Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why I Love Hockey...

Inspired by Puck Daddy’s “5 Reasons I Love Hockey” series, I decided to spend the weekend writing my own list. Unfortunately, I was unable to stop at five. So I decided to write the ten biggest reasons for my undying love for the game. They’re not in any particular order because it was impossible to choose which meant more to me. So here you go.

I love hockey…

…Because every player gets his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
I know it’s cliché to say that you like hockey because of the Stanley Cup. But there’s a reason so many people love that silver chalice. What trophy out there is cooler? The NBA trophy looks like abstract art, the Lombardi trophy looks like something you’d give out to the runners-up in a middle school football league, and the MLB trophy just looks like a really good way to put your eye out. Can you drink out of any of them? I didn’t think so. What other trophy has the names of all of the players engraved on it? It’s nice to see each one recognized on it because hockey players so rarely take credit for their individual efforts. As if the Cup itself wasn’t cool enough, the traditions surrounding it are awesome. Some of the stories about Stanley’s adventures are the stuff of legend. Face it kids, the Cup is just cool. I also think it’s the shiniest thing I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of shiny things because I notice each and every one of them.

…Because Steve Yzerman is the greatest Captain to ever walk the face of the earth.
I loved Steve Yzerman every bit as much as I hated the Avalanche. While other girls my age grew up idolizing JTT and Leonardo DiCaprio, I had a different hero. I never had many idols growing up because I was always afraid that they would turn out to be a disappointment, but you always got the sense that Stevie Y would never let you down. When I was a kid I told my mom that if I ever got a terminal disease, I wanted her to tell Make A Wish that I wanted to meet The Captain in case I couldn’t talk anymore. Clearly, I was a pleasant child to be around. I was at the Joe the night he scored his 600th goal. Every person in the arena clapped and clapped for what seemed like forever. And Yzerman simply stood up near the end of the bench, raised his stick up in the air once, and sat back down and went to work. Because that’s what leaders do. As a Wings fan over the years, I’ve seen my share of (future) Hall of Famers come and go. Somehow, surrounded by all of that talent, Steve Yzerman always managed to stand out. Quite simply, he embodied everything that a captain should be. I don’t need to explain what he means to this team/city. It’s self-evident, and if you don’t understand now, you never will. Stevie’s character has left a legacy in the Wings locker room that still shows. And that class is one of the things that makes me so proud to be a Wings fan. There is very little that any player could ever do to surpass Steve Yzerman in my heart.

…Because mini sticks ruined my knees.
Remember when mini sticks were all the rage? I do. The fad swept through my elementary school shortly after I first got into hockey. No one would let me play at school because I was a girl, but at home, my brother and I would play for hours on end. We never got to play real hockey, so this is as close as we’d get to any real action. We both chose player nicknames that we would use when we were in the “rink.” His was “Fozzie Ozzie,” but for the life of me, I can’t remember what mine was. We agreed on very detailed rules and had an elaborate system for deciding who was right when goals were disputed. We had some epic battles over the years, and it’s a wonder that we never broke anything (furniture or bones). I fully believe that those countless hours spent jumping around my family room floor on my hands and knees is the reason why my knees are in such sorry shape at the ripe old age of twenty-two. It was worth it, though.

…Because Mickey Redmond likes to drink “ginger ale.”
My least favorite thing about the playoffs is the fact that as the Wings advance we no longer get to hear Mickey Redmond on the broadcast. He’s well-known around these parts for his catchphrases like, “Bingo Bango” and “Holy Mackerel,” but that’s not all he brings to the broadcast booth. Then there's his penchant for excessive use of the Telestrator. Aside from that, he’s as old-school as they come and he clearly loves a good “donnybrook” as much as the rest of us. And I love him for it. There are few things more entertaining than hearing him get all riled up about a call on the ice. You get the feeling at times that ol’Mick is fully prepared to head on down to the ice and drop the gloves with a ref or an opposing player to teach him a lesson about how real hockey is played. I keep waiting for him to regale us with the tale of how he used to have to walk to the rink, barefoot, carrying all of his hockey gear, uphill both ways. One of my favorite moments last season was when he and Ken Daniels interviewed Gary Bettman and Mick kept arguing with him while Daniels awkwardly searched for a way to reign him in. the fact that this moment hasn’t made it to YouTube is a fail of epic proportions. Plus, he sings

…Because I still know all of the words to “I Want Stanley.”
Back in the day, the Wings used to have an official playoff anthem every year. They were cheesy and lame, but they were strangely endearing, especially to 9-year olds. A little part of me wishes they still made them, although I shudder at the thought of what they would’ve created for “The Beard is Back.” The best of the best was “I Want Stanley” from the ill-fated ’96 playoff run. To this day, I can’t listen to the original “I Want Candy” song without hearing the lyrics to the Wings’ edition in my head. My brother and I were obsessed with the Arena Version (Rap Version here). We had an intricate, choreographed interpretive dance routine that we would perform over and over. It involved crosschecks, running laps around our family room with pretend sticks, and an excessive amount of raising the roof. Really the only things that we were lacking were spirit fingers and a few jazz squares. We fought like cats and dogs for most of our childhood, but once we threw on that CD and lined up for the fake opening faceoff that began our routine, we were a team, working together in perfect harmony. At least for those few minutes.

