In researching Seeking the Center, I listened to a lot of post-game interviews with hockey players. I became interested in the very scripted language that they use to describe what happens in the games - including a whole category of phrases emphasizing their deep engagement - and uneasy relationship - with luck and fate.
When a player is able to score or make a good play, she might say, "I got a good bounce." This might be nothing more than the typical hockey-player modesty. On the other hand, it might be a kind of superstitious acknowledgement of fate's role in her success. Because above all, we want to stay on fate's good side.
If a player had some chances to score but just fell short of getting that puck into the net, he might shrug it off, rather fatalistically, by saying, "They just weren't going in for me today." Because we wouldn't want to tempt fate to make it even harder for us the next time, would we?
There's also the commonly expressed notion that "we have to make our own luck" - which points to an interesting relationship with that important but elusive commodity. It would seem to be a paradox: Isn't it in the very definition of luck that it's something outside of our control? Hmm. Making one's own luck seems related to the oft-repeated sentiment, usually shared in the case of a less-skilled, grinder-type player who scores what is, for her, a rare goal: "She works so hard, it's good to see her get rewarded." I.e., she works so hard that fate itself was ultimately forced to yield to her determination. When you really think about it, that's some serious shit!
Fate and luck are central to our concerns as humans. We confront them constantly, but in everyday life the stakes tend to be higher, our roles less certain and causation more difficult to determine. I wonder whether playing a game like hockey allows us to engage with fate in a way that is easier to grasp, that might seem to be less bafflingly random, where the illusion of some measure of control is stronger, and where, therefore, the experience is more gratifying, more ennobling to us lowly, insignificant humans.
Just as hockey is a "game of inches," so is life, in a way, a series of situations in which, if only something had happened slightly differently, at a slightly different time, the outcome would have been vastly different. And it's comforting to think that things will even out over time. For example, remember that goal that Williams scored - the one that was waved off because the puck slipped over the line a split second after the clock hit 0:00? He got it back when Vrana's shot glanced off him and into the net. Right?
Cosmic payback? Making his own luck? Or the law of averages? These are some of the questions the game reveals.