Hi, my name is Don and I am addicted to Bloomington Thunder hockey.
Two years ago, when the Thunder first started in the USHL, I have to admit I was a bit sceptical. I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy watching 16-20 year olds playing hockey. Having never watched any hockey that wasn’t NHL, I had no perspective for how well high-schoolers could play. I should have known better.
Now, let me preface this by saying that I have never been a “screaming from the stands” hockey fan. Until the Thunder came to town.
What I experienced in the first year was amazing gameplay bracketed by some amazing young men who are dedicated to success both on and off the ice. One of my favorite memories from that first year was from the event the players attended at the Children’s Discovery Museum. I have a son who, at that time was 8 years old. We had already been to quite a few games and even some post-game player skates, so I had thought my son would be okay “hanging out” with the much older (and larger) boys. Yes, I know, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now, there was nothing to fault from the players’ side; the players did their best to engage the younger kids. But for my son, it was a watershed moment when he realized that the players he cheered for were also still “the big kids”, and I think that hit him hard in the “shyness” nerve.
But then, one of the players came over, knelt down and started talking to him. He (the player) asked my son if he had been to the museum before, and what some of his favorite things to do there were. My son then proceeded to take him to the “building blocks” section near the cafeteria-style tables where the pizza was served earlier. They engaged for a while building and comparing, but like all 8 year olds my son’s attention moved on to something else.
It was at this point that it really hit home for me how tight-knit the team was, even back then. The player who engaged with my son then stayed at the building area and seemed to enjoy building things. As my son and I wandered through the other exhibits on that floor, I saw several other players come over and begin to interact with the building toys. They were laughing and joking with each other, and I thought to myself that here was a group of older boys that I would feel comfortable with my son looking up to as role models. That player became my son’s favorite for that season, and there were many times we would hear him yell “Go Boots!”
Fast-forward to this season. Yes, this year has been amazing and still promises to be so. Everyone involved with the team from the players, to the coaching and support staff, to the front-office staff all continue to impress us with every interaction. There was one night, after a less than satisfying loss, when my son skated up to one of the players at the player skate. He asked the player, “How does it feel to come out to skate with us after you lose?” That player responded, “I actually look forward to it, it cheers me up ESPECIALLY after we lose.” Once again, these young men impressed me. For a while, “Go Hally!” replaced “Go Boots!” (sorry Mr. Ghafari). Now he has learned all of the names and cheers for everyone (sorry Mr. Halliday).
To wrap this up, I have to share with “the folks back home” some of the interactions we have had with the Dubuque fans. First, let me ease your mind by saying that overall our interactions with the Dubuque fans have been positive (but obviously good-natured competitive talking was present). The two times I wish to address happened after the games. On Friday night, and again on Saturday night, we were approached by someone (once a member of the staff, once by a fan) and were told how impressed they were with how the players interacted with the kids in the stands, regardless of what team they were cheering for. They were very complimentary and wanted us to know. So now, I share it with you.
So, while it feels weird to wear shorts all day and then don a hockey jersey to cheer our boys on, it feels good to support a team and a league where on (and off) the ice our players continue to set an example to follow. At every opportunity, they go out of their way to engage and interact with the younger kids and make them smile (even if it is as simple as tossing a puck over the glass to a lucky fan). If you are looking for a sport to watch that is action-packed, has players that any parent would be proud of, and doesn’t require a drive into Chicago then come out and join us in shouting “Let’s go Thunder!” (bum bum bum da dum).