Our story begins -- or, at least, I became aware that it had begun -- on the evening of December 11th, 2010. Another wintry Saturday night with hockey on the television as the main attraction, usually the case once the evening lows start hitting thirty below. Without windchill. (Enjoy summer while it's here, guys. I get it, there are bugs. Quit complaining.)
The latter half of CBC's weekly doubleheader that evening was a game in Vancouver, with the Tampa Bay Lightning playing a rare out-of-conference game against the Canucks. And what should I see during the third period, what confounding visual should grace my eyes but this:
Neil Young wearing a Manitoba Moose hat.
Neil Young wearing a Manitoba Moose hat?
It was a strange and, at the time, unfamiliar sight. Now, we here in Winnipeg like to claim Neil Young as one of our own, not because he was born here (he wasn't; he was born in Toronto) or raised here (he wasn't, at least not much; he was already fifteen by the time he moved here with his mother) or because he graduated from school here (he didn't; he dropped out of Kelvin) or lived here for very long (he didn't -- especially considering he was touring full-time by the age of twenty) or because he currently lives here now (he doesn't), but because he lived here very briefly and then subsequently became famous. Those are the two keys; master those and you will be beloved here forever. Hell, even if you don't have that first one covered, our Mayor will give you a key to the city anyway.
So we in Winnipeg make a big honkin' deal out of our connection to Neil Young, but aside from a song or two every couple decades the connection is rarely reciprocated. So it was nice to see him make the effort, although... the Moose hat still doesn't make sense. A Moose hat? I doubt very strongly that NHL teams hock their AHL affiliates' gear in their arena stores, so he would have had to get it somewhere else -- but when would he have been to a Moose game? Young packed up and left the city about forty years before the Moose ever existed; for that matter, Young was gone by the time the original WHA Jets were established. The only hat that wouldn't have been a time paradox is a Blue Bombers hat, but then I guess that's not really a thing you wear to a hockey game. (Though I'm sure somebody will have proven me wrong within the first five home games our new NHL team plays. "You want me to buy a new hat? What is this, New York?")
At the time I ended up just kind of shrugging and thinking, whatever, I guess somebody sent him a Moose hat and he figured that he may as well wear it to their parent club's home game. Either that or someone plopped it on his head while he was asleep, which would have been an equally plausible explanation for that picture above.
The important takeaway from this backstory is -- this was in December, and at the time it seemed odd. Since then Neil Young has popped up on camera at regular-season and at playoff hockey games at least half a dozen more times -- most of them at San Jose Sharks games, in California, where he actually lives -- and every time he's been spotted in a hockey arena, he has been wearing that same Manitoba Moose hat. Unless it isn't the same hat, and he just happens to own five or six of the exact same hat. Every time, though, it's a Moose hat -- even though you would figure the home team(s) would have thought to offer him their own hat by now -- and every time he pops up, a new group of people are bewildered by the hat. (If you happen to have a Twitter account, there's a pretty good chance you've heard about at least one of these sightings.)
And, since Neil Young is the man who wrote "Heart of Gold", I was pretty well ready to leave it at that. So he wears the hat of a team he's probably never seen, from a city he lived in for less time than most of his other addresses, to every hockey game! Maybe this is how he dresses up. Given enough time I'm sure we all could have embraced it as a charming quirk, an idiosyncrasy of genius that gives us one more tenuous thread with which to claim our connection to him.
But then! But then.
But then the website of Rolling Stone Magazine put up a photo gallery of musician sightings, and we found out the terrible truth:
It isn't actually a hockey thing; he just wears that hat everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Nobody has seen the top of his head since December of last year.
This is sort of a problem, because eww -- but also, and more importantly, because True North Sports and Entertainment has since returned Winnipeg to the big leagues with the purchase of an NHL team and thus has made arrangements to ship the Moose out to Newfoundland. The Manitoba Moose, that particular combination of place and name, no longer exists; it is a defunct team, and our most beloved temporarily-loaned celebrity is in danger of becoming no better than the ratty hipsters who will start wearing Manitoba Moose gear just to be different.
Mister Neil Young, here is my offer; I believe it to be a reasonable one, and I hope that you will consider it. When the name and logo of Winnipeg's new NHL team is finally disclosed, and when merchandise for that team becomes available, I will pay out of my own pocket for a new hat and have it delivered to the address of your choosing to replace your Manitoba Moose hat. You don't have to wear it everywhere all the time -- in fact, please don't -- but it would give me the peace of mind that your prairie shout-out representation is current and up to date, and it would give you... well, you'd get a new hat. I don't think there's too much more to explain on that end of the deal.
Unless they actually do name the team something stupid like the "Polar Bears", in which case, wow. Forget that. Just keep the Moose hat; it'll be for the best.