Hockey fans are as interesting to me as the game itself.
Rabid hockey fans are obsessed preachers determined to increase their sport’s flock. Leave polite discussion to football or baseball fans — hockey nuts operate at a fervent level that attracts devotion.
Yuki Nagasawa is one of those oh-so-interesting hockey super fans.
She learned the game, as I did, through the aural magnet of radio play-by-play announcers. For me, as a kid, it was an AM radio perched on my chest, under my bed covers late at night, delivering the scratchy, distant game calls of “Hockey Bob” Lamey on WIBC radio in Indianapolis.
A good radio call can make a segue to a commercial seem dramatic and exciting — and create a lifelong hockey fan. It worked for me.
For Yuki, it comes from dozens of internet radio announcers in every corner of the United States and Canada. Hockey radio taught her the game she now sees as a main reason for existence.
That is one of the only things she sees, since Nagasawa is legally blind. Her eyes can make out a few blobs of color, and if she sits next to the ice she might make out a human form whizzing past her. She will never see the majestic glint of light from the edge of the Stanley Cup — but she could hear how exciting that moment is.
Blindness is just one small obstacle for Yuki. She didn’t know anyone in her native Japan who liked hockey when she discovered it in the 1990s, so she moved to North America. She first landed in New York City to study piano and music — and to find ice hockey.
There was the detail along the way of learning English, which quickened her immersion into hockey-via-radio. I am still learning English, it seems, but Yuki has since added German to her Japanese and English. Germans play hockey, too, you know.
The smartphone and social media revolution of the last 10 years was a huge leap forward in the evolution for Yuki into a 24-hour-a-day hockey nut. Suddenly she could find her favorite broadcasters and other fans, from every level of amateur and pro hockey, and communicate with them.
Now she has 2,000 Twitter followers. She listens to about 100 hockey teams play games.
Even Twitter and e-mail is a study in dedication for Yuki. She listens intently to her phone as it voices letters for her. She painstakingly composes a Twitter message by finding each letter’s key. The computer also reads out the response for her to hear.
I might tap out a Tweet and see the reply in a moment, without even a thought. Each word Yuki sends or receives is her own athletic achievement.
It is internet radio and Twitter that led Yuki to Tucson. She found the broadcasts of American Hockey League’s Tucson Roadrunners, and play-by-play man Tom Callahan, during last year’s inaugural season. Callahan is a seasoned radio professional and one of hockey’s top play-by-play voices. His golden, excited tones caught Yuki’s attention, and those other 99 hockey teams would have to wait.
Yuki Nagasawa became an instant Roadrunners fan.
Tucson was such a mysterious hockey city to her, so she just had to visit. This is a common reaction for her, as she takes herself across the U.S. and Canada to arenas of her favorite radio announcers. Calgary, Chicago, throughout California — no hockey destination is too far from her Oakland, California, home.
And so echoes of “Hey, it’s Super Yuki!” welcomed her from other fans and team personnel as she returned to Tucson this past week. She had carefully scanned the Tucson Arena schedule, and discovered that the University of Arizona hockey team and the AHL Roadrunners would play five home games in three days.
Yuki was overjoyed: her new favorite hockey city also boasted a college team. “I think the Wildcats are so much better than ASU,” Yuki told me. (Yes, Yuki does her hockey homework.)
Just a few minutes after her arrival at Tucson Arena she sported a UA hockey jersey and hat. Fans recognized her instantly — it’s hard to miss a tiny Japanese woman decked out in a hockey jersey twice as large as her body, trying to find her way around an arena. Yuki travels by herself, and while she gladly accepts help to her seat this day, she emphasizes that she can find her way anywhere, eventually, on her own.
Nothing stops “Super Yuki” from connecting to her favorite game and her favorite teams that play it. I added the “super” to her name during last year’s visit, and she instantly adopted it as her nickname. Now she invokes the hockey gods with the plea “Super Yuki Power!” when one of Tucson’s teams needs a goal.
Step aside Wonder Woman. Super Yuki has these games covered.
Yuki is “super” to me because she loves hockey, not because of her blindness. She loves the positive personalities who play the game, and the positive people it attracts, and she loves to meet other crazy fans like herself. She knows she is a hockey zealot, and she craves to bring new fans to the game. Forget your hockey fan stereotypes — Super Yuki is smart, passionate, funny, and can talk hockey with anyone.
But why did ice hockey engulf this 44-year-old woman from Osaka, Japan?
“I fell in love with the speed of the sport, the sound of skates on the ice, and the sound of the puck hitting things,” she says. “I don’t see the action, but I hear the sound of the crowd, and the feeling in the arena. I am blessed.”
I am riveted to the action as I help on the radio call for one of those recent Roadrunner games at Tucson Arena. Someone attracts my attention, from the corner of my eye. It’s Yuki, sitting by herself, yet also connected to the crowd and her hockey team. Joy radiates from her face as she listens to Callahan’s game call through her earphones.
Super Yuki and I are now both weaved into the same fabric of this nutty Tucson hockey family. Please come back real soon now, ya hear?