#15 Extinct Hockey
June 14, 2016
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John Hodgman learns that the advantage of extinct hockey is that it can't break your heart.
Surprisingly Awesome’s theme song is by Nicholas Britell. Our ad music is by Build Buildings. We were edited this week by Annie-Rose Strasser. We were produced by Kalila Holt and Rachel Ward.
Isabel Angel, Misha Euceph, Piers Gelly, Elizabeth Kulas, Kyle McAuley, and Rikki Novetsky provided production assistance. Additional music for this episode came from Podington Bear and Lux Finite.
Andrew Dunn mixed the episode.
If you're curious, here's the article that helped us track down the hipster.
And here are the logos!
The Hartford Whalers logo:
The Quebec Nordiques logo:
The hockey Pirates logo:
John's new logo:
ANNOUNCER: Good evening hockey fans welcome to the 2016 NHL playoffs and game five of the Eastern Conference finals … between the Tampa Bay Lightning and your Pittsburgh Penguins!
JOHN HODGMAN: From Gimlet Media, this is Surprisingly Awesome, I'm John Hodgman
RACHEL WARD: And I'm Rachel Ward.
JOHN: And this time on the show, I John Hodgman have decided to flip the script. Where normally we would take a topic where most people find boring and explain why it is surprisingly awesome, hence the title, instead I chose a subject that almost everyone in the world finds exceedingly awesome. Unsurprisingly awesome, but that I find incredibly boring, and I'm talking about sports. I don't care about sports. I never have, never followed them, none of the sports. I grew up in Boston where a lot of people care about sports, and what they really cared about, was the fact that I didn't care. And they would get mad at me for it. And this haunts me to this day. Here's an example. While preparing for this episode, I casually mentioned in an email to Rachel Ward, my co-host, that I had never been to a hockey game. And this is what she wrote back to me:
RACHEL: I’M SORRY, WHAT, YOU’VE NEVER BEEN TO A HOCKEY GAME?
JOHN: Yeah. And you, by the way, you perfectly captured your all caps. In your voice just then. That was very well-read.
RACHEL: Thank you.
JOHN: That's exactly what I'm talking about. That sentence and indeed you, Rachel, are everything I hate about culture. Because of course I've never been to a hockey game, lots of people have never been to a hockey game. It's the most esoteric and regional of all of the major sports. And yet for me to say that I just hadn't been to it, you're all like, "WHAAAT why aren't you a regular human, why aren't you normal?" Ugh.
JOHN: Rachel, you know I recently hosted the 2016 Nebula Awards for best science fiction and fantasy novel, novella, novelette, novelechino, and everything? You know? We have a lot of categories, right? So that’s open to the public, have you ever been to the Nebula Awards?
RACHEL: I have to say I have never been.
JOHN: WHAATTTTT!?!?! I’m sorry, you haven’t been, you didn’t ... didn't see the grand master prize for 2016 being awarded to CJ Cherry? What's wrong with you?
RACHEL: I'm not a nerd! That's what's not wrong with me.
JOHN: Oh, you bigot. So, this was pretty much how I felt. Like I was being punished by everyone in the world for not caring about sports. But then, Rachel, 5 or 6 years ago, I had an epiphany.
RACHEL: Okay, hit me.
JOHN: I was walking down my block in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York. It was the early evening and this hipster dude with a beard - I mean almost a cliche of a hipster - I mean he was riding a fixed gear bicycle - comes click clacking down the street and somehow the light from the street light catches his forearm just perfectly such that I'm able to see the tattoo that he has on his forearm, and the tattoo is the logo of the Hartford Whalers. Now Rachel do you know who the Hartford Whalers are?
RACHEL: I do now that we have worked on this episode - they are an extinct hockey team.
JOHN: They’re an extinct hockey team, that's right. They played for about 17 years or so in Hartford before they were taken away and given to North Carolina, I think that's how hockey teams move from place to place, they get bequeathed to another state.
RACHEL: Right, like an enchanted ring.
RACHEL: Wait, so when was this?
JOHN: 1997. So I had not seen this logo for a long time and I was suddenly struck by its beauty and its simplicity. The logo has two parts to it. A W for Whalers and nestled in the W is a whale's tale as if it were coming out of the water. But it wasn't until that moment that I saw it didn't have two components, it had three components. Because between the whale's tail and the W was formed an empty space. And that empty patch of skin formed an H, for Hartford. Negative space design. It's one of these things you see in a lot of logos, or to be more precise, you don't see in a lot of logos, do you know? The contemporary FedEx logo, do you see the arrow in it?
