I hope so.
The roots of my sports fandom are basic: Geography and family. I’m a Milwaukee-area Cheesehead, which means I was born into fondness for the Packers, Badgers, Brewers and Bucks. But Wisconsin doesn’t have an NHL franchise, which has left me as something of a free agent when it comes to a favorite team.
Well, that’s not entirely true. My late grandfather – born and raised in Chicago – was a Blackhawks fan, and he passed that along to me. At least as much as he could.
Back when Grampa was still alive, the NHL had a much smaller broadcast footprint than today, and when Bill Wirtz owned the Blackhawks, his fossilized thinking on broadcast coverage made the team a non-entity on TV. Meaning that even as I lived within a reasonably short drive of old Chicago Stadium, the chances of watching the Oilers or Bruins were far greater than seeing the Hawks.
So, unlike the NFL, where the Packers’ success or lack of it can set my mood at any given time (ask anyone who knows me), I mostly follow the NHL as a fan of the sport, not so much of a of a single team. I still have an affinity for the Blackhawks – and said a quick prayer to Grampa when they returned to glory in 2010 -- but not with the same passion for the teams I was born and raised with. It’s a peculiar position to be in.
But it’s a position with positives. Like this year’s Stanley Cup Final. I have friends who are died-in-the-wool Penguins fans, and from my years living within Pittsburgh’s TV coverage area, I’ve come to like the Pens. At the same time, I currently reside in Nashville’s coverage area and have friends who are Predators fans. (As a newer franchise, Smashville may not have as many diehards as Pittsburgh, but give it time.)
As a hockey fan, the Cup Final will be fun to watch regardless of the outcome. It always is. A group of friends will be sad and I’ll feel bad for them. A group of friends will celebrate and I’ll be happy for them.
Free agency has its benefits.