May 5, 2017

If the Blues lose tonight....

Here we go again Blues fans- another "back against the wall" game for our boys tonight. A situation we have all been in too many times. The minute I wake up I'll think about the game. I will spend the whole day a bundle of nerves, which is bat-shit ridiculous as this game has absolutely zero influence on my actual life. But alas, I'm a sports fan, and that's what we do.

I'm a tomboy by nature. It's hard to find a sport I don't like. Football, Baseball, Nascar....but hockey won my heart at a young age. It isn't just a sport, it's a culture. I've been a part of this culture my whole life. It started when I was 10 years old and my best friend Sara Currans family had season tickets to the Blues games. They took me to the first game and I was hooked. Walking into the old Arena was more exciting for me than walking into Disney World.  I watched the Golden Brett dazzle crowds. I loved the grit of players like Gino Cavillini. I remember sitting at Sara's kitchen table before every game making signs. My most favorite one I ever made said "Rob Ramage do some damage!" - I thought I was pretty clever. 

I also grew up in an ice rink. I was a competitive figure skater for 14 years in a small town with only one rink. The figure skaters shared everything with the hockey players, even the locker rooms. They smelled awful, but I weirdly got used to it. My first job was a skate guard at the rink for the open sessions...the only girl employed with all the hockey players. 

Every boyfriend I had in high school was a hockey player.

I married a hockey player, then gave birth to one. 

I'm a Blues fan because I live in St. Louis, but I'm a hockey fan because I love the sport.  

After last year's long playoff run, the writing was on the wall for this to be THE season for the Blues. It was our 50th anniversary in the league, we had our first Winter Classic, it would be Hitchcock's swan song... It was like watching a fairytale novel play out, something they will make a movie about one day. 

And then the rug was pulled out. Armstrong dismantled the core of a team that took us the furtherest we've been in the playoffs in 16 years. He failed to retain our hard hitting team, and exchanged it for a small, fast young one, causing the whole season to start sinking. The team played terribly, our coach was fired, and one of our best young thoroughbreds, Robby Fabbri, sustained a season ending injury... causing most of us to give up hope on any kind of post-season run.  But game by game, point by point, when the dust settled and the sun rose, so did the Blues, who clawed their way to a spot in the playoffs. 

In full clarity I've never played hockey.  I am far from an expert, but I know a hell of a lot more than the bandwagon fans who don't know the difference between hybrid icing and a hybrid car. 

Oh, the bandwagon fans...who don't watch a game all season but are suddenly hockey experts on Facebook during the playoffs, talking shit they know nothing about. Country singer Carrie Underwood included, who is married to the Nashville captain and blamed the refs for our win in game 2 on twitter. Carrie, honey look: I love your music. I voted for you on American Idol, but the officiating that entire game was shit. Stick to your day job, cupcake. 

Now getting to the point. 

Tonight we find out the fate of our season. We either win the game to battle on 2 more, or we relive the same nightmare we have for 50 years like a never-ending loop of the movie "Groundhogs Day."

Of course hockey has always been a mouthy sport, from the players to the fans, and that's part of the charm. I remember taking my kids to their first playoff game 2 years ago, climbing out of the car saying "Okay kids, it's playoff hockey, you're gonna learn some new cusswords tonight!" 

If they lose tonight, it's okay to be mad at them. As sports fans, it's okay to invest your heart in a team and it's perfectly fine to be pissed as hell if they disappoint you. And if they lose because they played terrible then they should be held accountable for it. However, there is a colossal difference between being pissed off and being hateful, and we as fans need to grow up and learn the difference.

I've been a professional photographer for 12 years. Throughout those 12 years many Blues and Cardinal families have come to me as clients.  I spend time shooting the happy moments in their lives. When they get engaged, get pregnant, have a baby. The real stuff, the stuff life is really about. I love getting to know them, and their sweet families. Hockey players have a  reputation for being some of the nicest athletes around, and that reputation holds true.

They are husbands, fathers and sons. And I want to take a minute to show you another side of them. Because sometimes the things I hear people say, or read online after a season ending game make me question humanity.

These players have dedicated their entire lives to this sport. Moving away from home at 15, 2am college bus rides, the mental torture of bouncing around in the minors. And they did it all knowing the chances of them ever playing in the NHL were slim to none, but they took that risk and beat the odds.

They play through astonishing levels of pain without question. But the physical pain is no match for the biggest sacrifice of all.

They play when their families desperatly need them, and that's the part no one ever talks about. 












(All Photos Copyright of Kelly Manno Photography, may not be used without permission)

Often we forget these players are men, not machines.

Earlier this year when Jake Allen hit a slump and the whole world wanted to burn him at the stake... he had a one week old baby at home.

Ryan Reaves' wife, Alanna, gave birth to their son last year and Ryan had to leave 3 days later for a 13 day road trip. 

When we had TJ Oshie, his daughter was born critical birth defect called"gastroschisis" google it at your own risk- it's not for the faint of heart. He missed one game. One. Imagine sending your husband to work one day after your daughter was born with that.

In 2014 New York Rangers forward Martin St Louis played game 5 in the semifinals the day after his mothers unexpected death.

Why do they do it? Because sacrifice is all these guys know. They signed up for this. They knew what the job required when they started. Their wives and girlfriends did too. They are "ride or die chicks" to the fullest. Most of them have to sit at games and bit their tongue until it bleeds. Unless you have the pleasure of sitting next to a spitfire like Erica Ott, wife of Steve Ott. The first time I met her she was 6 months pregnant cussing out a fan behind her talking shit on her husband...I knew we would be instant friends :)

But another reason they sacrifice is for YOU, the fans. Believe it or not, they really do care, and they want to make you proud of them. 

Their wives, kids, and parents attend almost all the games and sit right there in the crowd with you.

When you scream "Hey X You fucking suck you piece of shit" you're sitting 2 rows in front of his Dad who drove him to 5 am ice times and taught him how to lace his skates.

I attended a game earlier this year, we weren't playing very well.  I watched a fan yell  "Hey X, you would be more useful to us if you got taken off on a stretcher" - His 2 kids were in the same section and heard every word.

When you write on Facebook that you "hope a player gets hit by a bus so we don't have to finish their contract"...they have teenage kids that can read that.

Sadly, these are all actual quotes.

Oh wait....but they're rich.....so that changes everything. Right? If they lose tonight the fans go home and cry. But the players get to go home and cackle with laughter while they slide around on their millions like Scrooge McDuck? I mean it's not like they've wanted this since they were 5 years old or anything.

And 95 percent of our fan base makes me proud as hell. I was there when we applauded Ovi on his 3rd consecutive 30 goal season... The ovation for Kevin Fiala, as he was stretchered off the ice the last week...  The tearful ovations for  Backes, Oshie, and Jackman after returning to St. Louis for the first time following their days wearing the Note. The Bobby Plager jersey retirement, I could go on and on. 

But to the other 5 percent of you: If the Blues should lose tonight you can be pissed. You can yell and scream, and feverishly type on social media that they didn't want it bad enough, or that our defense was weak, or our offense wasn't aggressive. You are passionate and smart fans and you're allowed to pick the game apart piece by piece and hold them accountable for what they did wrong. That's part of being a devoted sports fan. 

But at the same time, show a little goddman respect for what these guys have sacrificed so that you can sit in the stands with a beer belly and a hotdog, or have a pizza party watching the game with your friends. A loss tonight will rock their worlds, not yours.

Or....we could just kick the Predators' ass and not have to bother with any of this silliness. Let's plan on that instead.

Let's Go Blues.