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Gromotka: Hockey before dawn

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | FEBRUARY 17, 2014 5:00 AM

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Russia versus the United States. The Miracle on Ice — sort of — 34 years later in Sochi. I rise at 4:30 a.m. and start the coffee. By 5, my roommates have been rallied, and the car’s been warmed up. At 5:15, we’re walking through a deserted Ped Mall toward our destination, DC’s bar—not a typical way to start a Saturday morning.

Despite the early hour and frigid temperature, the popularity of the event soon becomes apparent. By 5:46 a.m., at my table on the upper balcony of the second floor, I can barely move my arms.

What started as a trickle through the doors has grown to a rushing tributary, and currents of patrons navigate their way through an ocean of Red, White, and Blue. There are too many people here to count. Every TV has been set to the NBC Sports Network for a live broadcast of the game. After bouts of dancing and chanting, the match starts, but it seems — from the corresponding noise level—that many people missed the opening faceoff. The sun starts to rise at 6:50 a.m.

Why is everyone — me included — here so early to witness an event easy to stream online later in the day? One individual, wearing the Stars and Stripes on a bandana around his head, has been here since the bar was vacant. He’s been swinging around a tall mug of light-colored beer and pumping his hands in the air to the loud dance music. Others sit with their eyes glued to one of many TVs, strictly here for the hockey. One tall, strong-looking man wears a Russian jersey. Maybe to stand out, put on a show, cause a ruckus. Maybe he just likes Russia. Behind me, I hear someone yell:
“[A word not fit for print] the communists.”

Wait. What? Is that why we’re here? Why a company of proud Americans has set up base in this downtown bar? Because of disdain — joking or not — for something more than 20 years in the past? My logic certainly hopes not, but the energy of the crowd at DC’s has a different, louder part of my conscious too busy pounding on the table and chanting “USA” to notice.

Deep into the first period, it would seem that nationalism has given way to typical, loud bar ambiance, a suffocating mumble. Still, the match dictates crowd behavior, every positive move by the United States a victory, a celebration that starts with the vigilant fans and quickly ripples through the rest of the crowd. In a similar fashion, every instance of negativity spreads like tragic news, the anger you feel when you learn someone has dented your car in the parking lot, the emotion of a Shakespearean play crammed into the space of three or four seconds.

I suppose we’re here because it’s fun—whatever that word means on the individual level: hockey fans and ecstatic bar-goers and hybrids of the two mixing and mingling for their own reasons. The rivalry game eventually ends in a shootout, a 3-2 victory for the United States. Even as a casual spectator, the match was something to behold, and the environment at DC’s — while confusing — certainly helped make it memorable. For the semi-hockey fan and avid people-watcher, it’s something worth checking out.


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