RACHEL: I actually don't know ...
RACHEL: I'm Googling FedEx logo. What?
JOHN: That's right, the space between the E and the X in FedEx forms an arrow.
RACHEL: I have never seen that before.
JOHN: So what you just heard Rachel do, was what I did as the hipster with the Hartford Whalers logo passed me. Daaaaamn! And it began now I would say an official obsession with this logo from this extinct hockey team that continues to this day. And I have nothing against sports, people can enjoy whatever running and kicking game they like.
RACHEL: In the privacy of their own home.
JOHN: No, well obviously that's impossible. (Rachel laughs) In the public space, but I cannot escape the fact that I've tried in the past to get interested in sports. But then this thing happened, I saw this logo and I started thinking more about sports and not just sports but specifically the fascinating and underappreciated sport of extinct hockey.
RACHEL: So extinct hockey, this is a way that you can actually enjoy sports.
JOHN: Exactly, THIS is my sport, these are my teams. And THIS is my sports hero.
PETER GOOD: There was an inherent problem with the harpoons because their mascot was a whale so you're killing your mascot. And so I kind of started playing with the tail.
JOHN: It's a weird thing to say that my interest in hockey of any kind was inspired by good design
JOHN: But in fact it was, literally good design because the hero of my sport is the graphic designer Peter Good. (Rachel laughs)
JOHN: In 1979 had you given much thought to sports logos as design?
PETER: Not really except when I was hired to do the Whalers logo obviously I did a survey of all the NHL teams. A lot of them were antiquated with script lettering.
JOHN: Right, I think one of the things about the Hartford Whaler logo that was so striking was that it was so outside of the tradition of sports logo to that time.
PETER: Yes it was. Yes absolutely. It employed some modern graphics. I mean, the idea of negative space.
JOHN: The logo seems more popular than ever.
PETER: Oh yeah, it's kind of an odd thing. I think Malcolm Gladwell could probably write something on this. Or you could.
JOHN: Yeah, that's what I'm doing right now. We don't need Malcolm Gladwell thank you very much. But if you get some license to make some of those Hartford Whalers umbrellas and aprons and dye cut t-shirts and stuff - look, put me first on the list for buying them.
PETER: Okay, well the licensing is another a thing. I mean in the 1980s the Whalers asked me to sign an agreement to sign the logo over to them with a check for a dollar, to make it legal. I still have the uncashed check, I still have the unsigned document. So I never relinquished the right for this. So we are -
JOHN: Were you compensated at all for the work that you did?
PETER: Well I mean I got a small fee for designing it.
JOHN: But other than that you've not shared in any of the royalties and merchandise?
PETER: No, no not at all. Not at all. You're the second case I heard about someone having it tattooed.
JOHN: But Peter Good, maybe it's the same guy. Maybe it's that one patient zero with that Hartford Whalers tattoo.
PETER: You’re the tipping point!
JOHN: No, look, why is it all about Gladwell with you? I don't have a semi-pro baseball team nor even a major league hockey team behind me but I'm looking for a new brand identity, could I maybe talk to you about making a logo for John Hodgman? Think it over - all I'm saying is that we we have a one dollar check for you here in case you want to take it on, so long as you promise to never cash it. As someone who had given no thought about sports, seeing that logo and learning about the history of the Whalers and of your creating that logo, it's really the most interested in sports I've ever been, and I'm grateful to you. Because it pushes me more towards normal in some ways.
PETER: I appreciate your appreciation John, thank you so much.
RACHEL: Pushes me more towards normal, John.
JOHN: Yeah I'm getting there
RACHEL: Yeah, this is not normal. This item that you have here.
JOHN: This is my prized collectable from my extinct hockey obsession with the Hartford Whalers - this is the Hartford Whalers wives 1990-1991 cookbook and family album. First of all there are family recipes, butterscotch yams, steak and mushrooms a la Ronny.
RACHEL: (laughs) Who's Ronny?
