Sawatzke: Confession – I’m having a Wild (sports) affair

Readers, friends, family … I have a rather shocking confession to make.
I’ve been living a double life.
You all know me as a basketball guy. It’s the way I was raised, if not the way I was born. It’s my first love. The list of things I love about it starts with the skill, the finesse, the toughness and the competitiveness. Then the list goes on, pretty much forever. When winter hits, basketball is the only sport I care about. I was a player (and I still try to be), and I’ll always be a fan. Some day I’ll probably be a coach. It’s a game I grew up around, a game I live around, and a game I’ll always be around.
But … well… I’m sorry, can I have a minute? This is hard for me to say.
I, in the winter, I’m no longer just a basketball guy. I’m sorry loved ones, but, I’ve become (dramatic pause) something of a hockey fan (GASP!).
I know, I know … how could I?
Well, the easy thing to do would be to blame my fiancee, she is after all the one who played college hockey and was raised in the rinks the same way I was raised on the court. But to be honest, it started before her.
They say everyone loves a winner, and well, I guess that includes me. In my first couple months at the Times I became fascinated by one of the many teams I was tasked with covering, the North Wright County Riverhawks.
I was a hockey newbie, and it probably showed and maybe still shows in my coverage, but I quickly grew to enjoy the opportunity to discuss both hockey basics and nuances with Coach Tim Hanson as the Hawks made a late-season playoff push. Also, my passion for watching hockey grew quickly.
Previously my only experience had been during the Minnesota Wild’s run to the conference finals in 2003. I hopped on that bandwagon as the playoffs began and bailed quickly during the Ducks conference final dismantling of my beliked Wild – again, everyone loves a winner.
But in following the Hawks, and at the same time the Moose, I started to appreciate some of the things that make hockey great. Number one, it has a lot of similarities to basketball. Now, I know that might be hearsay to fans on both sides. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
The beauty of both is found in the combination of skill and physicality. It is found in teamwork and ball (or puck) movement. It is found in scoring and defense. It’s found in a late game rally or the ability to convert on the other teams’ mistakes.
Sure there are differences. One of them is apparently played on skates. The other is not. It’s really hard to score in one game. In the other game it isn’t nearly as hard to score, unless I’m on offense.
But their similarities, plus the Hawks success, was plenty to grab my interest. Still, when their state tournament run ended, I assumed it would end my excitement over hockey, much as the end to the 2003 Wild season.
Instead, Anna happened.
Next thing I knew I was being dragged to a couple of Wild games last year. By the middle of winter I was talked into buying skates of my own. We even started messing around with a stick and a puck on some nearby frozen ponds.
The worst thing was, I enjoyed it.
And it’s grown since then. I could justify being excited to cover a high school hockey game – it’s my job. But, this past weekend I was excited to be able to sit down and watch the Gophers take on the Fighting Sioux (or as my favorite sign of the weekend said, “Wioux?”). That was Friday. Saturday, I almost couldn’t wait for the puck to drop on the Wild season opener. I’d been so excited that I watched their scrimmage last Wednesday and created a fantasy league for Anna, her brother and me to play in during the year.
Now, I still favor basketball (hence my annoyance with the “State of Hockey” moniker – more people play basketball), so it’s not like I’ve changed sides. But I’ve found room to like both.
I don’t know where to go from here. I don’t know how to live life as a hockey fan. I know that it’s a scary and dangerous place (at least it feels that way when I’m on skates), but I also know it’s exciting and thrilling. I’m ashamed, yet I’m intrigued. Most importantly, and the reason I’m coming forward with this now, is I am pretty sure it’s no longer just a fling. It may never be my main squeeze. But, hockey and I … I think we’re officially an item.

Contact Clay Sawatzke at clay.sawatzke@ecm-inc.com

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