Posing with the Calder Cup

Today, I posed for pictures with the Calder Cup. I got the call that the cup was making the rounds of Cedar Park and I dropped everything and ran for a chance share the stage with some hardware. I smiled, the cup shone. For the last 70 years this trophy has gone to the American Hockey League team that wins the league championship. For a few hours, the cup was making appearances to promote the championship series between the Texas Stars and the Hershey Bears.

I first got interested in hockey when the National Hockey League added a team in Washington, the Capitals. They were dreadful. They set records for futility in their first two years. Watching the Capitals in the 70's was the worst advertising the league could have imagined. What no one realized was that watching those truly futile efforts was less frustrating than some of the trials that loomed as the team evolved. I became a hockey fan when Rod Langway became a member of the Capitals. All the jokes about golden gloves on skates went away when you watched him skate. It was Langway that made it clear that to play the game on an upper level, first you had to be a really good skater; not just good, but a strong enough skater to keep you balance on the ice while other large people were doing everything they could to send you sliding down the ice. All professional athletes have special skills, but hockey players impress me with this combination of strength and agility that is completely removed from anything I could even dream of doing.

The Capitals improved and started qualifying for the season ending playoffs. I am fortunate to have seen playoff competition in professional baseball, football, basketball, soccer and hockey. There is nothing like playoff hockey for the intensity of each moment of the game, the emotional roller coaster for the fans and players and the sheer volume of sound in the buildings where these games are played. In my view, the best playoff ticket is Stanley Cup playoff games in the NHL.

I left the Washington area in the late 80's and have not been to another NHL game but I have followed the misfortunes of the Capitals in all of my travels. The spring of 2009 brought a fantastic series of games between the Capitals and the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. The first six games were amazing for the quality of plays from both teams.

At the time, Cedar Park, Texas was preparing for the arrival of the AHL and the Texas Stars. The head of the Convention and Visitors Bureau was very involved in promoting the city and its efforts to make the Cedar Park Center a success after their major investment in the building. She had no previous experience with hockey and we had many conversations about hockey as a game and specifically about the leagues and players. When I became glued to the television to watch the playoff games, she did not show much interest until the Capitals and Penguins started their amazing show. That was the moment that she became a hockey fan; the moment she wanted to understand that icing did not only go on cakes.

I recovered from the disappointment of yet another collapse by the Capitals and the summer provided the views of the Center construction finishing. Our conversations turned to the first year of hockey in Cedar Park and the games that we would be able to see close to home. We talked about the Hershey Bears winning the Calder Cup. We talked about the affiliation with the Capitals and the future Capitals that were beginning their careers in Pennsylvania. I remembered my trips to Hershey when we would visit my grandparents and the wonderful smells that filled the air around the chocolate factory.

We agreed that when Hershey played in Cedar Park, we would go. I remember explaining that the Stars and Bears would not play each other unless it was during the championship round of the AHL playoffs. This information did not seem to dent her enthusiasm in the least. I cautioned that new teams usually needed some time to get to know each other and come together before they made serious challenges for cup winning seasons, so I did not feel that we would be watching my second favorite hockey team playing in Texas any time soon.

I am now in the delightful position of eating those words, fortunately served as a decadent dessert. The Stars have been a wonderful surprise all year and have earned their chance to unseat the defending champion Bears. I have warned everyone that I will be the one person in the stands that is cheering when the Bears score goals; that I have enjoyed the Stars all year but watching the players who have played so well in Capitals and Bears sweaters will be my reward for patience. Of course, if the Bears cannot find a way to repeat their championship run, I will have the satisfaction of knowing that the team I have watched this season finished their remarkable rookie year with possession of the Calder Cup.

Seventy years of AHL history and forty years of personal history have come together in the hill country of Texas. I am also just a little bit jealous that a hockey fan that I helped to create is enjoying this level of instant success. There is no justice in a world that demands that some fans suffer through years of futility while others never feel the agony of loving a loser.

More from hockey in Texas:

Easter Epic
Melting the Chocolate
The Calder Cup Attends a Party

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