JOHN: Ron Francis who was the - one of the most - you know what I'm saying, he's one of the hockeyists. This was his wife's contribution. And then you have little bios and little family pictures of all the Hartford Whalers. Because a lot of these guys are young, they don't have wives to contribute. Right? So there's just pictures of them. And here's Mike Tomlak, age 26. There's a picture of him glamorously doing his dishes. And I - what I can only presume is a photo from earlier in that evening, him sitting at a small table eating by himself, talking on the phone. This was sports that I can get behind. I didn't think that I could find a logo that would fascinate me as much. But then I saw the logo of the Quebec Nordiques.
JOHN: Now where the Hartford Whalers logo is brilliant and seductive and draws you in, the Nordiques logo is the exact opposite of good design. Here let me put it in front of you.
RACHEL: OK. Oh...
JOHN: Yeah, what is it?
RACHEL: Uh, my first impulse is that this was an elephant.
JOHN: Yes, most people feel that it is an elephant. This thing - it is beyond human perception, it is supposed to be about 3/4 of a blood red igloo, bisected at an angle by an incredibly thin-armed, fat-bladed hockey stick with a spherical puck on top of it. And that this bisection of the blood red igloo is supposed to form a lowercase N.
RACHEL: I never in a million years would have guessed that that was meant to be an igloo
JOHN: Yeah, and guess what? Not only is the logo intrinsically sadder than the Hartford Whalers logo, the Nordiques as a team were too. The only major team that Quebec City had ever had, the team never did well at all until finally they were so bad that in the early 90s, they got their first round draft pick, and they chose up and coming player Eric Lindros, who's a well known hockeyist. You probably know him from though from -
JOHN: Philadelphia. He was a first round draft pick for Quebec, and he refused to play for Quebec. Just refused.
NEWSCAST: Well, hockey experts are already calling Eric Lindros the next Great One. But the 18-year-old’s reputation is anything but great in Quebec. He says he won’t play for the Nordiques, the NHL team that drafted him this summer. That’s got a lot of hockey fans pretty angry.
JOHN: He said I will not go to this French speaking city with a very small media market and he faced them down for a year, refusing to play.
NEWSCAST: The story had Quebeckers fuming. I said, if he doesn’t want to act like a man, then he can play with little boys and stay on with little boys.
JOHN: And then finally he beat them and they said okay and they traded him to Philadelphia for like 4 or 5 guys.
NEWSCAST: 1992 here in Montreal has turned into the Eric auction, and the deal is finally complete, with the Philadelphia Flyers jumping in at the last moment…
JOHN: And all of a sudden, the Nordiques were in it! Because now they had a real hockey team. And maybe they're gonna go all the way. But before they can, the team gets sold to Colorado. Quebec weeps, the Nordiques become the Colorado Avalanche, their first season in Colorado, the same team, same guys, win the Stanley Cup. And that's the Oscars of Hockey.
PLAY BY PLAY: SCORREEEEEE…. THE COLORADO AVALANCHE HAVE WON THE STANLEY CUP.
RACHEL: And John, this is a big moment for you, hearing this tragic story about the Nordiques for the first time.
JOHN: Suddenly I understand all the people who love sports what they've been telling me over the years it's not just about the athleticism, it's not just about the arbitrary team rivalries. It's also about the stories, the stories of the individual players and what they've gone through and the stories of what the teams have gone through in conjunction with their cities. And suddenly I'm getting it. And I reach this profound moment of like oh my god, what if I like hockey?
RACHEL: And that’s when you sent me that email and I was like, whaaaat. Because on some level you must have known that it was how to test your non-extinct hockey fandom. But to do that it means going to a hockey game. But it was pretty late in the season when we came up with this idea so what we found for you to go to was a playoff game - it was Tampa Bay Lightning at Pittsburgh Penguins.
JOHN: What you didn't know was that I was intrigued to go to Pittsburgh because as intimidated as I was to see an actual existing hockey game I also knew through my research that Pittsburgh has a great extinct hockey team - maybe the best - because it didn't even get its own name. It was the Pittsburgh Pirates. They borrowed the name from the baseball team and they were the first NHL team in Pittsburgh from 1925 to 1930 before they moved to Philadelphia and disappeared. So my feeling was maybe if I go to Pittsburgh I could find a Pittsburgh Pirates hat or jersey or something with its weird off kilter P logo, mmm! The prize of my collection. And if I had to see a real hockey team in order to get it, I would be willing to make that sacrifice.
