Note: I wrote this awhile ago, but wanted to post it on the site, especially with the playoffs coming up.
Growing up in a hockey family that told you stories about the Minnesota North Stars and evil Norm Green while donning you in Minnesota Moose apparel was a confusing time for a kid. Being a sports fan, it made sense that I would have a hockey team, but with no pro team, that made it difficult. Somewhere in the mid-90s I made the choice to become a Detroit Red Wings fan. I mean, I was a free agent fan, and had the right to make whatever choice I felt like.
Yeah, the Red Wings were successful, and that factored into that decision no doubt (as it does for most kids), but I also loved everything about their asthetics-- their jerseys, logos, colors...etc. They were also reasonably regional to Minnesota, so that was that.
(The talk about the "HockeyTown vs State of Hockey "rivalry" drives me nuts considering the Wings are 30-9-3 against them all-time. That's not a rivalry, that's a domination.)
People ask me, "Why not the Black Hawks?" to which the answer is simple: NORTH STARS FAMILY PROPAGANDA. No way I could've become a Black Hawks fan at that time. Basically, I was brainwashed to dislike the Stars and Blackhawks; these teams had no chance.
Lots of my friends were Avs fans, which was fine since we didn't have a hockey team yet (Now you're starting to see how much moving a team affects the community they left behind).
In the subsequent years, I followed them through Stanley Cup and through leaner years. I grew to love players like Igor Larionov, Sergei Federov, Steve Yzerman, and Nick Lidstrom and the age-defying Chris Chelios. Brett Hull was probably my favorite; how could you not love that one-timer? In fact, seeing Dominik Hasek get his ring is a pretty great all-time moment in my sports watching life.
Then came the Wild, and I gave them a shot. Marion Gaborik's potential was intriguing, though his tenure in Minnnesota was often frustrating to watch as every contract extension left you wondering how management could've handled that better. They were a new team, and fans came out in droves to watch an expansion team grow. By the time time the Wild's '03-'04 playoff run came around, I was still cheering for the win, and actually got caught up in the thrill of the run. They downed Colorado, who I grew up not liking because of their rivalry with the Wings. Then they upset Vancouver, my least favorite team in all of pro sports, as the eighth seed in the next round. This was getting fun, but it would stop in Anaheim against a red-hot JS Giguere.
During this time I was still following the Red Wings and still had rooting interest in them through this point. Still, I had my Wild gear, and was doing my best to fall hard for them. Yet, it still didn't feel the same, despite the undeniably thrilling playoff run, and up until now I never really understood why I felt that way. Looking back, the Wild were always fun because they were usually a scrappy bunch of underdogs, but I've grown to not value that as much. They were the local team, and much of my family had gotten behind them, so I still followed.
The rest of the Lemaire-Riesborough era had it's up and down, but the Pavol Demitra-Gaborik years were probably my favorite, and it was kind of cool to watch them bring in low-risk/high-reward guys like Dwayne Roloson, and watch them thrive. It still drove me crazy, even then, how fans overvalued some of the roster and ultimately seemed content with a team that had a ceiling of the 8th or 7th seed.
It felt like there was a country club culture, and with fans still selling out every game, management or ownership never had any pressure to put a true contender on the ice because they were still making money. After all, if you're not going to win a championship, what's the point of spinning your wheels in mediocrity? The stupid sell out streak seemed like more of a priority than winning a cup, and that bothered me. The previous ownership's committment to making money over winning was never more apparent to me than when they began to rebuild, but raised season ticket prices. So, I stopped going but still watched.
And, in the mean time, I still followed the Red Wings, even though I thought the Wild had become my favorite team.
Then came this summer before the lockout, almost a year after the Dany Heatley trade, they locked up Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to massive contracts, and it seemed like management finally began to realize they had to start building towards something if they wanted a (generally) fairweather fan base to still give a damn.
For even the most bandwagon and fair weather fan, this should've been enough to seal their interest for at least a season or two. Me? I thought it was cool, and I was no longer disgusted with the way the team was being run; the product now matched the ticket prices, and they no longer looked like they were trying to steal money from their fans.
Still, my reaction of, "That's cool" was pretty telling to me and made me question my fandom and which team was really my favorite.
As I said above, I had been a fan of the Red Wings since the mid-90s, so let's say that's roughly 16 or 17 years. Through out my adolescence I had followed sports more times than others, latched onto some teams for a period, but always came back to the teams I orignally followed. For instance, I liked the Colts, but loved the Vikings. I liked the Bulls, or Michael Jordan, but loved the Timberwolves. I even, and excuse me, liked the Yankees (IT WAS A PHASE...I WAS 10), but loved the Twins. In the end, I always came back to the team I orignally fell for for. Was it so crazy that I would follow the same thought process with the Wild and the Wings? I'm not so sure anymore.
Aesthetically, I've never liked the Wild's logo, name or colors. And while their playoff runs were fun, I was always more affected by the Red Wings winning or losing, I've realized. Yeah, it sucks cheering indirectly for Todd Bertuzzi, but I've had more "moments" with the Red Wings, and that makes me feel like more of a fan. Really, if the Wild played anywhere else, it's not likely I would've given them more than a passing thought. I mean, I likethe Wild, but don't love them, and feel like I jumped on the bandwagon like the rest of Minnesota when the NHL expanded again to Minnesota.
For the people that did latch on to them, that's fine, but now I realize I always had a team. This is something I've been debating for the past few days, and always felt torn about, but I think I've figured it out. In that time I understand former North Stars fans that still cheer for the Stars-- that's still their childhood team. All of our thought processes are different, and maybe some still do that, but being a Stars fan was out of the question just like becoming a Blackhawks fan was. For me, the Red Wings were my childhood team, and for that reason I'll most likely always identify as a Wings fan than a Wild fan.
Glad I finally figured this out.