Kukla's Korner

Above the Glass

Game, Set, Match

I spent the last two weeks in January taking a break from hockey to watch the Australian Open. The main reason was nostalgia: watching it live was like being back in Melbourne again. That, and I was quite sure that if I stared at the sunny conditions long enough on my TV, I would somehow warm up here in the midst of Oregon's winter. I wasn't sure why at first, but I ended up being really captivated by the game of tennis itself. After two weeks of watching tennis matches at odd hours of the day and night, I've come to realize that it's a little bit like hockey. 

Did I mention I love shootouts? I used to think tennis was a little bit boring; two players batting a ball back and forth on a small court didn't really generate the same excitement as a hockey game in a supersized NHL arena. That is, until the Australian Open reached the finals. Then I got it. The "winner takes all" intensity and the back and forth "anything can happen" aspect of tennis resembles something else: a shootout. I know most of you don't share my love for shootouts, and I respect that. But I love the urgency and intensity of it, and I also like that a shootout is basically a goaltending show. The difference in tennis is that it takes multiple games and sets to win the match, versus multiple rounds of shooters. But the outcome is the same; you play until somebody wins. And that's what drew me in. Well, that and the "Visit Melbourne" ad:

G'day mate: If you saw that cool ad/movie trailer that Tourism Australia ran during the Super Bowl and thought about booking your next trip Down Under, I suggest you follow through. It's easier than you think to get there, and with help from a travel agent, you can squeeze in a lot of adventure on a two week vacation. And because their winter starts at the same time as our summer, their hockey season starts right around the time ours ends. So if you plan it at the right time, it will be like the hockey season never ended. Back to topic: 

Championship habits: When I first interviewed Nino Niederreiter, he cited Roger Federer as his favorite athlete that he looks up to. Partly because he's from Switzerland, but also because he's just a good role model. Now I see why. I had seen Federer play before, but I hadn't really paid too much attention to him beyond the occasional Wimbledon or U.S. Open final. He respects the game, his opponents and his fans; his use of social media is smart, fun, personable and engaging; and he gives back via his Foundation. It all adds up to someone who isn't just a legendary athlete; he's a good, decent and admirable person. As noted below in the comments, he's a total class act. Nino is a lot like Roger Federer. He may not have quite as much hardware in his trophy collection, but Nino is a good person who is mature well beyond his years and his playing style is a lot like Federer in that fifth set of the 2018 Australian Open: it's all business. 

Sound check: Tennis does have one noticeably different quality from hockey. Relatively speaking, it's quiet. Save for the occasional exchange of pleasantries with the officials, it's nearly slient compared to hockey. Even the broadcasters sound like they're whispering. At Sunday's Portland Winterhawks game, we were treated to the two-headed monster of lopsided WHL officiating: Steve Papp and Ron Dietterle. Fans in the front row on the glass could be heard all over the rink, voicing their displeasure. I can't imagine what would happen if they turned up at an international tennis match and started doing the same. I think it might involve a headline that started with the words "unruly fan removed..." Of course things could be louder than I think when you're courtside, so I've avowed to investigate this for myself at the nearest opportunity. 

Sticky wicket: I also started watching Australian cricket last month. Never have I watched a game that made less sense, but that never stops me. I was determined to stick it out and learn the basics. It will come as no suprise that cricket does indeed have a few things in common with hockey, such as:

- Played on a ground with 11 players per team, cricket also uses a "twelfth man" as back up in the event a player is injured. It's the cricket version of the backup goalie.

- In cricket, two umpires are in place on the playing field, and a third is located off the field. He's in charge of video reviews. Like calling upstairs in hockey, the third umpire is responsible for making the final call when it's too close on the field. 

- Cricket rules allow a batsman to be deemed out if he handles the ball with the hand that is not touching the bat without the consent of the opposition. Kind of like closing your hand on the puck or trying to bat a puck into the net with your glove. 

- An incoming batsman must be ready to face a ball or be at the non-strikers end with his partner within three minutes of the outgoing batsman being dismissed. If this doesn't happen in the appointed time frame, the incoming batsman can be declared out. It's the cricket equivalent of getting a penalty for too many men on the ice. 

