I blame my brother.
I’ve always enjoyed hockey, but I was never what you would call a huge fan. I never had the time, and besides, I was so wrapped up in my Atlanta Braves fandom that I never thought I would have the time to follow another team, let alone another sport. Sure, I’d flip the TV on when the NHL would present one of those outdoor games. I was always aware enough that I knew who the best players were across the league and I knew who was playing for the Stanley Cup. So, even though I enjoyed what I knew and watched of the sport, I never found myself that invested in it.
Then, Jason took me to a Lightning game. I’d been to NHL games before, but this was different. It grabbed a hold of me in a different way. I found myself ecstatic and knew I wanted to go back and just experience it all again.
The next year, I found myself watching the Lightning when they were on national television. They were playing great hockey and were primed to make a deep run in the playoffs, so I ponied up for an NHL.tv subscription and while I didn’t watch every game in real time, I’d watch the next morning while I was working. When the playoffs started, they seemed to get even better. The next thing I knew, they were in the Finals and it was excruciating when the Blackhawks beat them. I thought they were headed back the following year, but the damned Penguins (and injuries) put a stop to the season in the conference finals.
Last year, I ached when superstar forward Steven Stamkos went down early in the season. I celebrated when Nikita Kucherov emerged as one of the top players in the league, especially down the stretch. The Lightning may have missed the playoffs, but if Stamkos could get healthy, I knew they’d be back this year.
They’ve come out of the gate like gangbusters. Through the first few weeks of the season, they have clearly been the best team in the Eastern Conference and, for the record, they beat the best team in the Western Conference in their only head to head matchup so far.
As a collector, this fandom has led me to start collecting some Tampa Bay Lightning hockey cards. I’m desperate to limit the collecting to just base team sets and a single autograph for every player on the current team. So far, I haven’t gone overboard. My Lightning collection consists of a single binder and a handful of auto cards in plastic display cases. To my shock, the cards haven’t even been that expensive, but I know, if I don’t show restraint, this whole thing can get away from me.
Collecting is a sickness. It’s why I keep getting base Topps baseball card sets each year even though I hate, hate, hate the direction they’ve taken. It’s why my office is filled with binders and boxes of baseball cards that realistically, I might never look at again. It’s why I keep every card I get of any Atlanta Braves player even when I already have potentially dozens of the same card.
I can’t allow my Lightning fandom to send me in the same direction. My bank account can’t handle it. My time and attention can’t handle it. It’s a struggle though. It’s like an addiction and I’m fighting that voice in my head that says I should fill up a shopping cart at COMC with every Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergechev card I can find. What’s another player collection after all?
I haven’t done it yet.
Did I mention I blame my brother?