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Above the Glass

On the start of the NHL season: #hockeyfirst

I felt guilty this week when I turned on the TV to watch the regular season hype on the NHL Network instead of the gory details of the government shutdown on CNN. How dare I get excited about hockey’s return when Americans have been so totally screwed by our own government? Couple that with the renewed discussion over fighting and it got me to thinking; why do I love a sport that can be downright ugly and why do I put hockey first above all else? After all, it’s just a game right?

Love conquers all. Loving sports is different from loving animals, spouses or significant others. Hockey doesn’t pee on your carpet and walk away like nothing happened to go eat a bowl of kitty kibbles. It doesn’t bicker over balancing the checkbook or who forgot to take out the garbage. It doesn’t cheat on you with your best friend or leave you broken hearted at the altar. Love for hockey is unconditional and there are few strings attached except the price of season tickets and a parking pass. Love for this game unites us, even when the world around us is falling apart. Inside a rink, temporarily separated from the harsh realities of the world around us, we are safe and we are free. I get asked almost daily why I love this game and I’ve never come up with the perfect soundbite.  The reasons change as new talent emerges from the pipelines, coaches take my favorite team to new heights or the Flyers sign Taylor Leier and I must therefore go to the dark side and become a Broad Street fan, but one truth remains: I love this game more than life itself. So just how does one explain to non-appreciators that hockey is so much more than a game?

Superheroes are real. They wear jerseys instead of capes and they fly with the greatest of ease on the wings of a breakaway, but hockey heroes are very real. Most of the free world knows who Wayne Gretzky is and they’ve heard of Sidney Crosby even if they’ve never seen him play. They are as notable off the ice as they are on it, but what about the Clark Kents of the world? The people who seem ordinary, but who secretly wear a cape and go about saving the world in their spare time? For example, what about the guy who was drafted 192nd overall in the 9th round of the 2010 Bantam Draft and hails from Southern California, is all of 5’9” and wears t-shirts covered in pictures of cats, which he posts on Twitter for all to judge him?  Portland fans know I’m referring to the one and only Chase De Leo, resident ladies’ man and all-around heartbreaker who’s on the right kind of watch list as a top prospect for the 2014 Entry Draft. There’s only one thing you need to know about Chase; he would do anything for the people he calls family, and that includes his teammates and local fans. Ask any player, and they would do the same. Loyalty is the signature move of any great superhero and hockey abounds with them.

Honesty is the best policy. I love my actual day job and I admit it, corporate America affords a lot of perks that don’t evaporate when the government shuts down. So I’m not complaining. But the one thing I’ve never learned to stomach is corporate jargon and schmoozing. Faking it until you make it has never worked for me; I don’t respond well to dishonest, fake behavior. I love hockey because there’s no corporate speak, unless the f-word and yelling “shoooot!” during a power play classify as “jargon,” and because nobody pretends they really like that referee who is obviously blind and deaf while they are secretly cursing him and stabbing a voodoo doll. Whatever hockey fans think, we say it and we mean it and we’re not quiet about it; consequences be damned. Where else in life can you get away with such behavior? Hockey isn’t about what society thinks we should be. It’s come as you are, not come as you pretend to be. But what if hockey’s rules required us to repress our animal instincts like we have to at the office; can you imagine what would happen? I tried and I suddenly had this image of myself in an ambulance, hyperventilating and asking the EMTs if they could tune the game in on the radio and maybe turn down the siren a little so I could hear the third period. I rest my case.

Moral of the story. The thing I love the most about hockey is that the beauty of the game shines through the ugliness and players rise above it when things get ugly. Case in point: Last spring, Dalton Thrower put a devastating hit on Taylor Leier and very clearly smiled immediately afterwards. It took away a valuable player from the Winterhawks and ended Taylor’s chance of playing in the Memorial Cup final in his hometown. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I think it was the ugliest, most disgusting thing that I’ve ever seen in this sport. The team lost a valuable player to a brutal hit, and they could have retaliated, but they didn’t. They carried on and Portland fans adopted the hashtag #winitforleier on Twitter.  Flash forward to the start of the regular season: Taylor returned from injury better than ever and blazed through training camp, helping underdog Team Morrow win the Neely Cup. He followed that by signing with the Philadelphia Flyers and was just named Captain of the Winterhawks this week. I admit it, I had a moment last spring when I had to wonder “why the hell do I love this sport, this is awful.” I would have thought the same thing if the shoe had been on the other foot, because if Dalton Thrower was a Winterhawk I’d be ashamed of my own team for doing something so awful. But watching the team rise above the BS to make it to the final and seeing Taylor at training camp this year, I realized that hockey is a lot like life; it sucks a lot of the time and it’s never fair, but every once in a great while, it can be a very beautiful thing.

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Comments

w2j2's avatar

Yes.

The honesty of it.  No bullsh*t.  No political correctness, no Washington doublespeak.

But also, there is this: 

The team that puts out the most, that tries the hardest, that works the hardest, almost always wins. 

The way the world should be.

Posted by w2j2 on 10/03/13 at 02:56 PM ET

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com