Ramblings of a Broadway Hat: I Just Don’t Get Hockey

When I told my wife that she was going to enjoy this article, she glanced over at the title and let out a huge sigh. She’s French Canadian, so being loud, obnoxious and loving hockey is in her blood. She despises, ABSOLUTELY HATES baseball, football, basketball and almost all other sports that end in “-ball” (she LOVES curling).

I’m sharing this information at the risk of my marriage so that you can understand how much the title of this article infuriates her when she hears it or any iteration of it. And I’m sure it drives almost everyone reading this article, crazy as well.

But before I proceed any further with this article, I’m going to have to put this disclaimer here:

I’m not saying that hockey is the end all, be all greatest sport on earth (it is), I’m not saying that baseball/football/basketball are boring (they are), but most importantly I’m not trying to offend anyone here as I myself have slowly come to like the Jets (I know, I know, I’ll come around to that later). I also understand a lot of die-hard NYR fans also love their local NY sports teams as well, be it the Yankees/Mets, Giants/Jets or Knicks/Nets, so I get it, I understand the love and passion for sports no matter what kind.

So with that out of the way, how many times have you heard:

– “I can’t follow the puck.”
– “It’s too fast for me.”
– “Is there going to be a fight?”
– “Hockey isn’t that great anyway.”

As hockey fans, REAL hockey fans (not just the ones that are there for the fights or were given tickets), I’m sure all of us have heard some, or all of the above statements one way or another at some point in our life. And if you’re as passionate about hockey as I am, and I have it on good faith that all of you are (or else you wouldn’t be reading articles written by a hat) these statements will instantly get your blood boiling.

So when you hear the statements above, what do you do? What can you really do? Begin the arduous process of explaining the game of hockey? Start defending hockey versus other sports? How? What points of comparison are there? How do you even begin to start comparing? It is an almost impossible task to accomplish given a casual social circumstance.

You would have to dedicate an entire day, sit that person down at a table with a hockey game playing on TV. Then you’d need a pen and paper to illustrate how hockey plays work. Now if that person understands soccer, then it’ll be easier as some of the rules, plays and setups are similar.

Now I’ve been to a baseball game (the triple A affiliate of the Mets, the Area 51’s), it was actually my first ever live professional baseball game. It was dollar beer Thursdays. Needless to say after about $20 worth of beer, baseball starts becoming highly entertaining. My buddy was there to explain to me what was going on (I still don’t really quite understand the inner workings of baseball) but I understood it. I still can’t quite sit through an entire game of baseball on TV.

Football has always been a close second next to hockey for me. It seems similar on the surface, big grown men hitting each other in a full-contact sport, going as fast as they can to reach one end or the other. I don’t mind football at all. I’ve always been the quintessential casual football fan. If it’s on at a bar and hockey isn’t playing, I’ll watch it and get into it with my buddies.

When Super Bowl rolls around I’ll watch the game (mainly for the commercials and half-time show), drink some beers and eat some wings. But what really got me into it was my neighbor at the time, 2-3 years ago when the Jets could absolutely do no wrong and they took out the Steelers during their run. He was such a huge Jets fan I could hear him screaming and yelling next door and that would pique my curiosity enough to turn into the game and start watching.

I blame him for liking the Jets.

But yet again, it doesn’t capture my level of interest or dedication enough the way hockey does for whatever reason. And I won’t even bring up basketball. That’s the epitome of a casual armchair sport if there ever was one.

The love of hockey doesn’t usually come from being a casual fan. There’s almost no such thing as the casual hockey fan. If you compare hockey against the three more popular sports in America, baseball, football and basketball, any regular person that has zero interest in sports whatsoever can turn their TVs into any one of those sports and instantly know what’s going on. Prior knowledge of the sport itself is not a requirement or pre-requisite.

If you take that same exact person, put on a hockey game and asked him or her to watch it, that person would be absolutely lost. To be able to enjoy watching hockey, you actually have to have a basic understanding of how the game works and how the game flows. For real, passionate hockey fans like you & I, when we watch any hockey game, we instinctively know where the puck is GOING to be so our gaze and eyesight instantly starts looking ahead of the play and what to expect out of it.

For example, when you watch a pack of two or three forwards rush up the ice and, depending on their system or opportunity, will either dump the puck into the zone, rim it around the boards or try to carry the puck in themselves. We know these options because we’ve watched the game enough to know what to expect from ANY hockey team. The aforementioned scenario is just one of the many basic facets of being able to watch, and follow hockey.

I’ve always maintained that the majority of the real hockey fans, the more knowledgeable ones will sit up in the upper bowls/tiers (NOT ALL OF US CAN AFFORD FANCY SEATS OK?!?!). That isn’t to discount or downplay the season ticket holders that have had seats up against the glass or the lower bowl since the inception of the team of course.

But sitting up in the upper bowl, the game slows down. You get to see the entire rink, the whole picture. It’s both a curse and a blessing. You are actually able to watch defensive break downs lead to odd-man rushes, you’ll notice defensemen pinch to start cheating down low, bad line changes are much more pronounced and you get to experience a completely different range of emotions.

So what is it about hockey then that makes it such a wondrous sport for us to be able to keep coming back, year after year, game after game, capture our attention and hearts the world over? Chances are if you love hockey, you love all kinds of hockey on some level or another. AHL, OHL, CHL, minor leagues, overseas, Europe, it doesn’t matter. Where hockey goes, we go with it.

Most of you inherit your love of hockey from a family member I’m sure. For me, it was my uncle taking me to my first Rangers game ever in 1995, I remember our seats clearly, because it was when you could actually sit right up against the glass (which was where we were at). We were sitting in one of the corners and my uncle was explaining how the game worked to me while I watched.

I bought my first Rangers jersey that day, it was a practice jersey and before I knew it, I was sucked into the crowd’s enthusiasm. Standing halfway up from my seat to watch a scoring opportunity, awwwing when it failed and sitting back down together with the crowd.

That was it.

That was when I knew I was hooked and that was when I knew that hockey had me for life.

I’m sure most of you can remember vividly the precise moment when you became a hockey fan as well.

I still have not been to a football game to see either the Giants of the Jets. I still have not been to a baseball game here to see either the Yankees or the Mets as well. I plan on doing so in the near future. I have an open enough mind when it comes to sports. I’ll watch the Olympics when it comes around and definitely the winter Olympics cannot be missed. I’ll watch almost any sport live because sports are meant to be watched and experienced live and in-person (being drunk helps as well).

But nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever come close, or touch me as passionately, or as personally as hockey does. It is my way of life, an outlet for the day, week, or even the month. It helps me suspend everything that is going on in my life currently and for those 2-3 hours I’m at a game, everything is right in my world.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my wife is sitting next to me seething, yelling at me and the TV, because I’m currently down 2-1 against the Islanders in NHL ’13.