During the 2004-05 hockey season, when the NHL had it's infamous lock out, Jon C. Stott was visiting his daughter in New Mexico. Being from Canada, he was really missing hockey, so his daughter told him he should check out the local minor league team1. It was there that he discovered how popular the Canadian game of hockey had become in the American south. His book, Hockey Night in Dixie: Minor Pro Hockey in the American South2 is his journey into the world of minor pro hockey, particularly in the American South; it's ups, downs, financial woes, and toothless grins. During the 2005-06 season, Mr. Stott traveled the southwestern and southeastern United States, visiting four teams in four different leagues in order to get an idea of what minor pro hockey was actually like in these very non-traditional markets. I'll admit, I bought the book because one of those teams was my own hometown Fayetteville FireAntz of the Southern Professional Hockey League. I'll also admit that I started to read just their chapter, but being a bibliophile and a hockey fan, I ended up reading the entire book.
I don't read a lot of non-fiction (although I should do so more often) and, as I said before, I picked this book up because it featured my hometown hockey team. I'll admit, it mostly read like a journal and I found myself wondering if Mr. Stott was a sports writer based on his writing style (there's no biography of the author anywhere in the book). It's pretty well written and gives a very good depiction of what life in minor league hockey is like and just how tough it is to keep teams going for any stable amount of time. I think my only real issue with the book is that, while it's title indicates that it is solely about southeastern hockey, it's not. In fact, in the introduction he mentions the Albuquerque Scorpions which are in New Mexico, and the second chapter is about the Odessa Jackalopes in west Texas; that's southwestern, not southeastern. It is the southern part of the U.S. geographically speaking and considering that the author is from Canada, I'll let it slide but Texas (arguably) and New Mexico are not part of what is colloquially known as “Dixie.”
Reading Hockey Night in Dixie has prompted me to blog a bit about being a hockey fan in North Carolina. Growing up I had heard of hockey, but that was about it. I had spotted a few games on television, but never really got interested because I didn't know what the hell was going on. It wasn't until March 2004, when the, at that time, manager of our local Books-A-Million gave my fiancée and I tickets to a FireAntz game that I had ever watched an entire hockey game. I became immediately hooked; I loved the action, the fast pace and the sheer skill it took for the players to pass, shoot and take hits without busting their ass on the ice. Alas, the game we went to was the final one of that season. During that summer, I did a little research on hockey rules so I'd be able to follow along better the next time I went to a game. We started going to as many home games as our schedule and finances would allow. I became engrossed in both the FireAntz and the Carolina Hurricanes, buying hats and jerseys for both teams. On my birthday in November 2006, Roxanne and I made a pilgrimage to the RBC Center in Raleigh, NC, to watch the Hurricanes play the Buffalo Sabres. Yeah, my friends get tired of me talking about it sometimes; I'm usually boring them with either golf or hockey. I can't help it, I love watching hockey even if one of my teams isn't' playing.
In regards to the so called southern hockey fan, I will admit many are ignorant and obviously don't understand the game. I don't pretend to fully understand it; I've only been a fan for a few seasons, but even I, a southerner, get irritated with fans shouting “hit somebody!” and evidently thinking the game sucked if there wasn't at least one fight, even if our team won by a zillion goals. It's still new to us down here, but most of us are catching on to the subtler nuances of the game and starting to figure out that it's still possible to have a successful power-play even if you didn't score and that slamming someone to the boards isn't always called for.
I realize that i”m writing about hockey in the middle of June, but that's how much I want the season to start again. I can't wait for October!
1. “Introduction: Return to the Minors” (pp.xi-xx)
2. The title Hockey Night in Dixie: Playing Canada's Game in the American South appears on Amazon.com. I have no idea why they have it listed that way, as the cover and title page both clearly say Minor Pro Hockey in the American South and is listed as such on both Books-A-Million's and Barnes and Nobles' websites. The main title is also obviously a play on “Hockey Night in Canada,” the popular weekly broadcast of National Hockey League games across Canada.
Next week's topic “VAY-CAY-SHUN!”