On a sunny day, I head down to the Hockey Hall of Fame. I have never been. I have never been to the CN Tower, I don't visit the ROM except when they let you in for free on Fridays. I am not a tourist in my own city. But a hockey fan -- never visiting the Hockey Hall of Fame, in my own backyard -- unforgivable!
I finally go, because I want to see Stanley. I want to see what we just lost.
I couldn't watch Pronger and Niedermayer raise the Cup; I didn't even want to see Giguere cradle his baby in the confetti. Pronger could found a thousand orphanages and I will still be bitter that he, the gap-toothed, floppy-haired bastard, won a Cup at our expense.
The act of watching it makes it real. If I don't watch it, my brain doesn't have the visual information to translate what I know otherwise; losing the Stanley Cup is an abstract concept, in the same wing as quantum physics.
I got away with it until I made myself see the Stanley Cup.
The Hockey Hall of Fame lives in the most beautiful interior in Toronto. A walk through BCE Place feels like being inside of a whale's skeleton, a huge yawning belly, with polished bone for ceiling beams. It is a belly or a simple arch, depending on how romantic you feel. Romance be damned, though, it is unshakingly reminiscent of a cathedral.
The Hall of Fame is home to a lot of things -- some throwback sweaters kept for their interesting graphics, some objects with milestone values, some things just very, very old. Really, though, all of these are touristic distractions meant to make sure your day doesn't end with the climax of the Stanley Cup. The layout of the Hall reflects this: Stanley's home is tucked away in a corner, between mazes of other exhibitions.
The beautiful thing about museums, galleries and Halls of Fame is that each exhibition is a story -- some stories, like the Stanley Cup, more famous and sentimental than others.
I've heard the story of Wayne Gretzky's obliteration of everything we thought possible;
I've heard the story of dynasties, legendary players who carried off Stanley in their arms
I've heard the story of players who left the imprints of their hearts on the ice.
The story that the Hall of Fame is trying to tell now is of the "spirit of hockey": we almost have a Holy Trinity, I suppose, with the Stanley Cup and erm, Wayne Gretzky himself? This is dismissed as utter tripe, some sentimentality inherently built into the very idea of a Hall of Fame, a shrine eternal, but you do understand what they're talking about when you walk into where Stanley lives:
"It's like a church," an impressed fan mutters as he walks in. The stained glass ceiling, the awed silence, the way the walls showed their age and strength so gracefully; the rest of the Hall is a museum, everything enclased in glass for show, this, this is a church, the trophies on display like figures of the Saints. Virgin Mary sits between a glass wall embedded with the names of Hall of Famers.
If hockey has a tangible spirit, I don't think it would live in the hollow center of the Stanley Cup. I think it would live in the names, the hollows of the dug names.
The thought of touching the Stanley Cup is terrifying; I flinch every time a kid clutches it with greasy fingers or overexcited Quebecers knock on it. (Yes, the damn thing is hollow.) I can't touch it because it doesn't belong to us yet. It doesn't belong to me, to Alfie, to Spezza, to Heatley, to Phillips, to Volchenkov -- to touch it now would be like giving in, like premarital sex only you know the sex will be meaningless and terrible anyway. So I'll wait. I'll wait until it belongs. I know I may never touch it, trace my fingers into the carved names of those I've watched and shared so much time with and worried about, for so long.
I sit down and stare at the Cup, watching couples pose with it with awkward grins, grown men hugging it, little children raising their faces up to its bowl, fans finding their favourite players and teams on its side. I sit down and stare for much too long to be mistaken as a tourist.
On the experiential level I sat down and stared at a shiny piece of metal. On the abstract level I was praying. I was wishing very very hard that I'd get to feel like I owned it someday, like I could walk in there with my Alfie t-shirt and kiss it and hold it and fondle it.
Sitting there, it felt like the ghost of everyone who had been great and every team who had been there. They were remembered. Halls of Fame aren't so much Halls of Fame as they are Halls of Memory; the Stanley Cup isn't so much a trophy of celebration, but a trophy of memory
... And this is the tragedy, the real heartbreak of losing: there is no place for their names to rest. We don't remember the team that nearly was. For all that they did, for all that they tried, their efforts and time live on only in the aching hearts of their fans.
And without being remembered, what are we but ordinary human beings?
I didn't notice it when I went in, but as I exited, there was a large, life-sized poster of the Anaheim Ducks squeezed together, index fingers raised, with Stanley. I stared almost as hard as I stared at the real Stanley.
I finally know what it feels like to lose that hunk of metal.