- A hat trick in cricket is when a bowler takes three wickets on consecutive deliveries, dismissing three different batsman. A wicket is comprised of three stumps. It's guarded by a batsman who attempts to prevent the ball from hitting the wicket. When the ball makes it through and hits the stumps it's called a wicket and this is used in the scoring. You score three goals in hockey...you take three wickets in cricket...either way, really. 

- A power play applies to the restrictions on the placement of fieldsmen and along with a number of other factors, it has contributed to the big scores in modern day international cricket matches. So, it's kind of like a power play in hockey, where a team has an opportunity to boost the score. 

Moral of the story: If you ever want to take a break while your favorite hockey team is in a slump or want something else to watch when their season ends, try Australian sports. You might find that we have a lot in common with our fellow sporting-mad fans Down Under. 

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Steeb's avatar

I’m a HUGE fan of the high end tour tournaments (the slams and the big Masters 1000s like Indian Wells and Miami).  But I think the Aussie Open is my favourite—maybe because it kicks off the whole year. It’s also a VERY slow time at work, so I get to see a very large percentage of the matches, mostly by giving my DVR a good workout for a fortnight.

And Roger Federer is about the classiest athlete this side of Nick Lidstrom. He respects the game, the history, the fans, the officials, the ball kids… And gives a lot back without crowing about it. He’s also Swiss, which is bonus points.

Posted by Steeb on 02/06/18 at 11:24 PM ET

RedMenace's avatar

I love tennis. I need to find someone to play with. I miss playing it SO much. Almost as much as playing hockey.

If I could go to Australia and/or New Zealand, my ticket would have been booked years ago.

Cricket looks interesting, but like you said, super confusing. Apparently, cricket matches can last for A LONG TIME.

I’d like more Rugby coverage in the US; the Rugby 7s Olympic coverage got my curiosity piqued, and Union is bonkers.

Aussie Rules Football is insanity. And incredibly entertaining. And insanity.

Posted by RedMenace from A Tormented Hellscape on 02/06/18 at 11:35 PM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

I used to love watching tennis, but that all ended a few years ago when players started groaning, and even screaming, with every stroke. It was like watching tennis porn.

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/07/18 at 12:32 AM ET

Steeb's avatar

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/06/18 at 11:32 PM ET

So does that mean that you are or are not a fan of Maria Sharapova? wink

Posted by Steeb on 02/07/18 at 12:56 AM ET

Tripwire32's avatar

I’d like more Rugby coverage in the US; the Rugby 7s Olympic coverage got my curiosity piqued, and Union is bonkers.
Posted by RedMenace from *#$%@& Cancer on 02/06/18 at 10:35 PM ET

NBCSN sometimes broadcasts Premiership rugby. I haven’t seen any rhyme or reason to their broadcast schedule.
BEiN used to broadcast rugby, I’m not sure if they still will or which tournament, maybe it’s Six Nations.
Coming up in 2019 will be the rugby world cup, but I’m not sure if there’ll be any coverage. The last one was broadcast on an obscure channel that I think was like World Sport or something that’s no longer around.

There’s a lot about that game I’m learning, but given a choice, I’ll watch it over throw-ball. The downside is that it’s rarely on, and seemingly with no schedule pattern.

Posted by Tripwire32 from Kay He Mar Heart on 02/07/18 at 08:56 AM ET

OlderThanChelios's avatar

So does that mean that you are or are not a fan of Maria Sharapova?

Posted by Steve in San Francisco on 02/06/18 at 11:56 PM ET

Sharapova can make all of the sounds she wants, and I’d watch. Same goes for Kournikova. grin

Posted by OlderThanChelios from Grand Rapids, MI on 02/07/18 at 11:16 AM ET

Steeb's avatar

Sharapova can make all of the sounds she wants, and I’d watch. Same goes for Kournikova.

Ah yes, “Yoko” Kournakova… :D You’ll probably enjoy Vika Azarenka once she returns to the tour, then, also.

Posted by Steeb on 02/07/18 at 02:06 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

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