.
In professional hockey, guys seem to drink on more days, less aggressively, and in smaller groups. I believe that's called maturing. Or low-grade alcoholism, not really sure which.
All I know is, the established professionals at New York Islanders camp (the guys who weren't worried about their jobs) were likely still drunk at practice some mornings. I have a distinct memory from the night before my first NHL exhibition game of Bill Guerin(notes) declaring "mandatory bar night, you have to come down and have at least three" to all the rookies. That's a tough situation to be put in — there's nothing worse than being the guy in the dressing room who wasn't a part of "last night," but if there is, it's taking shifts at an NHL camp with a mild hangover.
Even today, when I get my weekly text from the guy who runs our rec league team (or should I say "beer league team?"), it's a simple question: "Who's got beer?"
A very important question, good sir.
It's simply woven into the fabric of our game -- hell, the NHL is sponsored by Molson. We're in this together, beer.
Alcohol can ruin lives, and it's damn sure ruined a lot of hockey careers. I'm not trying to glorify it, I'm just explaining — it's a part of our game at every level, including junior. Why else would Canadians love it so much?
So today, when you're honoring … well, honoring your love of booze, really, tip one back for the game of hockey. That's always a good decision.