LYNDEN, Washington — By day, Nigel is a mild-mannered one man band of a cook, waiter, caterer and whatever else he needs to be done at Shuksan Golf Club’s The Grille.
For my dough, his establishment is the restaurant with the best view in all of Whatcom County. The wedding arbor, the golf course, the trees, the hills and the mountains all form one perfect panorama.
By night, with one all-important asterisk, Nigel is more like a literal one-man band. He cheers and boos and grins like a maniac. The other evening, he brought his new cowbell that he’d bought at a music store and a borrowed drumstick, and absolutely went to town. Christopher Walken couldn’t ask for more.
The asterisk is that Nigel only raises a ruckus when he’s watching the Bellingham Blazers slap the puck around against other teams in the Northern Pacific Hockey League. (The NPHL is part of the larger Junior Hockey League system, with players aged 16 to 20 years old, volunteer host families, the whole frozen enchilada.)
Nigel goes to almost all of the home games, at the dual-use hockey rink/indoor soccer Sportsplex, and he makes it to many away games. All the teams in the league are located in Oregon, Washington, and Montana, which makes mass fan travel more feasible.
Last season, Nigel and a bunch of Blazers boosters bused down to Bremerton. They would watch the Blazers beat the West Sound Warriors to win the league’s Cascade Cup, but first they had to get through the door. That hat with compressed air horns one Blazers fan was wearing? It simply had to go, even though the West Sound heavies could cite no league rule against noisemakers.
No matter. According to Nigel, Blazers fans were led into their own designated section, away from Warriors fans. They easily outnumbered and out cheered the Bremerton crowd for the Blazers’ 3-1 victory.
Most impressive is that Nigel’s Blazers did all of this in their first year. They were the NPHL expansion team for the 2012-2013 season. Bellingham had an awful start but shot right back into the net.
In spite of the Blazers’ first year triumph, many locals — I’ve found — have yet to hear of them. Wikipedia doesn’t help. The e-encyclopedia entry will tell you they were a team from Bellingham and British Columbia between 1972 and 1985, changing from the Bellingham Blazers to the Burnaby Blue Hawks with several bumps along the way.
Nowhere from one of our premier sources of information will you learn that the Bellingham Blazers club name has been resurrected, or, say, that they won the freaking Cascade Cup earlier this year. Perhaps some random Wikipedian sports nut can read this article and right a great injustice.
Of course, that entry could never represent the sheer fun of going to these great amateur hockey games. You wouldn’t learn about the raucous beer garden cheer section, the ledge right next to the glass where small kids get an extreme close-up of the action, or the side rivalry of the fan chuck-a-puck contest. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a runner-up twice and won it once.)
Blazers have taken seven of their ten home games so far this season, before a long November road trip. If Bellingham and Bremerton continue to perform as they are now, a Cascade Cup rematch is mathematically certain.
Here’s hoping it will take place in Bellingham this time around. At the Sportsplex, nobody’s going to try to confiscate your noisemakers at the door for fear that you might actually use them. The Blazers’ basic temperament is, the more cowbell, the better.