As part of the Paul Kariya jersey retirement weekend I decided to take a trip down memory lane and dig through all of the needless items I have been carting with me as I move from parents’ house, to flat, to flat, to... flat again, then house, then new house.
You see - as a teenager I was absolutely obsessed with Paul Kariya. He was my introduction to hockey. He was the kind of player I wanted to be like. He was my hero.
I have so many memories of him that I am only just now realising how much of an influence he was on my life. I guess that whole leaving the team after the 2003 Cup Run made me try to forget as a coping mechanism, but the banner raising is raising emotions, and it is all coming back now.
I would collect his hockey cards - which in New Zealand was no mean feat. I think I remember finding some at a random garage sale once and feeling like I had won the lottery!
I still have them, and once again I am super surprised by how many I had managed to collect.
I remember drawing him in Art class. I’m pretty sure I did three different art projects that all featured him. I openly admit that I had a shrine in my room that consisted of nothing but Paul Kariya art and posters. Now, as the recognition of his contribution to the team draws nigh, I wish I still had some of that art. Hiding from me in the recesses of my home I have a pretty good pencil drawing, but I can’t find it right now to get a picture.
What I did find is probably the weirdest thing my Paul Kariya obsession produced.
My high school had a reciprocal relationship with a high school in Japan, and so every two years our school would send a tour group over there for two weeks. I managed to go when I was fifteen. I remember this very clearly because it was 1998, the year of the Nagano Olympics, and Kariya had been sidelined by the Gary Suter hit (which I got to see on TV here because our local cable TV company had covered that game).
One of the activities they had us do was make our own traditional stone sigils for stamping a signature on a letter or envelope. The local school support staff translated our surnames into Katakana, and then best represented that in Kanji on the stone stamp. I remember asking if I could get Kariya’s name instead, and throwing a cat among the pigeons. They couldn't understand why I wanted some random Japanese surname instead of my own. They also didn't really know who he was and my teacher on the trip did her best to explain that he was “some ice hockey player and this student was very excited about him”.
Anyway - I got my stamp and still have it to this day.
This walk down my Kariya-filled youth has turned into a complete random assortment of thoughts and memories, but through it has become very clear to me that he played a significant role in my development and in my identification of hero. Although a large number of the fanbase still has not forgiven him for failing to return after that 2003 Cup Run, I can look back at the person I was when he was King of the Ice and smile. His sigil is on my heart, still. I hope this weekend will engender a flood of memories for other fans. Perhaps it will prompt others to go dig into their basements, garages, attics- or perhaps perfectly untouched shrines- and rediscover the joy of all the times they, too, used to worship the first special player to ever don the Ducks jersey.
Or maybe I was just that weird kid in high school.