Fifteen Minutes: Putting Romance on Ice

This Saturday, Pforzheimer House will kick off the spring formal season at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. That same evening,
By Richard S. Lee

This Saturday, Pforzheimer House will kick off the spring formal season at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. That same evening, the Bow & Arrow Pub will be serving one-dollar Molson’s and, more importantly, broadcasting post-season hockey. As a Pfohoser, it’s a tough call—life’s decisions shouldn’t be this difficult.

It’s the classic tale of true love versus love of the Game. For us hockey fans, both sentiments peak in the spring, when les fleurs d’amour are in bloom and Lord Stanley’s Cup is prim and prime. Unfortunately, picking one usually means throwing away the other.

I’m certainly not alone in my conundrum. Contemporary cinema has long recognized the conflict between love and hockey. Doug Dorsey in The Cutting Edge only finds true love after hanging up his hockey skates for figure skates—a painful sacrifice for sure. Love isn’t kind to Happy Gilmore, the-hockey-player; as a golfer, however, he’s a club-carrying, bull-riding stud. Then there’s the 1986 classic Youngblood. Rob Lowe in the title character of Dean Youngblood is a Canadian junior hockey player who has a bad habit of thinking with his johnson instead of his brain. He sleeps with the coach’s daughter and, when daddy finds out, gets benched, forced to watch the other side decimate his teammates.

The conclusion is inescapable: Hockey and romance don’t mix.

In real life, it’s even worse. Truth be told, the Hollywood glittermasters make sure that in the movies, hockey players put the proverbial puck in the net, if you know what I mean—all three films end with a kiss. But for the rest of us who will never win an Olympic figure skating medal, a spot on the pro-tour or a Canadian junior championship, life is a bit tougher. Our love of the sport rewards us with a few moments of glory on pavement, but when the game’s over, the job still sucks and the girlfriend’s still gone.

What is it about hockey that repels the quest for true love? The answer lies in the nature of the game itself, which demands a fiercesome devotion—a devotion, unfortunately, that doesn’t leave room for much else.

I was not born in Canada. I did not grow up watching the fabled Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup year after year. I’m not old enough to remember legends like Gordie Howe or Bobby Orr. And though Wayne Gretzky might have been a hockey hero in L.A., in my small suburb of New York City he was just some guy to bitch-slap on the Sega Genesis.

My hometown was not friendly to hockey. We had no local team—minor league, high school or otherwise. The ponds didn’t freeze in the winter and the nearest rink was an hour’s drive away. The local sporting good store had no hockey equipment, save little plastic hockey sticks marketed at the pre-school crowd. And so, during the summers and warm winters, we settled for roller hockey—a slow, clunky substitute that always ended prematurely after our only ball fell into the rain gutter. To the neighborhood kids, we were heroes; to everyone else on the block, we were a nuisance, on par with skateboarders and punk rockers. We were chased out of the town’s parking lots and tennis courts, cursed by police officers and elderly women. Dark times, indeed.

Here at Harvard, life for the pickup hockey player is little better. For one thing, the Charles does not freeze. And although the rink is a short trip across the river, it becomes an awfully long trip when schlepping a heavy bag of equipment through slush and snow. Harvard’s intramural program is woefully inadequate, throwing experienced players (Canadians) and novice skaters (hacks from small, hockey-hating suburbs like my own) together on the same line. Ice-time is scarce, and we’re usually meted out the poorest of the poor—ice that is slow, crunchy and un-Zambonied.

Simply put, hockey is not an easy sport to love. But these obstacles only inflame our passion for the game. We gladly travel long distances, throw out other commitments, just for one whiff of the ice. We live for the slow-motion breakaway, skating in all alone on the net, switching from forehand to backhand to forehand, sliding the puck neatly between the goalie’s legs. In an empty arena, no fans cheer, but in our heads it’s a Cup-winning goal, certain to be immortalized in the highlight reels.

Romantic love versus love of the Game? No contest. The raw energy in the roaring slapshot, the primal urge to throw somebody into the boards, the sheer ecstasy of scoring the beautiful goal—to seek these is all the libido we could ever need. Romance and relationships are noisy and complicated, inevitably fraught with unpleasant difficulties. But a simple, crisp, pinpoint pass from one end of the ice to the other—executed with just a single, silent look—is nothing less than two souls moving in perfect harmony.

Thankfully, there’s a film out there that puts this conflict into perspective. It’s called The Last Time I Ever Scored, and it comes, not from Hollywood but from independent obscurity. I haven’t actually seen the film—it was directed by some anonymous student in Winnepeg and is available, as best I can tell, only in a dusty film archive thousands of miles away. But, the myth goes, it chronicles the epic struggle of Alex Lafluer, a hockey player who must choose between the woman he loves and, in utter seriousness, the championship game of his friends’ big winter street hockey final. The Internet won’t tell me more about the plot, but I can imagine how it ends: Alex wins the tournament but loses the heart of his wife. Maybe he’s thrown out of the house and, by the end of the movie, spends all his time drinking cheap beer and watching playoff hockey. A happy ending, if I ever heard one.

Richard S. Lee ’01, a social studies concentrator in Pforzheimer House, is Editorial Chair of The Crimson. His slapshot, clocked at 53 miles-per-hour, is pretty damn worthless, but his toothless grin is guaranteed, someday, to win the heart of some lucky canuck lass.