RACHEL: So we booked two tickets to Pittsburgh and we were on our way.
PILOT ANNOUNCEMENT ON AIRPLANE
JOHN: Having arrived, I went immediately to the newsstand
first and foremost I was looking for my extinct hockey team the Pittsburgh Pirates and second I was looking for camouflage. And you know what? I scored.
RACHEL: What are you getting?
JOHN: I'm buying a Pittsburgh Penguins hat
SALESWOMAN: To wear today
JOHN: That's right, I'm going to the game.
SALESWOMAN: Are you really?
JOHN: Yeah, I flew in for it special.
SALESWOMAN: Oh my gosh, how'd you get tickets?
JOHN: Well, I work for a podcast, so it's pretty much I can get whatever I want...
JOHN: I got a nice Pittsburgh Penguins baseball hat featuring the older Pittsburgh Penguins logo from the early 70s era and I thought it looked pretty good. So I didn't get my Pittsburgh Pirates merch, but I was still hopeful that I would get to learn more about them and maybe pick up a souvenir at the museum. Because you had found a museum for us to go to.
JOHN: The museum of Western Pennsylvania Sports—a museum within the museum, of the John Heinz History Center here on Smallsman St. in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania… You guys going to the sports museum? Father and son, the dad's holding a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey, I figured he had to be going to the sports museum, but I guess it sounds like they were going to get a hamburger or something. Dads today, I don't know
JOHN: And when we got there, it took us a little while to find what we were looking for…
JOHN: Here's a big statue of Franco Harris, even I know he's the Pittsburgh Steeler who made the immaculate reception. Let's see what they have about hockey.
RACHEL: There was in spades, other stuff - very interesting stuff
JOHN: What were the things off the top of your head that you can remember falling under the category of Western Pennsylvania sports? There was the Steelers.
RACHEL: Steelers, check.
JOHN: Baseball Pirates.
JOHN: Also, bocce.
RACHEL: Mountain climbing?
JOHN: What's this? National marble champion! What! Doug Opperman, national marble king tournament champion, 1940. A city of Pittsburgh champion for several years in the late 30s, Opperman competed in the national marbles championship in 1939. Look at this kid. And that's one of his marbles and that's his little marble bag, and that's his crown of marbles. You have to understand this looks like an old timey king crown that instead of having precious jewels arrayed in the border and on top, it has marbles
JOHN: And the most beautiful sweater vest of all time. I mean what Brooklyn hipster would not want a sleeveless white sweater that says marble king of Western Pennsylvania, 1930 whatever on it.
RACHEL: King Opperman had a lovely display, but even more real estate was devoted to the Satellites.
JOHN: Right, so the Satellites were an all-women, all-black softball team that had been started by the United Black Front, which was this black nationalist organization in Pittsburgh and boy oh boy, they had a full uniform from this team with Satellites in the back, United Black Front on the front, it was the coolest thing.
JOHN: Satellites softball team of 1970, included women of various ages from teens to seniors - my God, what an incredible photograph. Holy moly, I want to see this movie right away.
RACHEL: So we were finding some amazing stuff about the history of sports in Western Pennsylvania, but the thing we were seeing was anything about hockey at all.
JOHN: And just when I thought we might not ever find it, it was like we kind of stepped through a little wardrobe or a magic portal or something. We turned a corner and it was like here it is. And tucked away in a little balcony above the main area of the museum, was the hockey exhibit.
RACHEL: And we were getting like really stoked because we thought we were going to see a bunch of extinct hockey stuff.
JOHN: What’s great about Pittsburgh sports is that all of their teams have the same color -- black and yellow. Maniacal consistency across all the major league sports.
RACHEL: So when we finally got to the exhibit, we went looking for a jersey for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the hockey team, because that’s really the origin of that black and yellow color scheme.
JOHN: Because they were ramshackle, one of the coaches knew someone on the police force and got a bunch of old uniforms that were being discarded and took off the patches from the police force uniforms and started putting them as emblems on the hockey sweaters of the new Pittsburgh Pirates.
RACHEL: That is totally wild.
