Somewhere on the Eastern Shore of Japan If you told me a year ago that I’d be back in Asia for the 2011-12 NHL hockey season, I probably would have spit out my 2 litre/$3 Korean beer, and fallen to the sticky, cigarette butt infested floor of whatever depraved dive I was gracing with my presence on this night in 2010 in total hysterics. Although, I was looking forward to the upcoming Asia League (ALH) season, I had already had my fill of Korea, and was doing everything in my power to just keep it together until May. Well, you know how that story ends. I failed miserably, and less than 3 months later I was boarding a plane to Leafs Nation via Beijing, and subsequently getting myself banned from the great Republic of Korea.
Fast forward to present day, and here I am in Japan. It was difficult to make the decision to finally leave North America again, but I found my only solace in that Japan was the dominant country involved in the ALH, and I pledged to take advantage of my second chance to experience another level of hockey. Believe it or not one of the reasons I chose Japan was because of the Asia League. I actually had my heart set on Taiwan, initially. One of my biggest regrets in Korea was that traveling North for hockey was a daunting task even though the trip was the equivalent of the stretch of road spanning between the Air Canada Centre and the Bell Centre. I had no car, and I wasn’t all that jazzed about taking the bus either. Plus, I was sucked into the black hole that was Ulsan and its constant scandals and high school like drama. It was hard to pull yourself away on a Saturday morning, especially if you made the mistake of “making an appearance” in the district on Friday night… and that just happened to be my second favourite mistake to make!
This long weekend, the third in a row for me, the 2011-12 ALH regular season begins, and I couldn’t be more excited than if there was a game scheduled anywhere near me before October 1st! The countdown is on! So, in anticipation of the blessed day, I’ll try to get you as up to speed on the Asia League as I can without regurgitating the stuff I wrote about last season.
Well after I abandoned Korea and, more importantly my Korean team of choice, the Anyang Halla, the boys continued there assault on the other six teams in Korea, Japan, and China, and found themselves back in the Championship (they were the 2010 defending champs, too!) in March against the Tohoku Free Blades, a Japanese team with two home towns – one in Aomori and one in Fukushima, a name you are all probably familiar with. Tragedy struck in the form of one the biggest earthquakes to ever devastate Japan. As a result, the Championship was called off, and the ALH crowned two champions to conclude the 2010-11 hockey season.
Surprisingly, all seven teams have returned this season. I thought the ALH was going to take a fatal hit after the earthquake, but even Tohoku is participating. The Nikko Ice Bucks will be the team that I follow the most while I’m in Japan, but following any team in this League is a difficult task. Games aren’t televised, the Asia League website must have laid off their web content guy because they NEVER post anything, and Google Translate can only do so much for the content posted on the individual team sites! You can’t even purchase tickets online! Brutal.
A lot of us back in NHL Land throw around the concept of “growing the game” like we actually have an understanding of what this means because there are multimillion dollar teams in places like Arizona and Florida. However, until you experience a set up like the one here in the ALH, you really have no idea what is actually involved in growing the game from the ground up. In the ALH games are scheduled almost exclusively on weekends, and clubs often venture from their home rinks into neutral facilities to bring hockey to cities that go without. The season is sporadically interrupted with tournaments and other events that serve the same purpose. Fans show up early to secure a ticket, and put their stuff down on the bleacher style seating to mark their place before they run to the convenience store across the street to buy their own beer. After spending so much time in the NHL, AHL, and OHL, it’s pretty sobering to see rec league presentation of professional talent.
If there was one good thing I could say about being a hockey fan in Asia, it’s that being here really makes you appreciate the game without all the frills and drama that I’ve come to associate with it. Being physically away from the NHL for the first chunk of the 2010-11 season forced me to reconnect to the parts of the game that had taken a back seat due to circumstances and the life choices I’ve made along the way. Not to mention there were no she-pigs feeling threatened and spreading made up shit because I was out of sight and therefore not taking down their secret dream guys hahaha. But then again it could just be a case of illiteracy, you know, on account of the fact that they seem to actually believe that what they “read” is actually written on my site. Not really sure. P.S. If you really want to know, since you asked and all, “hockey” tastes like winning and everywhere you seem to wish you were, honey.
Anyway, the other night I was over at my American friend’s house and forcing him to watch clip after clip of hockey fights, Don Cherry’s wittiest moments, and TSN Top 10 Lists on YouTube. He’s not really into league sports, so I’m sure he wasn’t as into it as I was. It reminded me of my ritual back in Korea with another Leafs fan. We’d always get together, drink, and watch the Leafs game he downloaded from the night before. Watching those games would always bring me back to being a 15 year old in my Labatt stained Potvin jersey, and watching every single Leafs game like my life depended on it without having to worry or care about all the boy drama that was just on the horizon, or the woman-hating “feminists” that seem to think they can control how a female hockey fan dresses, and what they can and can’t like doing in bed. Hey, it’s not my problem if they just like to lay there – it’s not MY business, after all.
Oh, to be rid of such distractions! I envy those of you that have managed to stay out of the underworld of hockey, I really do. And who knows maybe a few months of ALH hockey before I begin my two week reign of terror in the North American hockey leagues in December will help me to appreciate the game the way I did when I was an innocent. Maybe. Sometimes the drama adds a little something extra to the overall game experience. C’est la vie.