Hockey, Technology, Friends and Family


Today’s going to be less of a roundup of current NHL stories and more of a musing on how sports – specifically Hockey – have affected us, and how the modern world has affected our relationships with sports, friends, family. It will be moderately self-indulgent, so bear with me.  So I’m an in betweener as far as technology goes. I grew up playing video games, but not texting. I can hold my own on the EA Sports NHL series, but I can’t figure out how to get Fortnite to play. I am proudly NOT a millennial even though I did have avocado toast yesterday. So what does any of this have to do with Hockey? I’m glad you asked.

Tonight I’m headed down the QEW from Canada to America to see the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Buffalo Sabres. I’m very excited for the game. I might be slightly more excited because I’m hoping to meet up for just a few minutes with a hypothetical internet friend. I’ve been playing in online Hockey pools for nearly 20 years now, dating back to The Sporting News legendary, never surpassed “stock market” style pools. My involvement in Hockey Pools dates back to the 1980s, where my sister would painstakingly draw up our playoff pool on the family chalkboard, and then update it every few days with stats from the newspaper. We still have family pools from time to time, but its more football – and of course, all online and instantly electronically updated before the kicker has come on the field for the extra point.

I’ve grown to know people and whole families via online interaction, all united by our love of Hockey. I feel like I know their families, and their lives through the lens of our computer interactions. Technology is frequently vilified these days but to me, my online Hockey community is the most true, most noble and most intended use of social media. I have made friends, and friends in a very pure sense – their personalities are entirely in their thoughts and words unfettered by superficial points of appearance. And I am grateful to have these friends. It comes with all the love and tragedy of more local relationships. We’ve lost a few members of our group. The first member we lost wasn’t what I would call tragic. He was a good man, beloved by his family, and an active fun participant in our community. He lived a good, full life and his son is still part of our community. He is well revered by his surviving family, and got to see his beloved Red Wings hoist the Cup on multiple occasions. The second member was a very painful tragedy. Nick Sloan was a relatively young man, with a young son and a lot of life ahead of him. I remember learning of his death while on vacation in the Dominican Republic, lying on a beach in the sun. It was very hard to explain how I went from having the time of my life to a somber, sad, confused and hurt state of mind. A man I’d never met had passed away, and it hurt with the sorrow of losing a close friend. I waded into the waves so people wouldn’t see me cry.

Evander Kane missed a game a week or so ago for “personal reasons”. Now Kane is notoriously a jerk, and in the past when he missed a game for personal reasons it was usually him up to some sort of immature antics. I wish this was the case – Kane skipped a game to deal with the death of his daughter Eva after 26 weeks. Someone in one of my pools commented that he was probably being a jerk, and then felt appropriately ashamed when he learned the truth of the matter. I’m inclined to give anyone with that thinking a break. It fits in with today’s themes of family and modern technology. In the newspaper days, maybe Kane might have kept this all to himself, and been low key vilified for another missed game interest. Or the Sharks could have just told us he was banged up and need a game off, never to be mentioned again. Instead, Kane issued via twitter a very touching and heartfelt statement from his family about being respectful at this time.  I’m also inclined to give Kane less of a hard time in future. I can think of a few family losses where the player was never the same again after…and I can’t think of anything I could more easily identify with.  It was sad, but it’s a part of life.

Sports enrich our lives in ways both heartfelt and superficial. Technology has given us new platforms in which to interact with each other and make new friends from great distances and far away places. I’m happy to have my pools and more importantly my friends from the internet. Here’s hoping tonight I’ll be moving one person from the “friend from the internet” to just “friend”. I’m also here to say it won’t be the last time either. Gimme a shout if you’re coming to Toronto!