JOHN: This is great interesting history, right, this is part of their sports history. And it’s actually a really IMPORTANT part of their history. But when the Penguins hockey team went to change their colors in 1980 from blue and white to black and yellow, the Boston Bruins - which is another hockey team who already had a black and yellow logo - they put up a fight. But the Penguins could point to the hockey Pirates - their city's very first hockey team - as binding precedent for why they should get to use those colors too and the NHL agreed. If it were not for the hockey Pirates, they’d be blue and white. Which is an appropriate color for penguins. BUT NOT FOR PITTSBURGH.
RACHEL: There was one thing in the collection.
JOHN: It was a program for a hockey game between the Pittsburgh Pirates at the Ottawa Senators and that was it. It was a program from an away game. This was not what I expected and to find out why they had overlooked such a big part of not just extinct hockey history but hockey history we called the museum itself.
RACHEL: To ask them - where the hell is your extinct hockey team stuff.
JOHN: Yeah, exactly, where is the extinct hockey exhibit that I want?
ANNE MADARASZ: There's not a whole lot that survives from that team.
JOHN: I see.
RACHEL: This is Anne Madarasz, the director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.
ANNE: So far there are a couple pieces that are out in the community that I know about.
JOHN: Like what?
ANNE: There's a jersey that survives. There’s a private collector that has a great early collection. He has a basement full of stuff. I have seen pictures of his basement that have to be seen to be believed and who knows what else is out there. I mean there are a number of very wealthy collectors who are Pittsburgh collectors.
JOHN: So you see what I'm up against. There are other extinct hockey enthusiasts who are hoarding this stuff making it impossible for me to enjoy my hobby because they're keeping it all for themselves. So let me say this to you out there. To the anonymous hoarder of Pittsburgh Pirates booty this is John Hodgman an extinct hockey fan just like you and an advocate on behalf of the city of Pittsburgh. Let people see their hockey history. To quote Indiana Jones, that belongs in a museum. It was a frustrating visit I have to say but there was one consolation Rachel as you remember.
JOHN: There was a big separate exhibit on pinball so I was just going to lose myself in some silver ball and try to get my composure back.
JOHN: Oh Captain Fantastic obviously. Elton John, oh, and Xenon. I remember this from playing as a kid… That's pretty sexy for a pinball machine… I remember this… I hope you got a lot of tape in that digital recorder because I'm gonna be playing all night.
RACHEL: Spoiler alert: John does not play pinball for the rest of the night. In fact, John has to leave the museum and go to his first-ever hockey game. Coming up after the break.
RACHEL: From Gimlet Media this is Surprisingly Awesome, I'm Rachel Ward.
JOHN: And I’m John Hodgman. And I am about to go to my first ever hockey game… because if I want to know if real hockey is better than extinct hockey, my favorite sport, I have to actually go to a real live hockey game. Rachel is making me do it. But I don't want to go into battle unprepared. So before I go, I call up this guy.
JOHN: Hi Greg how are you?
GREG WYSHYNSKI: I'm good John, how are you? Do you remember me by the way?
JOHN: No, I don't.
GREG: I am unfortunately the one who eliminated you from the 12 Guests of Christmas two years ago on the Olsen twins question.
JOHN: Greg. That's right, hockey blogger!
JOHN: Not just hockey blogger Greg, he has a last name. His name is Greg Wyshynski. He also has two - count ‘em - two hockey podcasts. Merrick vs Wyshynski and Puck Soup.
JOHN: And you have a blog, covering professional hockey, is that correct?
GREG: That is correct, it's called the Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo Sports.
JOHN: On Sunday I'm gonna go to go to a hockey game.
JOHN: For the first time in my life. I'm going to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to see the Pittsburgh Penguins play another team. What team is it Rachel?
RACHEL: The Tampa Bay Lightning.
JOHN: The Tampa Bay Lightning, have you heard of them, they're a team I guess.
GREG: Yes, a Floridian-based team.
GREG: Uh, yes
JOHN: Since this is my first hockey game, first question: what are the rules of hockey?
GREG: (laughs) The rules of hockey are many.
JOHN: What's the thing that I should know to watch for in gameplay?
GREG: There's a book I wrote this year called Take Your Eye Off the Puck and it's the best advice you could have a live hockey game, which is don't follow the play necessarily. Cuz you'll get to watch the Jumbotron and see what happened with the guy who had the puck. I would say 90 percent of the time it's somebody who didn't do their job that's allowing that goal to be scored, whether it's the goaltender giving them a bad goal or a defensive player allowing somebody to be open who shouldn't be open, it's very interesting to see the ballet of other players away from the puck to see how these plays develop.