…Because I like being quirky.
I like being an outsider. When it’s not irritating, it can be fun. As much as it annoys me sometimes, I like that hockey’s not “mainstream.” It’s one of the major aspects of my love/hate relationship with the game. Growing up in Michigan, I was lucky to be surrounded by a lot of hockey media coverage thanks to the popularity of the Wings. But travel out of state and you’ll be lucky to find so much as a game recap for the local team. I have to admit that a little part of me likes going on vacation and picking up a newspaper only to complain that they devoted an entire page in the sports section to high school lacrosse, but couldn’t even bother to print NHL box scores. Seriously though, it’s more fun to be on the fringe. It makes you feel edgy and unique. People find it strange and quirky when you say that you like hockey. It’s fun, even if it means that you sometimes have to call around to find a bar that carries Versus. And is willing to turn it on for you.

…Because Darren McCarty turned Claude Lemieux into a turtle on March 26, 1997.
How many regular season scores and game dates do you remember from twelve years ago? Probably not many. How many fights do you celebrate the anniversary of every year? I’m guessing not a whole lot. But when Darren McCarty exacted his revenge for Lemieux’s dirty hit, he heightened a rivalry that defined a large portion of my childhood. What other sport could that happen in? If he were a basketball player, he would’ve just had teammates pretend to hold him back while hoping that their grip didn’t slip and force him to actually fight. In baseball, he would’ve just thrown his batting helmet at Lemieux. I'm not sure what would've happened in an NFL game, but I'm willing to bet that it would've involved an obnoxious celebration afterward. I still have a framed picture of that fight hanging on my bedroom wall. And my hatred that began with Claude Lemieux quickly spread to the rest of the Avs. I can’t even tell you how much I hated them back in the day. Part of me still does, even though it’s not nearly as much fun now. I’m pretty sure that I’ll always take a little more pleasure in beating the Avs than any other team. The classic Wings-Avs battles were everything that a rivalry should be. There was bad blood, amazing hockey, epic goalie fights, and repeated playoff meetings. I spent the better part of my formative years hating those guys. Nothing could get me riled up like mentioning the Avs or any of their players in casual conversation (Ask my family. It was a fun little game they used to play.) Watching those games was addictive. You never knew when things were going to boil over. I still have my Patrick Roy voodoo doll that I cut out from the Freep in ’02 sitting on my hockey memorabilia shelf somewhere. For all of the NHL’s attempts at creating division rivalries, nothing even comes close to the animosity that existed between these two teams during the height of the rivalry.

…Because the smack of a solid tape-to-tape pass is music to my ears.
I absolutely love the sounds of a hockey game. One of the reasons that I hate watching basketball is because I can’t stand the sounds of their shoes squeaking on the floor. I literally have to mute the TV on the rare occasions that I tune in. Not so with hockey. I love the slash of skate blades digging into the ice and the crisp sound of a good slapshot. The sound of boards and plexiglass rattling will never fail to bring a smile to my face. Depending on which end of the ice it occurs, sometimes I even like the cling of a puck bouncing off of a goal post. Try listening to a few minutes of play with your eyes closed the next time you DVR a game. You won’t regret it.

…Because anything can happen at any moment.
I’m one of those people who has to be doing at least three things at a time. I have the attention span of a small child in a room full of shiny objects. (As I write this, I’m watching the Tigers game on FSN, G-chatting, and semi-working on a 15-page paper.) When I watch TV shows and even my beloved Tigers, I have to have something else to do, whether it’s a crossword, Sudoku, a book, or my homework. Otherwise I get bored. Not so when hockey’s on. As soon as the puck drops, I’m riveted to the screen. There’s so much going on that I can’t take my eyes off lest I miss something. You never know when the puck is going to ricochet off of two sticks, a skate, someone’s teeth, and Tomas Holmstrom’s rear end and wind up in the goal. Things like that come out of nowhere all the time during hockey games. And if you miss that moment when the puck hits the back of the net, you miss out on part of the fun. Watching it on replay just isn't as much fun. Not only that, but the little things like great defensive coverage or gorgeous outlet passes are too easy to miss if you’re not paying attention, and too often they go unnoticed and aren’t replayed (This was more of a problem in the days before DVR.). I love losing myself in the game and completely clearing my head for a while. I can’t even follow along with the live blogs because they’re too distracting. In short, Red Wings hockey is the only thing that I’ve found that can captivate me like that. And I love every second of it.

