Friday, March 25, 2005

twisted wrister

For as long as I can remember, hockey has struggled to capture and truly lay claim to its quarter of the American viewing public's "big four" team sports. Given the minimum acceptable level of acknowledgement, and often open contempt, by most sports reporters and anchors, it's closer to a cult than say, the institutions that are Major League Baseball and Pro and College Football. The current NHL strike will only drive the sport deeper underground from the perspective of mainstream sports viewers.
But - what do those unbelievers matter? Those of us who love the game, who know the ecstatic release of seeing the back of the net bulge from a shot past the goalie, who've been thrilled and awed at a graceful deke, at a brilliant dive from a defenseman to break up an od-man rush, at a lightning-fast glove save - - - - - we get it. We appreciate the sparsity of goals, and don't need constant scoring and final tallies in the double/triple digits to remain interested.
You still say you don't like hockey? You won't watch when the NHL (or pro hockey in whatever form) returns to TV and arenas near you? Well - let's examine your objections:

"I can't follow the puck". It's true - this is an acquired skill for all hockey viewers, but it's easily acquired. If you sit down and watch one game, you'll be able to follow the action with little or no effort by the end of the first period. Even when you momentarily lose sight of the puck (as happens occasionally to even the most seasoned viewers and players), you'll be able to find it again quickly without becoming frustrated. Sadly, most people are unwilling to put in even the miniscule amount of effort it takes to get used to this.

"I don't understand all of those rules". Pro Football and Baseball rules are far more complex, and you know them. You can handle hockey. There aren't astrobiologists out there struggling with the concept of "icing".

"I don't like all of the fighting". Honestly, I don't either. It interrupts the game, which is what I'm there to see. I don't, however, think the game's aggressive tone should be taken out. Ugly incidents occur occasionally from the boil-over of unreleased aggression (yes, Todd Beruzzi happened) - so yes, an examination of the game's aggression is in order... but let's maintain the beauty of the hard-hitting, fast-paced game.

"It sucks to watch on TV". Bull. It's not as taylor-made for TV as the NFL, and yes, hockey is a much better experience in person, but this game plays just fine on TV. I used to happily watch Islanders and Rangers games on the tiny little b&w TV in my parents' bedroom. You have TV bigger than my fishtank now, with a superfine, high resolution picture. Also - camera coverage of hockey has advanced and improved ten times over since the 80s... This is a great TV game, and it will continue to get better.

"My attention span can't handle the long stretches of non-stop action". You probably won't admit to this objection - but I think it's a real obstacle to hockey ever achieving mainstream success. Most people NEED those breaks between the brief snatches of action in NFL, MLB, and even to some extent, pro and college basketball games. It's difficult to maintain the sustained focus that an exciting hockey game can sometimes require. In fact, for the hockey fan, those breaks are the worst part of the experience. Keep the action moving!

So if you're willing to pay attention (I wouldn't even go so far as to say "concentrate") and invest a minimal amount of effort, you can learn the beauty, grace, and excitement of hockey. You can get in on the secret. If you're willing to invest as much in your hockey team as you have in your other teams, the payoff is like no other.
My team's first Stanley Cup championship (1995, the ragtag NJ Devils swept the heavily-favored Detroit Red Wings - - subject matter for a future post) is a memory I'll always treasure. I follow teams in other sports, but no championship season of theirs will ever even come close to the Devils' 3 Cup wins.

Oops- another long rant. But I can't omit one last point: this game is also a thrill to play - on ice, on rollerblades, or even just in sneakers.


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