Jackson Hole, Wyoming — a tourist town tucked in the side of the mountains — is the last place I thought I’d be on a Saturday night. As someone who doesn’t ski, snowboard or particularly enjoy snow in general, I never saw a reason to visit until one particularly boring night in Rexburg when Jordan, my boyfriend, and I discovered the Jackson Hole Moose Hockey game schedule. That night, they prepared to face off against the Cleveland Barons. Not that I was exceptionally excited about the prospect of driving two hours to watch a sport I knew nothing about, but, I figured, why not?
The drive led us through winding country roads and tiny, Podunk towns. Looking out the window, I imagined what it would be like to live there. Then I got my answer. I shouted for Jordan to stop, turn around and pull over. Confused, he pulled up next to a little trailer house, and right in the front yard stood a young moose.
Not fenced in, or even concerned when I rolled down my window to record a video, the moose continued his meal of front yard grass.
“It’s a good omen,” Jordan said. “The Moose are going to win tonight.”
Looking at the men uniformed in jerseys, pads, gloves, helmets, mustaches and mullets, their unruly manner seemed anything but graceful, until their skates met the ice.
Their skates glided across the arena’s surface with ease as they entered, accompanied by cheesy pump-up music.
“It’s about to get rowdy,” some overly enthusiastic fan yelled. “GO MOOSE!”
I was unsure of what that meant, and it didn’t take long to find out. Two minutes in, number 29 body slammed another player against the wall.
“FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT,” the boys in front of me screamed.
Do I even care where the puck is now? No. I want to see a fight too. But the player shakes 29 loose, and they both continue down the ice.
The whole experience feels like an experiment. In this experiment, I found that the number of beers consumed by a person directly correlates to an individual’s comfort level when dancing to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” in public. And the arena plays an incessant amount of embarrassing music to dance to. A crowd favorite was, of course, “Eye of the Tiger.”
“It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight. Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival,” the woman with the mullet yelled as beer spilled from her cup. I didn’t know women could have mullets.
By then, the man seated next to her rose to his feet, slung his arm around her shoulder and they led us into the chorus of the song together.
“And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night. AND HE’S WATCHIN’ US ALL WITH THE EYEEEEE OF THE TIGERRR.” They held out the notes for dramatic effect.
The dancing from the crowd grew more frequent, including from the woman seated next to me. She informed me she traveled all the way from New Zealand to ski and decided to pop in to see her first hockey game. We chatted for a bit, as it is usually easy to make friends with drunk people.
I had a few questions throughout the game — and so did my New Zealand friend — but we didn’t want to ask anyone for fear of looking ignorant. Some of those questions included: Why does hockey play three periods instead of a normal two or four? In what world are you allowed to body slam someone into a wall, but get in trouble for tripping them? And finally, why is there no netting in front of where we are sitting?
That last question is the only one I truly care about, since the netting around the arena seems to protect everywhere but where we sat.
We sat right in the middle — the best seats if you wanted to see all the action. A few players collided near the glass wall closest to us. In the struggle for the puck, one player swings his stick and hits it away. The puck flies over the netting-less glass, and I duck just in time as the puck soars passed me and hits Jordan in the leg.
I decided I loved hockey right then, even though it tried to kill me. The Moose won six to five, and the crowd exploded in drunken delight. We high-fived the players on our way out the door.
The consensus? Hockey is like the taco bus; a restaurant you visit for the atmosphere, even though the food seems slightly dangerous.