The game day skate open to the public had been going on for a few minutes, and Paul MacLean called the entire team in to the centre to stretch. The Ottawa Senators arranged themselves in a haphazard circle facing centre ice; they stretched at their own pace, sometimes paying heed to MacLean, sometimes chatting to their neighbours.
A pair to the right caught my eye: Zibanejad and Conacher stretched side-by-side, faces turned toward each other with a very short distance of ice between them. They talked, animatedly.
Later on in the skate, during a three-passes-then-shoot type of drill, Bobby Ryan skated out of his line toward where the centres were practising faceoffs, drifting, not really going anywhere in particular. Quickly enough, he was joined by Marc Methot, and they strolled from one blueline to the other, dangling their sticks and chatting.
Neither of these pairings were friendships I would have expected to spring up. But the very fact that I had a preconceived notion of what friendships should have formed suggested a concrete thing: I viewed this hockey team as more than individual components in a larger machine. I considered them in relation to one another, personally. This was a thought I was interested in exploring.
It’s natural, to a degree, to romanticize the players in a sport one loves, so as to render them more likeable and also more relatable. We form impressions of their personalities off tweets and team media interviews; we decide that tough guys are funny or that four-time 30-goal-scorers have thick skin. Thus it follows that we extend this romanticizing to the interpersonal dynamics of the team: who gets along with who, and who doesn’t.
There is much appeal in the idea of a “bromance” between certain favourite players. Not only does it signify implicitly that the players involved are intertwined irremovably in the fabric of this team, it seems to trigger the empathetic side of the hockey fan within us. Because we care for these players, on whatever level, the idea that these two players have found platonic love is by proxy satisfying and enjoyable.
Of course, the best part about conjecturing potential friendship between players is that there’s always a likelihood they’re real. A team full of people that spends seventy percent of the year together will inevitably form a veritable network of bonds within the boundaries of the locker room, the airplane and the rink. Imagining always abounds with possibilities; and perhaps the prospect of being corrected and learning which friendships exist in actuality is even sweeter.
This is also true for the unexpected friendships. Certain players are presumed to be on excellent terms, exemplified by Erik Condra’s asking Karlsson about his “Swedish friend” (referring, rather ambiguously, to Lehner) in a video completely unrelated to Sweden or friends. Last year, Silfverberg and Zibanejad were an item, if you will, due to their shared home country and their rookie statuses. Wiercioch and Turris are not an unpredictable pair, considering their native cities and their good ol’ Canadian-ness. Friendships are formed off of common grounds, and it’s often easy to pick out potential commonalities (as easy as it can be to envisage friendships between people whose off-ice personas are far less accessible to us as their on-ice personas).
But Zibanejad and Conacher is a little more unforeseen. They’re both in their second year with Ottawa, but beyond that—what is there? Zibanejad played in the Swedish league; Conacher played on the American college market. Conacher is old enough to be engaged, while Zibanejad is still young enough to be called an up-and-coming superstar. The only response available to us is that their personalities have somehow clicked: like true blue chemistry, they’ve become genuine friends.
And that idea is as intoxicating as any of the set-up friendship. Intangibles are both shunned and exalted in the sport of being a hockey fan, but in the end perhaps it’s off the ice where they shine the best.