Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Night I ‘Played’ Professional Hockey

In terms of embarrassing moments, this one is up there with tripping up the stairs onto my face in high school and crying in front of a college writing class, but it’s funnier because hundreds of mean kids are involved. Oh wait, no, that just makes it worse. Darn.

It was 1995, back when the Ducks were still “Mighty”, the Honda Center was still the Pond, and the hockey rink itself was covered in a haze of pixie dust, courtesy of Disney ownership.

I was at the venue to see a Bullfrogs’ roller hockey game. (Does anyone even play roller hockey anymore?) I was with three other people, who all have puck-handling and ice skating experience. Me? I haven’t even walked on ice. I’m an armchair hockey fan. (Go Kings!)

We were in the nosebleed seats, and the stadium was filled to about 3/4 its capacity, mostly with 10-year-old boys and their fathers. When we got to our seats, my cousin asked me the question that would define the rest of the evening: “Do you want to switch seats with me, so you can sit next to Amy?”

I should have said, “No, I’m good.” Come to think of it, many questionable incidents in my life would have been prevented if I would have just uttered those three words. Instead I said, “Sure.” The kiss of death.

During the first intermission, I sat sipping a Coors Light, wearing my Pittsburgh Penguins jersey, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. (Yes, I said Coors Light. Shut up. I was only 22. Also, I have no idea why I owned a Penguins jersey. I’ve never even been to Pennsylvania. Same goes for the Colorado Avalanche hat I was wearing.)

The woman tapping on my shoulder worked at the Pond. Her generic brown Disney attire suggested she was missing a broom and a dustpan. Her jolly smile suggested she might be channeling Walt himself. “Come with me!” she cried gleefully.

What did I do? Are they kicking me out? I thought. It’s legal to drink beer here, right? I’m of age. I swear!
“Um, okay…” I stared at my friends, who shrugged and took my beer from me.

I followed the lady through the aisles while she explained, “We randomly selected your seat to participate in our intermission shootout!”
 “Seriously?” I asked.

I was going to take my first shot at a puck ever in front of an enormous crowd of hockey fans. What were the odds? Oh Crap.

She took me down the service elevator and under the stadium onto what would have been ice on a normal night. As we emerged center “ice”, the taunts had already begun. Hundreds, if not thousands, of preteens yelled at me, “You suck! Go back to where you belong! Booooooooooo!”

I don’t know. Maybe it was the jersey. If someone would have given me a mike, I would have said, “Guys, guys, I live here! Chill out!”

My only hope was that no one would remember me later when I slunk back to my seat. At that moment, over the intercom, I heard my name called, as if I were about to take part in a boxing match. The only part missing was, “Let’s get ready to rummmmbbbbllleee!” My last name echoed through the arena Grand Canyon-style.

This has to be a bad dream, I thought.

I peered into the stands at my three friends, who were now laughing, waving, and pointing accusingly. I held my arms up in a victory V and fist pumped the air amid more mocking from the young masses.

My eight-year-old archrival, also picked randomly from the more than 18,000 seats above, was then introduced similarly, and the crowd cheered like he was Grand Marshall of a damn parade. It was obvious whose side they were on. (Hint: his side.)

We were about to battle it out with the Bullfrogs' mascot from the blue line, when the little shit turned to me and said, “I play hockey!”
“Oh good,” I said.
Of course he did.

I was chosen to shoot first because the universe hates me. Taking a cue from Wayne Gretzky, I held my stick high behind me and swung as hard as I could toward the ground. Turns out, slap shots are much harder than they look on TV. My stick hit the “ice” hard with a thud. It barely tapped the puck, which skidded slowly, only halfway toward the empty net and stopped abruptly with little fanfare. Did I mention the net was empty? No effing goalie. How hard could this exercise in stick-handling be?

The jeers from the pipsqueaks in the crowd magnified. I was mortified. They had been right when they prematurely derided me. I did, indeed, suck.

Then Small Fry got his turn. He gently placed the stick on the side of the puck and scooped it into the net like a pro. Loud cheers erupted. His face lit up like a Christmas tree.

My personal public flogging continued for about five more minutes, a hockey eternity. Final score: Shorty: 3; Me: 0; Green Bullfrog mascot thing: 1.

The boy had won, and this was clearly the greatest moment in his life (only because he hadn’t had sex yet). I admit his joy took the edge off my humiliation a smidge, and since he was only in third grade, I couldn’t very well beat his ass with my stick without the Anaheim police getting involved.

He did a victory lap with the winning puck, and then the Pond employees gave him a windowed box containing a shiny white pair of inline skates that looked too big for his feet, while I was promptly sent back up the service elevator, sans stick, to hide under my hat and drink more beer for the rest of the game. I really started to regret wearing a bright yellow jersey as I walked back to my seat.    

When the game ended, and we were walking through the vast parking lot, I started to relax. My public nightmare was (almost) over.

Somewhere among the aisles of cars, it began: a chant that started small and grew louder and louder, thunderous enough for everyone at Angel Stadium across the street to hear: “Chelsey! Chelsey! Chelsey! Chelsey! Chelsey!”

I looked over and saw a large group of boys bouncing up and down. The little mindf*cks had remembered my name and were mocking me still.

My cousin and his buddy punched my shoulder repeatedly, pointing and laughing along with the bullies who continued to holler my name repeatedly until I was safely in the car.

“Learn to shoot! You suck! Go home!” they cried some more.

I gladly took their final advice, but I haven’t picked up a hockey stick since.

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