Tuesday, December 16, 2014

To Be Rid Of It

The journey to elite status for a franchise is never quick.  In order to get back to being a Stanley Cup contender (especially in the salary cap era), there's lots of heartache and despair to endure.  A number of teams have made the journey from irrelevance to contender, but the New York Islanders have have laid out quite the path for fans over the last 20 years.  One does not simply walk into the Final.

It's not too big of a stretch to imagine Isles fans as the hobbits of the NHL fanbase.  Small in numbers.  Proud but lacking importance.  Happy to live in their own corner of the world without wanting to be bothered.  When outsiders happened to come by, we'd try and tune out the ridicule until they passed.  When it got real bad, some of us would just want to disappear.

It was sad, of course, to feel like this about your favorite team.  Apathy takes root and it's grasp is tough to break free from.  Coping mechanisms like cynicism become reflex actions.  Just how ingrained this is in me became apparent over this past weekend.  The Islanders had suffered through their second 3-game losing streak.  After the first set of losses,  I wrote about the conscious effort I went through to fight these old habits.  I felt I was getting better at handling disappointing games.

Then the Isles took a 3-goal lead into the 3rd period in Minnesota and bad things happened.  I went to bed pissed, which was a regular occurrence in previous years and really snapped me back to a mindset I thought I'd left behind.  Another loss followed and I was living in flashbacks of Novembers past.  As frustrating as it was, it was also familiar.  Prior to the game against the Chicago Blackhawks, I attended a wedding that had plenty of Ranger fan friends and family members.  There was a lot of ribbing back and forth and lot of self-deprecation on my part.

In other words, the same conversations I'd had many times over the previous years.  It was as it had always been.  It was easy.  I embraced it.  Then the Islanders beat the Blackhawks and I thought to myself, "Well at least they were able to win that game."  It felt like all the other "nice games" the Islanders had surprised me with over the last 20 years.  It was how I processed wins that I felt in my subconscious shouldn't have happened.  A tendency I've had for as long as I can remember.

And I didn't want it anymore.

Transforming from an apathetic fan to one that's invested in expectation is a hell of a thing.  The Islanders had (if we're being totally honest) a shocking offseason and a great start to the year.  We were on our way and it felt different right from the start (hence the existence of this blog).  It was all going to change and I wanted to experience every part of it.

This also meant experiencing the tough stretches in a different way.  It's nearly guaranteed that the Islanders will face another losing streak (or 2 or 3).  Even the top teams go through slumps.  However, when there's such an easy response you can dial up at a moments notice, handling those slumps with positivity has proved to be as hard as giving up the Ring.

This adventure is focused on me as a fan and my support - my Fellowship - is the team.  They are on the journey with me, learning and growing as well.  However, they are also more experienced and sure of themselves than we fans are.  Kyle Okposo provided some needed Gandalfian wisdom after Saturday's victory (as quoted by NY Daily News beat writer Stephen Lorenzo):

Guide us, o wise one.

I'm not sure how far we'll all get on this season's quest, but it's never been about winning a Stanley Cup (although that would be quite swell).  When it ends, I want my reflex action to be the positivity I currently must consciously conjure.  I want to be rid of the apathy and save the sarcasm for the minor moments of levity.  I just hope I don't have to toss any of my fishsticks memorabilia into a pit of lava.  That stuff seems like it's going to be worth something real soon.


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