The title of this post is a quotation from Randall Maggs’ “Different Ways of Telling Time”, which can be found in Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems.
When I ask people what games I should watch out of the past, people mostly recommend the great works of their own favorite team. Bruins and Flyers fans give me dates out of the middle 70s, Devils and Red Wings fans sing the praises of the 90s. But everyone tells me to watch the 80s. And within the 80s, everyone tells me to watch 1987. Even people who couldn’t care less about the Oilers, even people who hate the Flyers, even people who, like me, were too young that year to really understand hockey- everyone, apparently, knows that this was a great series. It is one of those rare moments in NHL history for which there is a swell of nonpartisan nostalgia.
No matter how widely beloved the game, though, I’m always afraid I’ll miss the hook. What older fans remember is not always apparent to me, and often the thing that catches popular memory seems small and inconsequential to my eyes. Do I really care if this goal was waved off? Or that call was bad? Why should it matter to me, ten-twenty-thirty years later, if it’s not my team, if it’s not my long-nursed grudge?
At some point, all old hockey just looks… old. Watching an historical game is always a process of cataloging the quirks of the era, and often it’s hard to get beyond that. Ah yes, 1987, when moustaches were unironic and mom jeans were still for moms. No ads on the boards! No jerseys in the crowds! No suit on Craig MacTavish! The announcers have heavy, unrepentant East Coast American accents, not the smooth Midwestern tones of standard broadcast English, and when they say “Coffey” it comes out Caw-fee. The Northlands Coliseum has its own weird symbol at center ice, not the Oilers teardrop. The only festive gestures in the whole building seem to be a few clusters of blue and orange balloons, average size, like you might get for a child’s birthday party. I can just see the event planners now: “This is the Stanley Cup Final, boys, game seven. It doesn’t get any bigger than this. I think, just this once, we can spring for a helium tank.”