As I scan through the 10-day forecast for the Oswego area, the smile I have on my face quickly disappears. High temperatures are in the low 50s and scattered showers wash out many of the days. The coldest day this week is Friday, with a projected high of only 47 degrees. Is it already winter? Certainly it cannot be, for it is not yet even Halloween, which I have long-held as the beginning of winter in upstate New York, contrary to the crazy calendar telling me the first day of winter is Dec. 21. Then what is it? What event would spur on such freezing temperatures?
Hockey. The reason why 3,000 students and city residents flock to a frigid arena, their knees banging into the seat of the person sitting in front of them, awkwardly bending back as someone tries to walk by, navigating along the four-inch strip of path between the seat and the drop below. It is a gap we brave each and every game, if only to catch a glimpse of the action, or an opposing player being viciously slammed into the boards.
This past weekend, a sold-out crowd was teased with a taste of our favorite Oswego pastime as the men’s team hosted the Greater Metro Hockey League (GMHL) All-Stars on Saturday night. Even though it was only a scrimmage, I was hit with a rush of enthusiasm the second I walked past the turnstiles and into my seat. Surrounded in a sea of green and gold, I felt right at home amidst the cheers and jeers of my fellow Laker fans.
As the opposing team came on to the ice, the crowd erupted in a fury of boos. It does not matter that we have not met this team or players before, or the fact that some of the players were as young as 16 or 17, they face equal treatment, with the exception of Plattsburgh of course, on who we break out our most intense hatred, most offensive jokes and strongest passion.
I sat in my seat as players from both sides skated around the perfectly groomed ice. To my right, a rowdy bunch of fellow students, energized those around them with enthusiasm. At my left, a group of students who, while less rowdy, were all decked out in proper green Oswego sweatshirts, eagerly anticipated the beginning of the game.
Of course, this past weekend was family and friends weekend, meaning that aside from clogging up the dining halls and gawking at mundane sights around campus, many parents were also in attendance at the game. Sitting in front of me was an older couple, politely sitting in their uncomfortable green seats, pointing out the sights and sounds of the arena.
"Ooh, the Steve Levy Press Box. Isn’t he that guy from TV?"
"Did you hear Al Roker went here? I read that on a plaque on the way here."
Before their questions could be answered, the Lakers had scored their first goal.
"Mark! Mark! Mark! You suck!" says the right side of the arena.
"Flitsch! Flitsch! Flitsch! You suck!" says the left side, where I happen to be sitting.
The couple laughed a little, surprised by the unique cheer. Soon after, an opposing player was sent to the penalty box, which ignited a cheer we are all very familiar with. Throw in another jeer for a bad call by the referee, and the vulgar language quickly filled up the room. The woman, who seemed to be pre-occupied crocheting some article of clothing, perhaps a sock or mitten, instead of watching the game, gestured to her husband, showing her discomfort. After the first period barrage, ultimately leading to a 17-0 mauling in favor of Oswego, the woman had become visibly uncomfortable, dropping her crocheting needle onto the floor and missing a stitch on her project that had progressively started looking like a lopsided Christmas stocking.
Soon after, more and more goals were scored, bad calls made, players sent to the box and the subsequent cheers that are associated with the actions were yelled, the two bid adieu to the arena and departed for the door. Maybe it was the loud cheers or the blowout game that made them leave, but it was Oswego State hockey, the game we have all come to love.