Saturday, May 28, 2016

Stanley Cup runneth over

By Chad Smart
@chadsmart & @my123cents on Twitter
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Long-term readers (who read all the blogs) know that I got into hockey two seasons ago when my friend Mike suggested seeing games in all 30 NHL arenas. Over the past three seasons, we’ve managed to see 22 teams play in their home arenas. There’s nothing extraordinary about that number. Somehow though, there’s one interesting fact to go along with the Quest for All 30. The Stanley Cup Finals have come down to two teams I saw at home during the active season. In 2014, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the New York Rangers. 2015 saw the dreaded Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning for  the Cup.

During this current season, we made the now traditional Thanksgiving trip a double header of seeing the Penguins face the St. Louis Blues in Pittsburgh the night before Thanksgiving and then the Pens were the visiting team in Columbus the night after Thanksgiving. In February, as part of the side quest to see all five California AHL teams, sandwiched between San Jose Barracuda and Stockton Heat games, we made a return trip to the SAP Center to watch the Sharks defeat the Arizona Coyotes. As I type this, the Sharks and Penguins are getting ready for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals on Monday, May 30.

I have yet to determine if this year’s match up is my dream final or nightmare final. Before I became a more die-hard hockey fan, if someone asked what team I supported, I would have said the Penguins. This was more due the success they were having when I got more invested in sports than actually knowing anything about the team. Due to being a “fan” and because the Penguins social media manager was the only one to comment on my blog about searching for an official team, I was ready to pledge my allegiance to the Pens. Then something happened to make me question everything.

The second stop on the All 30 quest was San Jose. That night, my hockey life was changed forever. As I recounted in the previous blog about the trip, that night in San Jose was like a religious experience. I had seen the hockey gods and they wore black, teal and orange. From the moment the team took the ice through the giant shark head, I was in awe. With this newfound fandom, what was I to do about my original Penguin fandom? After some serious debate and consulting with Mike, I came to the conclusion that it only made sense to have an East team and a West team.

During the regular season, I would cheer for both teams then during the playoffs, I would have better odds of having a favorite team reach the finals. With the playoffs consisting of 16 teams, what were the odds that both of MY teams would make it the finals in the same year? Being a Miami Dolphins fan for 30 years, I was more prepared to be disappointed during the playoffs. Never would I have expected my two teams to battle each other for The Cup.

Now we’re on the cusp of the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals and I find myself torn on actively rooting for one team or simply enjoying the games and hoping for a competitive series. Part of me says to cheer on the Sharks as this is their first trip to the Finals and it’s easier to potentially travel to San Jose for a game than to fly across the country to a game in Pittsburgh. On the other hand, having been a Penguin “fan” for 25 years, is it right to toss them to the side just because they happen to be playing the Sharks?

Then comes the factor of the Penguins’ newly celebrated HBK line. The trio of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel, became a trio to be reckoned with during the series against Tampa Bay. They became such a sensation fans got the original HBK, “Heartbreak Kid,” Shawn Michaels to become a fan and the Penguins invited Michaels to attend game 5. Naturally, the wrestling fan in me sees this as a logical reason to throw support to the Penguins. Naturally then, I think if the Sharks wanted to secure their own section of wrestling fans, it would only make sense to bring Sharkboy to the Shark Tank as a wrestler liaison.

I will wrestle with my decision until the puck drops at the start of game 1. Maybe I should simply be pleased two teams I have chosen to support are playing for the richest prize in hockey. No matter the outcome, I finally have a championship series that won’t let me down. Although, if either team seriously wants my undying support, providing tickets to a game would help. Just being honest.

Lets go Sharks! I mean, lets go Pens!…uh, Sharks, Pens…um, Shens? Parks? This is going to be a soul wrenching series.

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