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What do we talk about when we talk about hockey?

The undefeated Sabres are at home tonight, playing Game No. 4 out of 82. All seems to be well in our house when a Sabres game is on either the TV or the radio.

Is hockey an opiate for the masses in Western New York? I can't speak for the masses, but it works for us. Hockey is the one sport through which I can connect with our 15-year-old daughter.

Maddie doesn't really care who wins the World Series, and she can't tell you on Friday who the Bills are playing on Sunday. But she knows which Sabres prospects are likely to be called up from Portland when the next injury strikes the big club.

When I was growing up I felt especially close to my dad when we watched a Mets baseball game or Giants football game together at our New Jersey home. I also remember Dad falling asleep when golf was on, but televised golf isn't really such a shared family experience.

I had a sociology professor in college named Janet Lever who focused on the sociology of sports. One of her observations was that sports cut across socioeconomic, race, gender and other boundaries. When your city's team is in the playoffs, the CEO or industrialist will likely strike up a conversation with the cab driver or elevator operator, and neither is self-conscious about it.

"How about those Bills?" (or Sabres or Yankees) is a great conversational equalizer.

I don't share many of Maddie's musical tastes (except for the Beatles, thank goodness!), and she's not likely to reveal much about her social life at school to the old man. But her passion for the Sabres gives us instant common ground. The time we spend talking about the hockey club reminds me of the countless hours I spent analyzing the Mets with my Dad.

We only get to one or two Sabres games a year in person -- I'm a little tight with the cabbage, you know -- but that makes it more memorable, more of a special event.

I know it's Homer Simpson-like to quote a commercial, but in our house, hockey really is a way of life.


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