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Cheering on the North Stars with Joyce George

The Wolves were hungry, but since they chose Stars for their prey they were bound to get burned. I've always wanted to write one of those sports story leads full of clichés, puns and metaphors.
Joyce George and I cheering on the North Stars.

The Wolves were hungry, but since they chose Stars for their prey they were bound to get burned.

I've always wanted to write one of those sports story leads full of clichés, puns and metaphors. Attending my very first North Stars hockey game Friday allows me to fulfill that dream.

The North Stars were facing playoff elimination Friday night when I joined Number One Fan Joyce George and 1,033 other folks for my first ever SJHL game.

It was a thriller. The North Stars were in a do or die situation and they did not disappoint the partisan home town crowd, pulling off a 3-2 overtime win to keep their fans' hopes alive.

It was a raucous event complete with horns, music to get the fans making even more noise and Joyce trying to out shout them all.

"I get loud," Joyce told me before the game.

I arrived about 15 minutes before game time and was impressed by the long lineups at both entrances to the Civic Centre. These were folks waiting to buy tickets. Trent Cey had picked up my advance ticket that morning, making sure I was assigned a seat next to Joyce.

After snapping a couple photos of the lineup, I ventured inside and found Joyce right where I was told she would be. She was arranging her fold up stadium seat and an extra cushion, getting ready to settle in for a night of hockey.

I received a Joyce George hug when she spotted me. She offered me one of her cushions, but I declined. Hockey games are three periods of 20 minutes each. I could stand 60 minutes of sitting on the hard surface.

We chatted a bit before the game, but it wasn't an optimum situation for two hearing impaired people. She warned about the loud thing, and admitted, "Sometimes I swear." I assured her I wouldn't be shocked since I wouldn't be able to pick her words out from the cacophony around us. I was wrong. I did hear the odd comment, but didn't hear any cuss words. She must have stayed on her best behaviour knowing the all revealing press was parked close by.

As the game started, Joyce's perennial sidekick, Tyler Beatch, settled in beside her. Tyler has been sitting next to Joyce, learning all about the game, for three seasons. He no longer spends all his time listening, however, as I heard a couple of disputes between the two on the intricacies of the game.

I don't know a lot about hockey, but I'm not a complete neophyte.

Friday's game, however, was my very first North Stars experience, and the game left me in awe of the players' skill. Their skating speed, their deft puck handling and their ability to jump right up and carry on after a bone-rattling hit held me spellbound. (I can't imagine how their mothers can stand all that roughness.)

We were seated right behind the goal crease and I began to wonder what the goalie is thinking about when the play is concentrated in the other end. I soon realized he is always intently focused on the game. The speed with which those young guys can get from the crease to their bench when a delayed penalty is called is amazing.

Joyce told me goalies need to be able to skate as well as all the other players on the team. She can make such statements with authority, drawing on four generations of hockey experience.

It was too loud for her to share much of her knowledge, but I did pick up some of her pet phrases.

"Birch, you get in your net and you stay there," came up several times.

Her disdain for the officials was also evident, and I have to admit, I thought they looked clumsy, often getting in the way of the play and players. I also witnessed a missed call that had both Joyce and Tyler sputtering. The play was right in front of the net and a member of the Ice Wolves blatantly grabbed a North Stars player around the neck, pulling his head backwards. These guys play rough!

During the period breaks, Joyce goes walkabout. She picks up her cane and makes her way into the concourse area where she needs to move around to loosen up her legs. On this evening she was finding it difficult to find a clear path through the throng in order to get up to speed. I offered my elbows to clear a path and that did the job.

She pointed out the George brothers legacy shrine on one wall and talked a bit about the teams her son, David, had played on and coached.

Then she began to work the crowd, stopping to visit with several fans, who all seem to know Joyce. Then she made her way back into the arena. Fans already seated held out their hands to grasp hers and help her along.

We were back to cheering on the North Stars. Hockey cheering isn't as orchestrated as football cheering. It is more a steady racket punctuated by intensified noise after a good play or an especially brutal check. And pandemonium after a goal is scored.

The scoring was sparse, but the shots on goal, almost tit for tat with the Ice Wolves slightly in the lead, mounted as regulation time wound down. As overtime loomed, I was wishing I hadn't declined the cushion.

During the overtime period a couple of young guys moved onto the bench in front of us. They are Joyce fans, and were likely thinking this was the last game they would be able to share with her this season. They bantered back and forth with her as the excitement mounted.

"I'm ready to root for both teams," I told Joyce. "I'm tired. I want to go home."

"I never cheer for the other team," she had told me earlier. "I don't put them down, but I never cheer for them."

She found my declaration shocking and in the end I cheered the North Stars right through the baffling "non goal" when the goal judge had a blonde moment to the game winner as the overtime period wound down.

It was a great way to end the experience. My energy level was flagging at the tail end of a busy work week, but the enthusiasm of the crowd seeped into my being. It took me a while to settle down after I got home.

There were three downsides to the event. The North Stars really need to do something about the colour thing. There is just no fun for a journalist in writing, "The Civic Centre was a sea of black and white Friday night."

I lost one of my Olympic mittens. If anyone picked it up maybe they could drop it off at the News-Optimist.

The other; my car got tagged where it was parked near Lawrence School. Fortunately it was only silly string.

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