JOHN: I love extinct hockey. I'm a big Hartford Whalers fan.
GREG: Oh, that's brilliant. Yes, remember the Whale. Hockey fans in total are their own little cult here in the United States. In Canada it's completely different, everywhere you go there's hockey. But in the US we all kind of have to find each other and… there's a, we're a very vocal, loud, wonderful little cult of hockey fans within the larger sphere of sports in the United States. The ritualistic stuff from being a hockey fan, you know watching the games and believing whether or not you were drinking a cup of pink lemonade would somehow affect whether or not they scored a goal, that kind of mania. And also my father...
JOHN: Wait, wait, wait, stop, stop talking. What is the pink lemonade superstition? Is this a hockey-wide superstition or just a Wyshynski superstition?
GREG: Oh it's a Wyshynski superstition but that's, it's representative of the overall hockey mania that occurs where you believe your actions in life will determine whether or not a rubber disc that's on a slick surface will bounce the right way during a game.
JOHN: Okay what Greg is describing here - the superstition of sports fans - it drives me a little crazy because I'm a nerd, I'm a human of science and this is anti-science. And, also, by the way? if these guys are your heroes, what kind of heroes are they if you can control them with your mind?
RACHEL: And lemonade.
JOHN: I have respect for athletes, honestly. And not merely because they could hurt me. But also because they accomplish amazing things through training. Through training and practice and scientific analysis of the work that they're doing day in and day out. It's not up to you Greg to drink your lemonade the right way to make it come out, it's an insult to the thing you claim to appreciate. Ah, let's go back to tape.
GREG: My father was not a man of, or is not a man of great financial means, so when we would go to Devils hockey games we would sit in the cheapest seats at the Meadowlands Arena and the action on the ice would only be eclipsed by the taunting and occasional fist throwing in the cheap seats at the arena. And from that point on I was hooked.
JOHN: And how old were you?
GREG: I was probably around 7.
JOHN: And you were getting into fights?
GREG: Well, I was witnessing fights. I once, my sister once had a beer thrown at her by a Rangers fan because they got into an argument about the Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur, and the beer whizzed past her head and hit the back of the head of an off-duty New York detective. So that was a fun time, too.
JOHN: It was like a cup or beer or like a bottle of beer?
GREG: It was a full cup of beer.
JOHN: And how old was your sister when she was mixing it up over, in this goalie dispute?
GREG: Ah, I would say roughly 12.
JOHN: Ha! And a grown man threw a beer at her?
GREG: Oh no a grown woman threw a beer at her.
JOHN: So far what I'm hearing is, a woman is going to throw a beer at me.
GREG: (laughs) Well it depends, are you going to be wearing a Lightning sweater? Because that would exponentially increase the probability that someone in Pittsburgh would throw a beer at you. But if you were to wear a Hartford Whalers sweater to this Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay game, not only would it be appropriate as representing the Whale, remembering the Whale if you will, but no doubt fans would rush to you and tell you how much they appreciate the fact that you are keeping the Whalers alive in spirit and memory.
JOHN: Are they going to show me … they show their affection with their fists?
GREG: No. No they will show you affection, they will throw flowers and sweets at you like a conquering army.
JOHN: Greg, honestly I'm now very excited to see the game.
GREG: You'll love it.
RACHEL: Alright here we are.
JOHN: Here we are. So, hang on a second I want to go over here and listen to my favorite song. [singing] Sports sports sports sports hockey hockey hockey.
RACHEL: Oh you know all the lyrics.
JOHN: Yeah I do.
JOHN: Set the scene. Consol Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and suddenly we're there in the heart of western Pennsylvanian professional hockey.
RACHEL: And so at this point, you are wearing what hat?
JOHN: I'm wearing my Whalers hat because Greg told me it would be okay. And actually, I'm not sure if I told you that there was probably a good fifteen minutes at the hotel before we left where I was deciding whether to wear my Whalers hat, my new Penguins hat or my Nordiques hat or to bring all three of them. It was a sad fashion montage from an 80s movie. Just trying on all three hats and thinking to myself, “Which one is less likely to provoke someone getting mad at me?”
RACHEL: So we made our way up to the seats.
