By: Alaina Neal

Sundays were tradition growing up. My dad would wake up at 11:30 a.m. and sit in his reclining spot on the sofa and started watching football. Regardless of what point of the season, it only mattered that a game appeared on the screen 

Of course, as a family in northern Illinois, we watched every Chicago Bears game. Our household had two rules, cheer for “Da Bears” and whoever played against the Packers. I could name every NFL team, starting quarterback and most head coaches.

Furthermore, we had a Super Bowl party with plenty of food (usually homemade chili). Also, friends and family would come, it became a tradition regardless of who played in the big game.

Seldom in the summer time, I would hear my dad yell a bit at the TV because he had tuned to a Cubs game. Nonetheless, football was our family sport. The Monsters of the Midway were family and we had a dislike for Packer fans.

I cannot recall a time growing up when hockey appeared on tv. Nonetheless, thanks to the film Happy Gilmore, it marked my first exposure to the sport. The idea of taking off a skate to stab someone amused me (I still think it’s kinda funny but no one should ever do it). That would be it for hockey in my house, but here I am living in Chicago. With a wardrobe filled with hockey jerseys and shirseys and whatever else I can get my hands on.

I find myself making plans around the schedule of the Chicago Blackhawks. I’ve been to more games than I can count and my family still doesn’t watch hockey.

It’s uncommon to find people who get into a sport without the encouragement of their family. So whenever I meet someone who finds themselves in a similar predicament I love to find out why. So that’s why we are here trying to grow the sport.

This will become a recurring feature.  Talking to people who found hockey without the help of family or actually playing the sport.
Let’s start out with me. How did this football loving girl discover hockey?

Thank my middle school for that.

I am from Rockford, the home of the Chicago Blackhawks affiliate Rockford IceHogs. Before they were part of the American Hockey League and an affiliate of the Blackhawks, they were a team that played in Rockford that I had never paid attention to.

I played the clarinet in my band and one weekend our school hosted an event for the City of Rockford. The band teacher asked for students to volunteer to come in on a Saturday and play a song or two. I always jumped on these opportunities, so this was no exception.

The Monday after, my band teacher handed envelopes to those who participated. Inside were vouchers for two premium tickets to an IceHogs game, a thank you from the city. I figured it was something to do with my friends, so I just needed to convince my mom to take us. None of us had been to a game before, it was going to be fun and exciting.

The tickets got us seats in the second row on the center ice line. At some point in the game, a person on the opposing team was hit from behind and fell to the ground. When he came up blood was pouring from his mouth and he had lost his two front teeth.

And that would be all I need to fall for hockey. I have no idea what team we played, I don’t even remember if we won or lost, but I know I enjoyed every minute. My middle school and high school gave rewards for attendance and good grades. Thus, my friends and I would score free tickets to games that way.

Once we all started turning 16 and could drive or work, we started buying tickets and going more often. Nonetheless, when the IceHogs became an affiliate of the Blackhawks my attention steered to the NHL.

I remember fighting with my dad for control of the remote so I could watch parts of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. Also, another memory of mines includes a drive back from Elgin with my mom. Where I tried to convince her to let me listen to a game on the radio. I wanted to make sure the Blackhawks were going to keep their 2013 point streak alive.

I remember being at work in a newspaper office when they won the 2013 Cup. The lone girl standing in front of the TV watching the final minutes (and those 17 seconds) of game 6. I recall being upset when I had to work on the day of the parade that year. Another memory would be seeing the cup for the first time at a Rockford IceHogs game in 2013.

Then I moved to Chicago, which allowed me to attend games. Also, lonely times watching them in my apartment or with friends on some occasions. Furthermore, living in Chicago allowed me to go to fundraisers and events. I’ve been lucky enough to meet my favorite players and discover how wonderful it is to live in a city where hockey is so embraced by everyone here.

It was a slow burn into the hockey fandom, but there were some ugly moments. Being a Blackhawks fan, I have gained the label of a bandwagoner, but I found this sport on my own and I have grown to love it. I’ve met new friends and had fun being a fan, I wouldn’t change anything about my adventure into this sport.

I know I’m not the only one out there, so I want to share their stories. Those who haven’t spent their whole lives as fans, but those who found the sport in their own way.

In my next feature, I will be talking to Danii, a girl from Australia. Her journey to hockey started when she stopped on a sports channel while lazing on the couch due to the hot weather. She enjoyed that the program had ice in the title, and now has recently started her own hockey vlog.


E-mail: neal.alaina@gmail.com


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