If you’ve read D’s previous tribute to sports superstition and the pain of fandom, then you’ll understand why there is currently so much relief and jubilation in our household.
For D, it is because his beloved Penguins have hoisted the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in franchise history. For S, it is because she can see and touch her husband’s face for the first time this year. Normally, fans start growing their playoff beards as the regular season winds down, but the Penguins had such a rough start, that they were in playoff mode for pretty much the entire second half of the calendar. After a woeful start, they fired their coach, and at one point were 12th in their 16-team conference. As they began to turn things around and look competitive, D decided to stop shaving or trimming his beard.
Hockey fans are wont to boast that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in all of sports, and in the modern era it is hard to argue with that statement. Not only has the salary cap brought parity to the league, but also the grueling physical nature of the sport adds a degree of difficulty that is absent in other major leagues. To hoist hockey’s holy grail, not only must a team be skilled, hard-working, and well-coached, but it must also weather the adversity of countless injuries. The Penguins, for example, won despite losing their starting goalie to a series of concussions and one of their top defensemen to a broken ankle midway through a competitive elimination round. Meanwhile, other players played through their injuries, including broken bones.
Considering that this is the first year in the last half-decade that we’ve spent more than just a handful of months in the States, D’s team sure picked a great time to make a competitive run at the Stanley Cup. For one, he might not have let his facial hair go so wild if he was representing our country overseas as opposed to being in long-term language training. Also, being back stateside meant that D could actually watch all the games without sacrificing sleep. When the Penguins played the Capitals in the second round, D took his dad to one of the games. And when the first game of Stanley Cup Finals fell on Memorial Day, D didn’t hesitate to book a flight to Pittsburgh to go cheer his team on.
For the last two months, D has lived and breathed hockey, not just watching the games themselves, but also consuming countless highlights and game analyses. So even as he basks in the joy of victory, he is already beginning to feel the presence of a giant void. A few more days of celebrating, and then it’s time to start counting down to the start of next year’s hockey season.