JOHN: All the way up. Suddenly I'm at the lip of an elliptical hockey pit with ice at the bottom. It was very dramatic. And the energy was really positive. And everyone was really excited. I felt at home in a way that I didn't imagine that I ever could. And every now and then a man dressed up, I presume a man could be a woman, dressed up as a giant penguin… And lead the Penguins fans in the most rudimentary chant I've ever heard. This is the chant: Let's go Pens. Let's go Pens. Not a very subtle chant.
JOHN: I don’t want to nitpick but it really should be let’s go Pengs.
JOHN: But even then I was into it enough to overlook that bit of pedantry. And I was chanting it as well.
JOHN: Let's go Pens.
JOHN: And in that moment of anticipation I put on my brand new Penguins hat that I'd gotten at the airport. And I was like, let's go Pengs. Let's go Pengs. Let's go Pengs.
JOHN: I have to say one of the pleasures that one gets out of extant hockey as opposed to extinct hockey is that real hockey actually happens.
RACHEL: I guess you can't watch extinct hockey.
JOHN: You know it just struck me… they're skating on ice. What they're doing is crazy. It requires a tremendous amount of physical skill, endurance and grace, just to keep going. Because your body is working tremendously just to stay upright all the time.
JOHN: As we went into the first of the three regular time periods, I was like this is never going to happen. There's no way that someone can make a goal in this thing. Hockey is a game of intensely watching things almost happen. Only to be frustrated at the last second that it doesn't happen. And this tension increases and increases and increases and when the impossible thing does happen and a goal does get made, it's like you've witnessed a quantum event. Like this is impossible. You jump up and you chant let's go Pens.
JOHN: Alright the explosion in this room and every fiber of my body. The pent up anticipation of a thing happening. It happened! I feel really great. Here's what I saw happen. One of the hockey players for the Penguins got the puck, got close to the goal, shot at the goal. We thought it was going to go in. It didn't. Huge disappointment. But then there was another Penguin. Snuck back in and we didn't even see it happen but got into that score hole and we got a point.
JOHN: It's powerful. It's a powerful feeling. That was when hockey was fun. But Rachel do you know what? In hockey, I've learned through journalism, it turns out the other team can get goals as well.
RACHEL: Just say what happened.
JOHN: Okay, so, ugh, I followed a very nerve-wracking moment when Fleury narrowly escaped having a goal made on him when the puck slid right in front of the goal without going in.
RACHEL: Along the line.
JOHN: And then just as we were recovering from the terror that it would have been a tied game with three minutes left in the third period, uh, Tampa Bay scored an undeniable goal. It was across the line. And now we are tied 3 to 3, two minutes and 54 second left and I'm… I have knots inside and I'm wondering why people do this to themselves.
JOHN: And as third period ended it was a tie, and that's when things started to turn. Because in playoff hockey, it's a little different. A tie at the end of regular play is settled very simply. You play until someone scores. And whoever scores wins. And that could be a very long time, several extra periods, or a very short time. It’s called Sudden Death. And that’s when you decided to go to the bathroom.
RACHEL: Can I just, can I please just defend myself?
RACHEL: They put a like 15 minute clock and at minute 7 on the 15 minute clock I went to the bathroom.
JOHN: Here's the thing neither one of us were making smart decisions at this point because after 60 full minutes of hockey with 15 minute breaks between the periods now this had become a rather prolonged experience of sensory overload with flashing lights. The penguin that I enjoyed so much who was banging on that pot, let's go Pens. Now made me feel like I was an enslaved galleyman on an ancient Greek warship heading towards my doom and also it's freezing in there.
RACHEL: Yes it's very cold in the CONSOL Energy Center.
JOHN: I was fried. I was like, all of the fun good feelings that I had had at the top of the game were now in a dark hockey pit.
JOHN: We're back for overtime, which I suspect will be even more emotionally punishing than regular time hockey.
JOHN: But here's the thing Rachel I'm glad you left. It gave me a moment alone with hockey. Remember everything that I said about science before?
RACHEL: Yeah you were firmly pro-science.
JOHN: It all, that all went away. And I just knew if I put on my Hartford Whalers hat it would help the Penguins win. The universe would know that I had been led from this hipster tattoo to this hat to this podcast to this town, to not just watch but participate in the victory of this team and surely the gods of sports must know that if I put on my Hartford Whalers hat and the Penguins win through my superstitious intervention that makes for a good ending of a podcast, right?
