I hadn't been to a Boston Bruins hockey game in more than 20 years before a recent November weekend, when I took my seven year-old daughter to her first game. When I was growing up, in the ‘80s, my mom and I would make it to a game or two every year, and each time was a big deal. I'm happy to pick up the tradition, but couldn't stop thinking about how different the multimedia extravaganza of the current TD Garden experience is from the gritty and scruffy thing it was back at the old Boston Garden.
The Garden back then had long metal rows with uncomfortable hard yellow plastic seats, and you and your section-mates were really "sitting together." The best seats we ever had were about five rows from the glass, and I remember there was a big guy at the end of our row whose slightest move made us all wobble. And when everyone jumped up for a goal I was catapulted upright. I knew they were great seats, and not just because I caught a puck that day that had flipped over the glass from Garry Galley's stick -- or rather, I found the puck, lying on the floor logo side up among the Coke cups and hot dog wrappers.
The seats are more comfortable now, and the game itself is just as fun as we watched the Bruins beat the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime. But I couldn't shake the feeling that that the roomy seats, the unobstructed views, the flashing lights and enormous replay screens, come at the price of something authentic.
I hate to sound too curmudgeonly, because you don't have to think long about the problems with the old Garden. Its laughably inadequate ventilation system, the ice too small for the NHL, the thousands of fewer seats than any other arena. And we were lucky never to sit in the obstructed view seats, under the balcony that cut off the view of about a third of the ice.
It would have helped if the new place wasn't so aggressively anonymous, a charmless concrete box with none of the Art Deco presence of the real Garden. A place that is such a blank it has had a dozen names since it opened in 1995, and will probably have a few more in the future.
If the old Garden was raucous, the new one is just noisy. The aural assault of piped in music and sound effects is artificial and insulting. When it quiets down during play, all that's left is a distracted, nervous hum, like intermission in a theater. And the big irony is that it explodes in canned noise when the B's score, drowning out what would be the loudest moments. I don't think you have to be a complete reactionary to think this is all mixed up.
I saw all these differences, and kept explaining them to my daughter to make sure she at least knew about them. I'm sure she she's sound on the fundamentals: that is, I know she likes hockey. We've spent several winters watching as many Williams men's and women's hockey games as we can get to. Sitting through them and paying attention was a prerequisite.
And it seems she took away from the experience all the right things. She reveled in the anticipation the day of the game, getting her jersey on and riding the T with other fans to the stadium. Some things she couldn't help herself but love, like getting her picture taken with the Bruins mascot, Blades. But other things she notes only in bemusement. She was baffled by the "Ice Girls," the skating cheerleaders who swan around and throw T-shirts to the crowd. "I just don't understand that," she said. "Why don't those girls just play hockey?"
Of course, a big part of it is that hockey was more than just a thing to watch. Yes, there was following the Bruins, but it was about time with my mom, not just our trips to the Garden, but also driving at dawn on weekends to one of my games in Keene, New Hampshire or South Windsor, Connecticut. It was time with my friends and teammates, and what you learn about yourself from playing. And about the way I came back to the game when life settled down. When I started going to pickup games now and then, and when my kid said that she wanted to start learning to play.
So for now, I try to give her a sense of tradition and history, and the people now and then that live it. We spent the week before watching YouTube videos of Bobby Orr, and she is probably the only kid in her class who knows Cam Neely and Johnny Bucyk's numbers. I hope it sticks.
Christopher Marcisz is an occasional Eagle contributor.