When chasing the girl, hockey is a risk factor

Note: I won't do this too often, but it's August, and a weekend to boot. So I thought I'd riff a bit -- and there is an Islanders connection ...

So you're a hockey obsessive, and hockey therefore occupies a priority in your life somewhere between religion and making sure you have food on the table. (Ramen noodles don't count.) Let me ask you this: How often have you said -- or heard a fan say -- "I'm single now, and I just can't imagine having a girl/boyfriend who doesn't like hockey"?

I'm here to tell you: Be careful what you wish for -- even if she/he gets you a Pierre Turgeon autograph and by-the-glass tickets.

See, I was once this way. The short list of requirements for a mate (aside from the obvious anatomical compatibility concerns) went something like: 1) Be insanely into hockey; 2) Be willing to go to Phish shows; 3) Tolerate listening to Killing Joke in the car pretty much whenever I want.

That was the tomfoolery of youth: Failure to realize that if hockey commands that much of a person's attention, chances are they have life-balance issues (Oh, uh, hi mirror) -- issues that may make daily co-existence untenable. Your common ground on hockey can obscure land mines elsewhere in the relationship -- and you will step on those land mines. In other words, in case you haven't realized it, we hockey fans tend to be a wee bit psycho. Being hot can't erase that.

Stolen Jerseys, Autographed Pucks

Know this about all contexts: The right predator will seize on your greatest weakness and exploit it. Early in college, I dated such a predator. She was like a mid-'90s Theo Fleury: Quite the petite scorer, but with issues lurking underneath.

This girl was an overall sports fanatic, but she wisely seized on my hockey addiction to lure and hook me. She was also an autograph hound, and would hang outside visiting teams' hotels -- in any sport -- to get their autographs. (Yes, in retrospect, this should have been another red flag about that whole life-balance thing.) That's how she got me a Pierre Turgeon autographed puck, which of course went miles toward impressing me. It was like she stunned me with a weapons-grade narcotic that dulled me from sensing the crazy volatility going on underneath.

Plus, there were great tickets to games, lots of stuff like that. (Now that I think of it, every girl who fished for me in those days buttered me up with hockey tickets first. Damn. Like the field had scouted me, figured out my weakness, and the video was passed around.)

Then there was the stolen Jagr jersey~~

* * *

(At this point in the story, I realize I must fully disclose why in hell an otherwise sane person such as myself would have a JAGR 68 jersey. Before you crucify me, though, allow me to state my defense: In the early '90s, right after the Soviet-backed regimes fell throughout Eastern Europe, the concept of "replica jerseys" was not exactly mainstream behind the ol' Iron Curtain. Yet my dad was a Czech refugee, so when we visited his homeland to sift through the ashes of 40 years of Communist rule, you're damned right I was coming home with a Czech national team jersey.

In fact, before that I had a Nordiques Peter Stastny jersey. Stastny is technically a Slovak, but he defected back when it was all one Czechoslovakia, so he got points in our household despite his lesser mountain peasant Slovak roots. (I kid. Sorry, Czech/Slovak joke there. In the end, we're all Hapsburg peasant subjects who just want to be left alone with our beer.)

Anyway, on our trip to the then-recently split Czechsolovakia, the choices at the one store in town that had national team jerseys were slim. (In true Communist fashion, the store was called "SPORT PLACE" or something like that.) It was either Jagr or Stanislav Neckar, a guy drafted by the expansion Senators (gag). A blank jersey was not an available option. I agonized over the choice, fully aware the ribbing I would get for wearing a Jagr jersey, but also knowing not to touch the Senators circus with a 10-foot pole. In the end, I hoped Jagr would grow up and become slightly less of a pouty, curly-mulleted floater. No such luck. But we are talking national pride here, and "Mario Jr." was a symbol of what Czechs could do on the ice rink. So that's how I got a Jagr jersey.)

* * *

~~Anyway, as luck would have it, this girl was not only hockey-crazy, but for some reason she also loved Jagr. I mean, she thought Jagr and his rodent mullet were just the Cutest.Thing.EVER. (In retrospect, this should have been the final red flag, and I should have fled right there. But women have ways, and she was really good with one way in par- ... never mind.) One night she convinced me to wear the Czech Jagr jersey to her dorm, and yada yada yada ... next morning she secretly hid it from me I accidentally departed without it. Next time I see it, she's wearing it around campus, quite possibly displaying it as a victorious trophy. (Again, the field knew the easiest route to get to me, so this was a sign that I'd been "gotten.")

There were other thefts and quasi-trophies like that, so eventually I saw the direction of things and started thinking with my brain again. Things did not end peacefully. I learned something about thinking with your hockey stick. And about the capacity for craziness in hormonally charged situations. And probably about people at formative ages wanting different things -- but that's too serious and undermines the point of the story, which is that I was sure she was batshit crazy, like a goalie.

Hockey Pick-Up Lines: Turns Out They Don't Really Work That Much

As luck would have it, the girl I ultimately did end up with for life (or so we vowed) was also into hockey -- but way, way, way less obsessed. Today Mrs. Lighthouse puts up with my obsession because she understands, having been there herself -- but her fandom is far less serious than what it once was. (Something about "career" and "real life" interfering, but I don't pay that no mind.) She vaguely follows the Blues, so she couldn't even tell you who Josh Bailey is. (She remembers Kyle Okposo because he has a funny name, and because our Minnesota friend always rants about K.O. leaving college earlier -- usually after I provoke him by wondering aloud how much Okposo would be scoring if he were still in college.)

Anyway, before the crazy girl swooped in, I tried to pick up the future Mrs. Lighthouse first. I'd heard her once mention she was into hockey. So you know what I thought would be a nice approach? Breaking the news to her that her Blues had just traded for Pierre Turgeon. "He's great, he was my favorite Islander a few years ago. You'll love him. Wanna go out?"

Yeah, no dice. That conversation didn't go very far. (It stopped after: "Oh. Who are you again? I'm late for a dental appointment.") We didn't date then -- and not for a long while. In fact, even after I did get her to return my calls, we only dated for a while before she dumped me like, well, Theo Fleury. I was bought out -- released and told to work my way back up after rounding out my game.

So, I'm not saying don't date hockey fans -- hell, I've got one riding shotgun who I'm quite smitten with, if I do say so myself. I'm just saying that if you go hunting in the areas where hockey fandom is the first criteria, be prepared to end up with the someone whose life outside of the sport is as dysfunctional as the rest of your seatmates up in the 300s.

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