It’s easy to say things were better back in the day. Anyone older than 13 will talk about their own generation with a yearning to go back to the way things were, be it when a man wore a tie no matter the occasion or when Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt were the only video games available and they came on the same cartridge.
Senior hockey is no different. Rinks around the province house battered and stained Herder Championship banners from decades gone by, from eras influenced by anything from world wars to silly clothing and mutton chops. And part of the mystique of those banners is the history that comes with them.
The legend of Andy Sullivan.
The invincible Flatrock Flyers.
The glory days of the St. John’s Caps.
But today, senior hockey may be flourishing beyond any point that generations before us would have expected. While playing for the Herder was always a big deal for those in the know, this generation has brought it to a whole new level.
With a big event comes big hype
Whereas the Herder was once contested in icy barns across the island, it has grown into tour version of the Super Bowl. People who don’t watch a minute of senior hockey all season long would kill a man for tickets, and people who don’t watch hockey at all are reading stories in papers and talking about players like they scouted the guys themselves.
With big events come big hype. People want to be involved, they want to talk about what’s going on. In Newfoundland, a place where there is a uniquely tight network of people, involvement comes in a way that’s just as unique.
They want to tell you that they grew up with a player or know someone who babysat him when he was a kid. Their husband coached a guy in squirt and taught him how to hold a stick; or in novice and taught him how to raise the puck. That link that draws all Newfoundlanders together, coupled with a love of the game, allows for a connection to the Herder that few other events ever could create.
A party atmosphere
Perhaps the only thing the people of the province love more than hockey is sitting in a kitchen and chatting. When you can combine the two, it develops into a full-on party atmosphere.
Fans squat shoulder-to-shoulder and packed to the rafters to catch the action.
That atmosphere was fully evident at the rink this past weekend, and it will be even more evident when the scene shifts to Grand Falls and away from the cavernous confines of Mile One. Fans squat shoulder-to-shoulder and packed to the rafters to catch the action. People in restaurants before games and in bars afterward, and the Herder is all the talk. There is a genuine buzz, not only about the action witnessed, but about what lies ahead.
Nothing generates prolonged excitement like that in Newfoundland; certainly nothing on a yearly basis. But you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. Your brother, mother, sister, dad, and the guy at the bus stop have likely already dropped that knowledge on you this week.
Considering that only eight weeks ago a similar fever was sweeping the world when Green Bay and Pittsburgh met at Super Bowl XLV, it’s not hard to argue that the parallels are there.