The first loss, Game 2 in B----n, was crushing, but bearable in a the-time-just-ran-out kind of way. The second, Thursday night at the St. Pete Times Forum, was like being cross-checked by depression.
There we all sat, 21,027 quiet and powerless observers watching the seconds fall away as that bear of a goalie maintained his impermeable force-field.
I didn't even want to talk to Mrs. Bandwagon. I felt like my dog died. I wanted to drink the pain away.
As we trudged from the Forum, a homely woman with what appeared to be corn husks atop her misshapen head hung a Bruins shirt out the window of a beater and sang a song about dirty water, punctuated by "You suck!" cackles.
I wanted to high-stick her in her single eyebrow. I wanted to cry.
Who have I become?
Capt. Bandwagon is new to this. Before Tuesday night, I had never seen the Lightning lose. It's easy to be a fan for eight straight dances, but losing has me wondering if it's all worth it.
Can I say that? Can I say that I'm already a Minnesota Vikings fan, and I don't need another seasonal disappointment? I don't like to worry about something I can't control. That's the sad duality of the fan experience. If you buy in, you buy the downs, too.
These thoughts were swirling as I walked back into the Forum Friday morning. The Lightning invited Capt. Bandwagon out to meet Capt. Dave. As in Andreychuk. As in one of the best left wingers in the history of the sport. He hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2004.
He's vice president of fan experience now, the guy responsible for making you feel so good at games that you'll come back. Surely he could help.
We laced up our skates and I strapped on pads and a helmet. Somebody said something about getting me to sign a waiver. Then we headed for the ice, me and a man with a mouth full of fake teeth.
Listen, because this comes from a guy with tunnel vision, with shortness of breath, with possible internal bleeding, whose hands still smell like the insides of hockey gloves, which smell like Bugles™ and feet.
Hockey, it turns out, is really (expletive) hard.
Capt. Bandwagon cannot overstate this.
I'm an athlete. But for 30 minutes, I tried to skate. Tried to block shots. Tried to get past former Lightning winger Chris Dingman, a coil of Canadian muscle known for fixing his hair before a fight. He hit me and I hit the glass.
I felt and looked like a buffoon. I spent more time on my knees than a Southern Baptist preacher. That puck? It hurts when it hits you.
When it was over, Capt. B was sweating and panting, a miserable heap of embarrassed exhaustion. In that moment something happened. Maybe it was the concussive Dingman check (which he said was only about 1/30th of a game experience), but things started to come clear.
This is fun.
There's the beauty of winning and the hurt of losing, and in between, near the edge of your seat, is a mountain of plain old fun.
I'm all in.
Lobsters are the rats of the sea. Sam Adams jumped the shark with Noble Pils. And if y'all love Boston so much, what brings you down here?
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