When I think about hockey, my smile feels toothless. Hockey is back and so are things we missed — or didn’t even realize we missed — such as the blare of the goal horn or Canadian accents or goalie helmets or that crunch of some poor sap into the boards or screaming “Oh, he was open!” while alone on your couch.
And the Blues are back, and that means reacquainting yourself with Colton Parayko’s slapshot and Jordan Kyrou’s speed and that thing Jordan Binnington does when he quickly sticks his neck forward and pulls it back, perhaps an old habit or tick or calming mechanism after a close call.
You remember just how freakily connected David Perron and Ryan O’Reilly are, like those twins you grew up with. You’re pleasantly entertained again by Robert Bortuzzo’s carefree attitude toward the forwards’ well-being on the other team. And you’re reminded how Jaden Schwartz’s scrappiness provides you with such happiness.
A new season lets bygones be bygones, and while Justin Faulk was frustrating in the regular season and Vince Dunn was maddening in the postseason, you move past that, press the proverbial reset button and allow these fellows back into your good graces, because goodness gracious, you’re going to need them to win in this division.
And as you watched Torey Krug as a Blue for the first time, you recalled how much you missed the thrill of a new player, the mind-wandering of just how good this guy can be and just how well he fits in with your team. In a small way, it’s the start of a new relationship in your life.
You missed so much that makes hockey your game.
The mind-bending passes that seem improbable or impossible as they bend around a defender and right onto the curve of a Blues’ stick. The dangle and deeks, the toe-drag moves and the top-shelf shots, the heads of lettuce and Leaves spelled Leafs. One-timers and two-man advantages and three periods and forechecking and five-holes. Checks and Czechs and body checks and backchecks and hip checks and poke checks. You missed the missiles and the misconduct and the missed shots by sorry opponents and even having to explain to your spouse why you woke the baby.
You missed remembering you misremember the words to “O Canada” and you missed making coffee at 9 p.m. to stay up and watch a road game (and even if you start to get tired in the third period, you mentally push through, and the moment you plop upon the pillow, the caffeine kicks in and you’re wired and wide awake).
A new hockey season has you asking old hockey questions. What’s a Canuck? What’s the plural of Lightning? Was that offsides? Why is there a man in a blazer in the penalty box? How did they not fall right there? And how bad must it smell when all five guys hug each other after a third-period goal?
You missed that intoxicating feeling when your team is on the power play and it’s not “if” they’ll score but “when.” Though you didn’t miss that excruciating feeling when the puck is cleared for the fourth time during a power play and you half-jokingly wonder if your team would’ve been better off declining the penalty.
You missed the coaches’ glares and stares and the tough guys’ sneers and snarls. You missed playoff beards on the guys who can’t totally grow one. You missed choosing your own three stars for the game (and seeing how it matched with the actual three stars of the game). You missed the holiest of all the jumpin’.
And as you go into this particular season you miss the departed defense of Alex Pietrangelo and the sidelined offense of Vladimir Tarasenko and the presence of Jay Bouwmeester. You miss hating the Blackhawks. And even though the games are back at Enterprise Center, you’re not back at Enterprise Center, so you miss the classic carnival sound of the old organ and the so-worth-it $9 pretzels and doing the silly power play dance.
You miss running into old friends on the concourse and you even miss actually running into people, because it’s been quite a while since you experienced that suffocating yet strangely welcoming feeling of being in a big crowd. You miss seeing the handmade signs before the games, and the little kids pressing their paws against the glass and hoping for a glimpse over from a favorite player. Some of you (not all of you) even miss The Towel Man (who fittingly sits in Section 314).
But most of all, without hockey, you missed the goals and the men who score them and then act like boys.