The Games of April

I know it’s April because the cherry blossoms are blooming, because the rest of the trees are shaking loose their excess that turns my car varying shades of maroon and green. I know it’s April because there’s that smell in the air; a smell of rebirth, of warm breezes, of hope.

Even in the years when the Islanders were not playoff contenders, I could still pick up the scent of hope. It smelled more specifically like the eighties, those years when a Stanley Cup parade down Hempstead Turnpike threatened to become a tradition. There’s a certain combination of things — the weak warmth of the April sun, the dandelions slowly peeking up from the ground and the perfect blue of a spring sky — that bring to mind memories of hockey glory past.

For a while, we had just that, memories. Each April, we reminisced on what it was like to cheer on a meaningful game as the season wond down. We recalled playoff excitement — the optimism that would come when the weather turned slightly warmer and the playoff wars heated up.

It’s been a while since the signs of spring melded with the signs of post-season play. Yet here we are in April 2013, with the spring birds chirping, baseball in full swing and hockey games that mean something. Everything is in its right place again.

There’s a certain feeling that comes with following a team that continually lets you down. While being a sports fan tends often requires adopting a Facts of Life attitude — i.e. “you take the good, you take the bad,” there comes a point where you’ve taken so much bad you can no longer remember the good. The heady days of being a hockey dynasty are long removed — in fact, there are many Islander fans who weren’t even born yet during those days — and you’re left with spring no longer being a season of hope, but becoming a season of giving up and giving in. You resign yourself to yet another playoff-free year, turn your Islander shirt in for a Yankees cap, and in an attempt to numb the pain, dive headfirst into baseball. That can only offer so much consolation. No matter how many bases are stolen or flowers bloom, something’s missing.

Not this year.

It’s here. It’s in the air. A game last week against the New York Rangers awoke the sounds and sentiments of a rivalry that lay dormant. Here, in this April, that rivalry has been revived and restored the month’s promise.We dare, once again, to dream of Stanley Cups.

Oh, those years. When the warm weather meant switching from your team’s Starter jacket to their sweatshirt. When you felt that surge of momentary happiness, the kind that comes from being a sports fan, from being a part of something bigger than yourself. All these people, all these regular season games spent with one common vision: Make it to the playoffs. Give us a postseason.

We may not as a people agree on so many things, so many important things, but for a few hours a night we have a commonality that supersedes any differences we may have. We are hockey fans. We are Islander fans.

As Islander fans, we know of hope. We know it can be dashed; our dreams of post-season taken from us too soon. This year, though, it doesn’t seem to matter. Maybe because the Isles are leaving Long Island soon and we’re holding on to this chance as one of our last for glory. The reason is inconsequential. What counts is that spring suddenly feels like spring is supposed to. Oh, yes, spring is the sound of baseball hitting bat, the crack of the home run, the silent appreciation of a pitcher’s duel. But for some of us, it’s also the sound of bodies hitting the sideboards, of whistles and goal sirens and arenas packed with people who associate spring with playoff hockey.

It feels good to welcome back all those sights and sounds and feelings of hope, even if in the far recesses of our minds we admit it may be short lived. For now, for this moment — when we understand why we are sports fans, why we devote so much of our hearts to a game — the air smells like spring and hockey. As it should be.

This is the April I know.

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