Things I miss about hockey - or lockout lessons....
Hockey is the greatest sport in the world. It's not just a ball being thrown down a field, dunked in a basket, or hit into center field. The players are on skates, blades so thin it's like they're nothing at all. They're chasing a puck, a little piece of rubber, with a stick, trying to score on a goalie, while they are wearing all this protective equipment and being chased by their opponent, and trying to avoid getting stripped of the puck or checked in to the boards. All of this while on a sheet of ice. Amazing. Mind boggling. What other sport has so many elements? Not to mention how fast they have to skate (forwards and backwards), and how hard they have to play during their shifts. They only get one timeout per game. And the goalie rarely gets to rest at all. And the goalies have pucks flying at their heads, sticks all around them, and players all up in their space, trying to score that perfect, dirty goal.
I'll admit - I came late to the game of hockey, but I fell in love with it like no other sport. I like baseball (but after watching a hockey game in person, it's so slow paced, it just doesn't keep my attention anymore). I grew up watching basketball and also a fierce supporter of the Duke / UNC rivalry. I never thought I'd love anything as much as Duke Blue Devils basketball, and Christian Laettner's buzzer beater against Kentucky in 1992, which still gives me heart palpitations. But hockey has so much more to offer. It's grittier, dirtier, and never ever lacks heart and passion. It's the only sport where the players are actually encouraged to fight each other. And, yes, sometimes the fights are my favorite part. It didn't take me long to develop fierce loyalties to certain teams, and a deep, abiding hatred for a few others.
With the lockout dragging on, I've felt like I've been thrown into rehab for drug addiction. Just a little bit of hockey is all I need to get my fix. I get excited when I find a college hockey game on my local sports channel, even though I know nothing about the players. I've waited and waited for the WJC and have never been so excited to see more players I know little about play the greatest game there is. There are certain NHL players I can't even think about right now, because it's too depressing. Wondering if they are slowly losing the last season they may ever play. Or if they will get traded to another team, because this is the last year of their contract. It breaks my heart to even think about. I know professional athletes are a commodity, and can be traded at will, so why do I allow myself to get so attached?
Is it the city a player plays for? The fans in that city? I think what makes the difference are the team mates, the chemistry they develop, the connection that long-time teammates have with each other. And that some players have so much heart, and just refuse to quit, that you can't help but love them. Root for them. Pray to the hockey gods that they get another chance to play again. Here, in the US, with us, their fans. That's what we need and that's what we want. At this point, I don't care about contracts and money and players vs. owners. I just want to see hockey again. I want to see the magic that happens on ice. I want to see the face splitting grins, the bone crushing hugs that come with a goal celebration. I want to see guys defend their teammate, if he is injured or targeted by another player. I want to see my boys chasing that high of winning. A single game. A streak. A President's trophy. A division. A conference. A CUP...not the Spengler cup, but the Stanley Cup. That's what I need, like I need air. And I know I'm not alone.
And here's a little randomness for you. Many, many years ago Saucer followed Christian Laettner around Mall of America when she was just a wee fangirl-in-training. She was like half his height - it is still embarrassing.