In honor of Valentine’s Day tomorrow, here are the reasons I love this sport. It may not be a ‘normal’ romance, but it’s important. After all, I’ve only been married nine years… but my love affair with hockey goes back much, much further. :)
1. The sounds of the play on the ice.
The swooshes and clatter, abrupt hollers between players and thud of bodies and pucks, crashing into boards. On a recent edition of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, the engineers had difficulty getting sound in the booth and for (roughly) the first 10 minutes of the game, we heard only the game. No announcers, no small talk, no play-by-play. We just heard the game. The HNIC crew is easily some of the best in the world and I seldom have a complaint, but that night I was sad when they fixed the sound booth. For a while, watching it on TV felt the same as watching it in the arena.
The crisp, clean sounds of a hockey game ring with a purity that’s hard to explain.
2. Players’ names.
Some of the non-hockey media likes to say that hockey will never be a truly big sport in America because the players are so frequently not American. But I think that for hockey fans in America and everywhere else, that’s just nuts. While it’s true that so many of the players’ names are infected with a mysterious mixture of consonants and vowels peculiar to eastern European cultures, or the accented inflections of French Canadian names and others, it’s also true that most every hockey fan I’ve ever known is determined to pronounce these names properly, and with respect.
And we can have a little fun with them, too. From Jiri Bubla to Radek Bonk, I’ll never stop giggling, myself.
3. Hockey people.
For every pompous and self-important hockey blowhard—journalist, blogger or fans—who act as if they know everything and you know nothing, there are at least 5 others that rank as some of the coolest people I’ve ever known. Those people have taught me a lot about hockey, but even more about the kind of people I like to be around.
In another sense, I like hockey people because they’re so protective and passionate about their game. To the extent that sometimes people might think they’re trashing it, when the truth is that they’re so desperate to preserve it. To ensure that it continues to be the game we grew up with, even as it morphs with the changing times.
4. Hockey players.
I love hockey players. They’re so often accused of being ‘boring’, but that isn’t the worst thing in the world. They’re only boring because they’re not jerks. Generally speaking, they’re a nice group. I bet if you asked a dozen hockey fans if they’ve heard a story about a player doing something extraordinary for another person, every one of them could tell you a tale… about themselves or a friend, or someone else down their grapevine. It’s just that common.
Really, I’m of the opinion that athletes in general—at least after high school age and the jackass-jock tendencies wear off—are a concentrated group of exceptional people. It takes enormous displine and self-belief to be ‘the greatest.’ The same is true in all professional discliplines to an extent, but unlike in most professions, athletics can’t be faked. The drug users eventually get busted, and the rest earn an honoured and hard-fought place in the history of their game.
I am always in awe of what it takes to achieve that.
5. Handshakes after playoff series.
Or rather, what that ceremonial moment represents, which is the pervasive gentleman’s code that runs throughout hockey. I realize such a code seems almost incomprehensible to people who don’t know the game well. But those people who witness the fights, the hits and other dangers in the game, and feel it reflects only violence, couldn’t be more wrong. There are codes; there is (usually) respect; and there is honor and congratulations for a fight well fought. Like in those handshakes.
Hockey may not be a ‘Sport of Kings’, but I think it is even better than that. It is a sport of everyday people. Ultimately, I think this game is like an incredibly civilized society, only different in that it’s been jacked up to about 100 miles an hour.
Which is why it’s always advisable to wear a helmet. :)