It was the 80’s, times were simpler then.
I’d just started working at the radio station and had discovered reality over fantasy with that job, but it was fun. Just not the career I thought it would be when I was 10.
My friends and I had discovered the game of hockey. We could have a rowdy time and drink beer in public, so it was a win/win. The arena was older and did need some updating , but it was cheap entertainment. The beer didn’t cost an arm and leg like it does now, so even better times. One of the things that made it more fun was the fact that most arena’s had protective glass around the ice. The wall of the rink was about waist high and then another five feet of glass to protect spectators from flying bodies and pucks. Not the Seattle arena, it had a chain link fence instead of glass. So when players would slam into the “boards” you’d get showered with sweat and sometimes the fencing would bend into the seating area. This was due to the first row of seating being right there, as in you could reach thru and touch the ice. It was up close and very personal.
Now a little bit of background for the semi-pro hockey league. The teams were stepping stones to the big leagues. So there were some very serious players trying to catch the eye of any scouts looking to bring a player up to the “main stage”. There were also the players who knew this was it for them, the path to glory stopped here. So those players had that attitude of “what are you going to do, fire me?” when they played. And hockey compared to other sports is very physical, even more so than football (that’s American football for you soccer fans). So teams had one or two guys that were just there to be aggressively physical and would fight at the drop of a hat.
The local team was good just not great and there was a powerful rivalry between Seattle and Portland. So it was two Northwest teams battling for the title of Best in the Northwest, in addition to trying to win a championship. Whenever Portland was in town we always tried to make it, as you could expect lots of action.
So that nite Portland was in town and my friend Dan and I decided to go and watch. We met at my place and did a bit of pre-func. Had a few drinks and…ahem some illicit party contraband, then we headed out. We grabbed a couple of beers at the concession stand then headed to our front row seats. We were seated right on the ice with the flimsy chain link fence the only protection from keeping the action out of our laps. Also we were situated right in the perfect spot where two sections of fence joined. This caused a small gap of about an inch of space where there was no protection from the ice. We were early so the players were warming up and since our seats were directly behind the one goal we were getting lots of pucks hitting the fence barrier right in front of us. Very cool. Especially in our “heightened” frame of mind. As we were sitting there enjoying ourselves the puck hit the fence right in front of us. It hit right where the two pieces of fence met with that small gap . We looked at each other with that look of startled realization, simultaneously moving a few seats over. Now the idea of the puck getting through that gap would be something in the neighborhood of a billion to one but we weren’t taking a chance, so we moved.
Now one other piece of the puzzle was the fact that the Portland team had a player that all Seattle fans hated. We’ll call him “Bad Brad”. He was the enforcer, one of those very aggressive players who wasn’t going any further than right where he was. So this particular nite of course we’re harassing Brad incessantly and you could see it was getting to him. As I said we were sitting right on the ice, so we did draw his attention more than once with our insults. And then it happened, he went to smash one of our skaters into the boards (this is a common occurrence in hockey) right in front of our seats and he missed and crashed into the boards himself. He skated off a bit wobbly and the crowd went crazy with laughter. He then turned and sent a death stare right at us. The game continued and soon he had a chance to do this again. This time he was successful and the crowd once again erupted but this time with boo’s. He had a big smile on his face. It was a dirty move, not uncommon for him, and so he earned a penalty. This entailed being sent to the penalty box (sorta like a time out for adults) but after that it was a pretty uneventful game. Portland ended up winning, which was usually the case as the Seattle team was good just not against Portland.
One of our other traditions was heckling the opposing players as they went to the locker room after the game. The players had to walk across the public aisle to get to the locker room and the players had to move thru the gathered Seattle fans. So there we are standing in the midst of the crowd harassing the Portland players and I’m getting into it. Yelling insults when suddenly my friend Dan grabs my arm and starts pulling me in the opposite direction. After a moment he’s dragging me away. I’m confused why but start walking back to the car.
In the car I ask, “Where’s the fire?”. He looks at me with this baffled expression and says,
“Didn’t you see Bad Brad?”. I’m like ya, “I guess, why?”
“Well he seemed to focus on you and had a very unpleasant look on his face as he bulled his way thru the crowd making a beeline straight for you!”
Not sure what the problem was, but I figure my friend Dan may have saved my oblivious ass!
That was the last time we would go down and watch the players go into the locker room. No sure, but it seemed like the smart thing to do. Ah the 80’s how I miss you.