It was clear after five minutes of puck time that the Idaho Junior Steelheads were bigger, stronger and faster than our Southern Oregon Spartans.

It was clear after five minutes of puck time that the Idaho Junior Steelheads were bigger, stronger and faster than our Southern Oregon Spartans.

The Idaho side pushed the puck deep into our zone, time and time again. They basically lived there throughout the first period. Hell, they might as well have set up a bento stand behind our net for a quick, in-game rice bowl.

They shrugged off our power plays, allowing our Spartans only a few wayward shots from deep in the faceoff circle. None touched the back of the net.

They hit us, and in most of these violent interactions, the Steelhead came away the victor, our Spartan usually dumped on the ice as his opponent powered down the ice in search of the puck, or another intimate encounter.

In the end, our Spartans lost all three games this past weekend against the visiting Steelheads.

But ...

The result did not tell the entire story. It rarely does in sports.

Our Spartans, though smaller and a blade-width slower on the break, fought like warrior poets and nearly overcame a superior adversary.

My God, it wasn't pretty. But the underdog isn't supposed to be pretty. The underdog is squat and angry and mean because, well, he's the underdog. He's been rolled in the dirt and bitten and left for dead. But he endures, if only to have the previous cycle repeated until he either scores the hard-fought upset or dies in the attempt.

Writer Harlan Ellison once said that in any given fight, he would most likely lose, but he vowed never to go down without leaving his teeth marks in the other guy's neck.

The Steelheads left Southern Oregon with teeth marks in their necks.

I've made it a point to become a hockey fan this year. I'm not sure why.

My Chicago Blackhawks were a farce for decades before their out-of-freaking-nowhere Stanley Cup title in 2009. In fact, a few years before the drunken oafs who skate on West Madison Street hoisted the Cup, ESPN named the Blackhawks the worst franchise in all of sports.

Now, the Hawks are very, very good. I'd trade 23 Stanley Cups for one Cubs World Series, but that's another story.

Maybe it's because some dudes from the Oak Tree talked me into joining a fantasy hockey league this year. I now have to pull for a guy named "Shattenkirk" to score goals for my fake team.

Prior to the season beginning, I had no clue who this alleged "Shattenkirk" was, and I don't rightly care even now. I just need the points. Go, "Shattenkirk"!

In spite of all this, I'm determined to become a knowledgeable hockey fan this year.

I've been watching NHL games when I can. This no doubt will increase as we head into what I call the Sports Doldrums, the purgatory between the Super Bowl and baseball's opening day. Sure, you have the NCAA basketball tournament thrown in there, but after a while, you grow weary of Kansas, Kentucky and Duke doing what they do, year in and year out.

One of the things I miss most about living in a large city is the available live sports on a given week. It doesn't have to be the Trail Blazers or the 49ers, either. I fondly remember watching Portland Winterhawks minor league hockey and the Kane County Cougars outside Chicago, a minor league affiliate of the Oakland A's.

This is why I've come to treasure the Southern Oregon Spartans. They are pretty much the only show in town that isn't tied to any local high schools.

That's not to trash on high school athletics, but I don't have kids attending North or South Medford, so the luster is dull for me.

The Spartans are skating for a chance at a Division I scholarship to play the game they love. The come from all over the country, many from the Chicago area, according to the team roster.

And did I mention the atmosphere at the RRRink is rocking? The stands are packed, and the beer garden flows with taps from Southern Oregon Brewing Co., Ninkasi Brewing Co. and Bud. The food is cheap and greasy, but perfect for those reasons.

Heavy metal from the '70s and '80s blares from overhead speakers as rowdy kids beat each other with thundersticks. Spartans fans heckle officials and hurl awful invective at the opposing teams. It's great, man.

The next games are Feb. 8-10. The stands fill quickly, so get tickets early, especially for Friday and Saturday nights.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email