RACHEL: Sure would.
JOHN: I have put on my Hartford Whalers hat. With the hope, the irrational superstitious hope the whale will help the Penguins due to them both being marine animals.
JOHN: I put it on and it turned out I bet wrong. Within I would say 7 seconds of putting on that Whalers hat: Bolts score, game is over. I didn't even know that it was over. There was not a single groan of defeat among the Penguins fans around me. The entire arena went dead silent and in my memory it just went dark and as I sat there in the darkened arena I realized that I had done this. I had brought the curse of the Hartford Whalers. I thought that I was helping but I'm pretty sure the Penguins lost that night because of me, because I have mental powers.
RACHEL: You were sucked in. You were completely buying it in that moment.
JOHN: So now I do have a deeper appreciation for non-extinct sports, but, I don't know Rachel, I don't think they're for me.
JOHN: It's safer for me as a human, emotionally, and I think safer for sports, that they not be cursed by me. And I should just stick with extinct sports. Cause I can just enjoy them without having to worry about the outcome, because it all happened a long time ago. Extinct hockey is like reading a tragedy, or watching a sad movie. But watching non-extinct hockey, it’s like LIVING that tragedy.
RACHEL: So that’s where you’re at. Seems like you LIKE real hockey, but you LOVE extinct hockey. It’s reliable. It’s like set in stone. It is very sad, but it’s predictable. It’s your first love.
RACHEL: So what now?
JOHN: I'm looking forward to getting some Pirates merchandise but in the meantime I can be very excited because I can make my own hat with my own negative space logo designed by Peter Good that he sent me today.
RACHEL: Oh my God. It’s …
JOHN: Isn’t that ...
RW: Oh my God, it's amazing. It looks just like the Whalers logo, it's the same colors, but it's your initials, so there’s a lowercase J and a negative space uppercase H, and so obviously we are gonna have to put this on the website so people can see it.
JOHN: Did you hear the unbridled happiness and joy in your voice. Isn't that as much joy as one might get out of a score goal? Like this is a total score. My hero designed a negative space logo for me. Good design is worth cheering too. Let's go Good. You good designer.
JOHN: Surprisingly Awesome’s theme song is by Nicholas Britell. Our ad music is by Build Buildings. We were edited this week by Annie-Rose Strasser. We were produced by Kalila Holt and Rachel Ward.
RACHEL: Isabel Angel, Misha Euceph, Piers Gelly, Elizabeth Kulas, Kyle McAuley, and Rikki Novetsky provided production assistance. Additional music for this episode came from Podington Bear and Lux Finite.
JOHN: Andrew Dunn mixed the episode.
RACHEL: And Miragh Bitove at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto helped us out with a research question.
JOHN: You can also tweet us @surprisingshow, email us at email@example.com. And our Tumblr is TrueSharkAttackStories.tumblr.com.
RACHEL: Surprisingly Awesome is a production of Gimlet Media.
RACHEL: John Hodgman, this is your life.
JOHN: Oh. No thank you.
RACHEL: We told you we were gonna record promos with Nazanin? Ask the person on the phone who they are.
JOHN: Who are you person?
SCOTT TOMFORD: Hi John Hodgman this is Scott Tomford. And I'm the guy with the Hartford Whalers tattoo.
JOHN: What? Are you sure?
SCOTT: I'm sure.
JOHN: Show it to me over my headphones. How did they find you? Where are you? OK I've got many questions. Was this a genuine Hartford Whalers appreciation tattoo as an appreciation of the team or a genuine appreciation of the logo or an ironic appreciation of both?
SCOTT: It was kind of a swirling of all of those things. I was at the final Hartford Whalers game as a kid. The final Hartford Whalers game was the day before my 10th birthday. I cried my little eyes out because I was a sensitive kid during the game and then at the very end of the game all of the Hartford Whalers circled the arena - I don't know if you've ever watched the footage of this or anything but they circled the arena afterwards - after they say the stars of the game or whatever and they started throwing out pucks and stuff and like waving to fans and my mom actually you know grabbed one of the pucks so I still have a puck from that final game, laying around in my apartment.
JOHN: That last Whalers game when they all said goodbye. Did they win or lose?
SCOTT: They won.
JOHN: Good for them.