Sometimes we wade so far into the clammy, viscous swamp of "have to" that we forget all about the "love to."
I was there a few years ago, one of those glum stretches where life feels like a wad of gum that's lost its sugar. Then a friend said those three little words that mean so much to a girl: "Solar Bears hockey."
It was like that moment in the Wizard of Oz when Glinda tells Dorothy, "You had the power to go home all along, my dear," and Dorothy cracks Glinda right in the mouth. (She didn't? Well, she should have.) I had the power to dispel the gloom: all I needed was a big stick. All sports fans know the joyful escape of game day, but I'm not a sports fan. I won't go for just anything with balls. I'm in an exclusive relationship with hockey.
The Orlando Solar Bears hockey team launched 26 years ago, and I'm right there with them in celebrating their 10th anniversary this season. Before you wonder what the hell kind of Florida math that is, the team started as an IHL franchise in 1995, folded in 2001 and rose again in 2012 as an ECHL team. The two stints combined makes the Solar Bears 10 years old, so it's not quite the "I'll be 29 again this year!" that it sounds at first.
The Bears' 1995 debut coincided with my own as a Toronto Sun columnist and on my first trip to Toronto, those Canadians whisked me off to see the Toronto Maple Leafs (now the Solar Bears NHL affiliate team) immediately, the way you'd rush a rescue dog to the vet to make sure it got its shots. Something must have awakened in my half-Canadian blood. I was, hockey pun intended, hooked.
Hockey is the fastest sport on earth, the athletic equivalent of Scorsese dialogue with punches to match. The slowest, most frustrating hockey game breezes by before the liveliest game of baseball gets its shoes tied (sorry, baseball, but you know our chemistry is worse than Ron and Hermione's). Basketball has the same wonderful constant motion but somehow the court isn't as exotic as the ice rink, where men with thighs like luggage glide around like butter on a hot surface, armed with sticks, and good luck if you get in their way.
Which brings us to the fights. No other sport has this Easter egg to look forward to. Hockey fights give the audience the vicarious thrill of just hauling off and punching a co-worker right in the face. Admittedly, after seeing a couple of bad ones I sometimes worry about someone getting seriously hurt, which I would never admit at a game; you don't want to mom it all up.
Hockey is a visceral sport: You have to see it live if you can, to feel the cold, hear the bodies slam against the boards and scream your knuckle-headed directives ("No, dummy, skate the other way! Our goal's down there!") with a crowd, stuff you say like you could even stand on the ice, much less fly down it trying to get something the size of a donut past guys that make the guys from 300 look like a chess team. Live is better.
And there are affordable opportunities to catch a hockey game. UCF hockey games start for as little as $5 a ticket and Solar Bears tickets start at $12.25.
Come to think of it, I'm going to start using the Solar Bears' age math, editing out years where nothing much happened or that I just didn't like. We can go to a game and celebrate my 13th birthday! In fact, I'd love to.