Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why I Love Hockey

First, thank you to everyone who has followed me from the beginning. I apologize that I went AWOL for a while, but I am back. I first started this blog at the suggestion of my best friend in the world because she thought it would be a good idea to share my opinions on the internet. I'm pretty sure she just wanted me to stop boring her to death, so you have her to thank for unleashing me onto you. But I really have to thank her for encouraging me to do this because I have found such wonderful people through the blog and on Twitter. I'd like to thank John Harris, Will Moriarty, and the OT Mafia for being like one big extended family. Although I haven't been in touch for a while, none of you have been far from my thoughts. You guys are and have been the best, and I hope that you will forgive me for my absence. Also a special thank you to Chris Townsend who has been so encouraging in the few times that we have met, and I hope that I can give this blog enough momentum to hopefully be a guest on his show. What can I say, a girl can dream, can't she? That being said, let me get started.

A former schoolmate of mine posed this question to me: "Why should I care about hockey?" I responded that it wasn't any business of mine what he should or should not care about, but it got me thinking about why I love hockey. I enjoy sports, and I constantly listen to sports radio. However, of all the sports, it is hockey that has won my heart. For me it all started when I dated a guy in college (of course all roads lead back to a guy) who is an avid LA Kings fan. While we were dating, we went to many Kings games. I found Staples Center to be mesmerizing, and I was instantly sucked into the excitement. My first Kings game was probably in 2003 or so, and it was not a great time in the organization's history. However, I completely fell in love. The game is fast-paced, and it is isn't overly technical. When you compare it to football, it's amazing how little time is actually allocated to making plays, and there are so many stoppages for various reasons. I am in no way saying that football is boring, but it takes a great deal of time and energy to understand the line of scrimmage, all the fouls, etc. Hockey, you basically watch them drive at the opponents' nets, and you don't have to understand all the technicalities at your first game. So I was riveted as I watched Mike Cammalleri, Ziggy Palffy, and Alex Frolov skate across the ice. I was even fortunate enough to watch a win that first time! Palffy easily became my favorite player. While I enjoy football, hockey is just on another level for me. There is a sort of elegance to it that I cannot quite find the words to explain.

But I'm not going to lie. I love the fights! It's not as though I watch just for the fights because that is ridiculous. There is no way to predict a fight, especially in this era, but I enjoy watching two guys duke it out on the ice. I remember when George Parros was coming up with the Kings. I remember my then boyfriend telling me that he was learning to fight from the great Marty McSorley, who was an analyst for the Kings at the time. It was then that I learned about enforcers and the pests. Sean Avery is probably one of my favorites because he was a King. I know that a lot of people think he is a jerk, and he might be. I don't know. I've never met him. However, I find him hilarious. He runs his mouth like an idiot at times. In a pre-season game against the Phoenix Coyotes, Denis Gauthier hit Jeremy Roenick which led to a concussion. I believe Avery went out to retaliate, but Gauthier refused to throw down. In a post-game interview, Avery basically said that it was typical of a French-Canadian to hide behind his visor and pretend to play tough. Teammate Luc Robitaille, a Hall of Famer and most winningest left-winger, was asked to comment since he is from Montreal. Luc replied with something to the effect that this wasn't the first time Avery had said something stupid, and it wasn't going to be the last. While I'm sure there are people who find this offensive, I just had to laugh because it is exactly something that Avery would say in the first place. And the Sean Avery Rule is probably the most inventive way to be such a jerk that the league actually made a rule to prevent it from happening again. For those of you who don't know, before 2008, there was no actual parameters given when screening the goalie. Okay, I'll back up here. Obviously, the main idea of hockey is to get the puck past the goaltender and into the net. In order to make it harder for the goalie to see, the opposing team may place a player in front of him to prevent his line of vision and maybe have another player sneak the puck past and into the net. This is called screening the goalie. Despite the NHL having been formed in 1917, no one had actually decided to stand before a goaltender and wave his arms around like a maniac until Sean Avery of the New York Rangers did just that in front of future Hall-of-Famer and already legendary Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. It was such an outrageous, yet devilishly ingenious, move that the NHL amended the rule to disallow such action. Here is a video, so you can witness Avery in all his glory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec_2oKWe2Gw.