…Because getting dirty looks from passing cars is fun.
When I was younger, my family would go on a huge roadtrip every summer. We would invariably find ourselves passing through one or two NHL cities. Accordingly, my brothers and I would spend hours in the car drawing (stick-figure goalies count as drawing, right?) Red Wings pictures and making obnoxious signs. We then proceeded to tape them all over the windows of the van for the viewing pleasure of our theoretically hostile audience. After the car was appropriately decorated, we would spend even more time waving at passing cars in an attempt to draw their attention to our handiwork. We got flicked off our share of times, which always elicited a round of cheers and high fives between us kids, words of disgust from my mother, and admonishment from my father who was certain that every driver was going to run us off the road and pull out a shotgun. In retrospect, it’s almost astonishing that that never happened and that the car was never keyed, the tires never slashed, and the windows never broken. I’m fairly certain that the only reason this tradition was allowed to continue was because otherwise we would have spent all of our time fighting. Clearly the possibility of falling victim to road rage was preferable to driving to the Grand Canyon and back with us bickering in the backseat.

The highlight of our cross-country Red Wings sign-fests came during our trip out west in 2002. The Wings had just won the Cup and we were ecstatic. Our trip would take us to Denver and St. Louis, both homes of teams that had been beaten by the Wings en route to the Finals. Fresh off of our triumph, we set to work planning ideas in advance. I even used my then-burgeoning Photoshop skills to create this little beauty that was slated for display in each window in order to maximize its effect. On our day in Denver, we all dressed head-to-toe in Red Wings gear, most of us sporting our crisp new Stanley Cup Champions shirts. Over the years, we’ve made it to just about every corner of the country, and you had better believe that every mile along the way was highlighted by our Red Wings signs, shirts, hats, and even socks.

Wow, that turned into a novel. Many apologies. Since you made it this far, I’d like to know what drew you into hockey. There are so many things to love about the game.

10 comments:

  1. I love hockey because it's a combination of unparalleled skill, unquestionable toughness, machine-like precision, supermodel-like beauty and grace.

    There's no other sport on the planet that combines the sheer excitement and physicality of hockey, the hand-eye coordination of guiding a rubber disc with a wooden twig, the fact that it's done at 30 mph on a slippery surface -- separated from its players by razor blades.

    I was fortunate enough to be born to huge hockey fans... folks that put me on skates as soon as I could stand up... and I fell in love with every part of the game (except shootouts): it's an undying love that even my fiancee has accepted as my true one-and-only.

    If given the choice between oxygen and hockey, I'd make sure my final blue-faced minutes were spent watching the greatest thing known to man.

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  2. @Michael Petrella

    I totally agree. I wanted to say something about the beauty of the game, but I couldn't quite put it into words. You did a better job than I ever could.

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  3. This is one of the greatest posts in the history of blogs.

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  4. @Kris

    No, no, no. You said it beautifully. I just thought I'd toss my humble paragraph (or four) into the mix after seeing that you'd like readers' submissions.

    We encourage comments at TPL and do our best not to annoy our fellow bloggers on their sites!

    Keep up the good work.

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  5. Dan Cleary's resurrection, Bobby Orr's flying goal, Steve Y's retirement night, meeting Gordie, 47 yr old(!) Cheli in the league, The Nickle (aka Mr. Norris) Lidstrom, The Joe Louis Arena, hating Chris Pronger, Scotty, Vladi, Jiri Fisher's heart, the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Islanders 5, the Grind Line, the Production line, meeting "terrible" Ted at a Griffins' game, beating the Avs 7-0 (including a Roi statue of liberty), the Winter Classic, the NCAA Frozen Four, Pee Wee leagues, the sounds, the sounds, the sounds, and the Zamboni. More to follow!

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  6. While working for an imports company in 2002 and being the only Red Wing fan among all those Yotes, I took a lot of grief during the playoffs. Since most of my desk accessories were Red Wings, they were held hostage for cookies almost every other day. One day I got a phone call from someone claiming to be
    Jocelyn Lemieux, Claude's brother. I was cold but polite while I looked around the office to see who was pranking me. I told "Jocelyn" if it was really him, he could fax something with the Coyote emblem. As I half hearted listened to him explain he was helping Claude import some furniture, my boss brought me over a fax from the Coyotes with a note that said "I am for real". Oh did I grovel. Claude called me a few days later to talk to the Red Wing fan and we laughed quite a bit over the irony. When Joc came in to sign over POA to me I made him sign with my Red Wing Pen. He laughed. Claude and I talked many times during the playoffs and he actually called to congratulate my after the Wings won. But the best part of the story was when the paperwork for his shipment came over from Asia, it was addressed to MARIO Lemieux. I had to clear it up with the manufacturer who was actually from the US and NOT a hockey fan. He said the only Lemieux he knew of that played hockey was Mario. I still laugh over some of the conversations we had. He's actually not a bad guy! But I live in Illinois now and will never admit that back in Michigan.

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  7. @Anonymous

    What a great story! Good-natured jabbing (not the kind Claude was known for, by the way) is another reason to love hockey...

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  8. That's a great post! I was just looking at a memorabilia from the night Yzerman's jersey was hung in the rafters...got me thinking how I wish hockey season was here again. One more month.

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  9. ...Because it is the only pro sport where the players decide to skip a flight home, take two buses to attend a wake for their GM'S father

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