Being a Flames fan in the UK is often thankless work.
There's not many of us. We don't have geographical allegiances to work from, we can just pick our teams. It's why a lot of Brits are fans of the Rangers, the Pens, the Red Wings - the big names, the ones with history of winning.
I became a Flames fan because when I first started watching hockey over here, Cory Sarich's brother Rod was playing for my team. I thought that was as good an excuse as any, and promptly settled myself in to follow a new team in a far away land.
No, I didn't know what I was getting myself in to. Luckily, with all my other sports teams failing to trouble the trophy engravers, the experience was nothing new, so I was on familiar territory.
Last night, that all changed. We've been excited all season by this team, but this takes it right up to 11.
The Late Nights
2AM faceoffs. Not getting to sleep until past 5AM. Celebrating an east coast road trip because it means getting to sleep before 3AM. Pleading for matinee games. Walking around like a zombie. Going to work with pinholes for eyes.
In the past few years, I tended to watch the games the day after on Gamecenter, because I didn't think I was going to miss much. That all changed this season. I had to see games live. I couldn't find out what had happened second hand and miss out on the excitement that is this team. It probably hasn't done much for my mental health, but clinching the playoffs made it all worth it.
The Wilderness Years
It has been six long playoff-less years. Apart from my UK hockey team, each of my other sports teams has a knack of being utterly useless, so I thought this was just the norm. Nights like last night seemed like pipe dreams, ideas beyond my imagination. It wasn't just the winning. It was the way the Flames won. They bossed the first period. Jonas Hiller played out of his skin. Jiri Hudler clutched it. Brandon Bollig came to play. It felt like game seven, and it ended the years of hurt.
Me: "I'm a Flames fan."
- You poor *******
- Why? They're ****
- What in God's name made you choose them?
- They're **** compared to *team x*