However, not all enforcers are like Avery. In fact it wasn't until much later that I learned that enforcers, or goons (like that movie with Stiffler), aren't really goons at all. For example, George Parros has a degree in economics from Princeton University. He may be a tough guy on the ice, but he is very sharp! Another Princeton alum is another former Kings player Kevin Westgarth who received a degree in psychology. He also met his wife, Meagan Cowher, daughter of famed NFL coach Bill Cowher, at the university. Westgarth also played an instrumental role for the NHLPA during the most recent lockout. Despite the fact that he is mostly known for his size and inclination to throw down on the ice, he also understands the complicated mess of a collective bargaining agreement. John Scott who most recently joined the San Jose Sharks is another example. Scott holds an electrical engineering degree from Michigan Tech. Although not exactly an enforcer but does use his size to his advantage, Douglas Murray, formerly of the San Jose Sharks and now with the Montréal Canadiens, has a degree in hotel management from Cornell. When the Sharks played an exhibition game in Germany in 2010, Murray was instrumental in setting up travel itinerary and finding hotels. Despite the fact that many people think these goons are just big morons on the ice, it isn't actually true.

Which leads me to another reason why I love hockey: the players and coaches. The majority of players seem like good people. I'm not saying that they are all angels, but there are many who have good hearts. They know they are fortunate to be making the kind of money they do and also to be living out their childhood dream. For example, when most people think of former Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella, the words "rude," "obnoxious," and "hot-tempered" most likely come to mind. What people don't know that when he isn't in coach-mode (yeah, that's a thing), is that he is a very nice person. I had the opportunity to meet him a couple years ago when he was coach of the New York Rangers, and they came to play the San Jose Sharks. He was at the Tank about 9:30 am or so, which was approximately a couple hours before his team would practice before the game. He was in shorts and an Under Armour type shirt because he was going for a run around the parking lot at the arena. There were a few fans hanging around, and he was very polite. He would autograph anything presented to him, but he asked not to take pictures. Although he didn't give a reason, one could assume, he didn't want a picture of him all sweaty in his jogging outfit to start filling the internet. He was happy to talk to anyone who approached, and he definitely was not the guy you would see in interviews. I also read an article in ESPN (see article here: http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/10922185/former-new-york-ranger-michael-del-zotto-stays-touch-superfan-trades-espn-magazine) about his special connection with a young boy with cerebral palsy. The New York Rangers participate in a charity organization called Garden of Dreams which helps to fulfill the wishes of children who are in need or sick. One lucky Rangers fan was able to attend a practice and game with his family. This child had struck a chord with Tortorella that they continued to keep in touch even after he was fired from the Rangers, and he even paid for an exercise machine that the child needed. Despite his salty disposition in the media, he has a very kind heart.

Another example is Scott Hartnell. He's a bit of a pest on the ice. He can deliver hard hits, but he also scores. He has a very fun-loving personality, and it makes it easy to want to root for a guy like that. While he was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, a fan noticed that he falls on his own accord a lot. As a joke, the fan started a fall-count on Twitter. Hartnell took notice, and he turned the counter into a charity. He would donate a certain amount for every fall he made that would be spread among three charities that were important to him. He encouraged fans to also donate.

Similarly, Dustin Brown of the LA Kings is known as a hard hitter. Although it is debatable how accurate hit counts are, Brown is often in the top five in the league when it comes to hits. Because of this, he decided to donate $50 for every hit he made for a season. He also challenged fans to donate a per hit amount. This campaign won him an NHL award to honor his charity work. When I hear stories like these, it makes me proud to be a hockey fan. I feel like I'm supporting the good guys. I am in no way saying that there aren't players in other sports who are like this, but I enjoy learning more about the hockey players I love to watch on the ice.

But what I love about hockey most of all is how it makes me feel. Every time I watch a game, I can almost feel the chill of the ice and the excitement in the arena when I attended my first game. Even when I receive the latest issue of The Hockey News or The Fourth Period, I feel more alive. Hockey gives me something to look forward to, and I have something of an obsession for it. I am constantly on the hunt for things I can learn about the sport, its players, its coaches, and its history. With every game, I love rooting for the teams and players. Even as I watched my Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years, I could not help but feel a bit of my heart crush as I looked at the faces of Dominic Moore, Henrik Lundqvist, and Martin St. Louis of the New York Rangers. As happy as I was for my team and my favorite players, a part of me ached for those who had just been defeated because I feel like I know them. Dominic Moore had a great comeback season after losing his wife just the year before to cancer. Henrik Lundqvist has been such an elite goaltender but has yet to win a Stanley Cup for such a storied franchise, and his career is edging closer to an end. Martin St. Louis is a player who went undrafted but through determination and hard work, he has become one of the greatest scorers and is still seeking another chance at glory. At the same time, I was thrilled to see how elated Marian Gaborik and Robyn Regehr were to finally win that elusive Cup. I could almost feel how ecstatic they must have felt to be able to put their lips to the Cup at long last. Several organizations gave up on Gaborik being the star they needed to win it all, but he proved them wrong. Regehr was so close when he was with the Flames in 2004 but lost and hadn't been as close to winning since. These emotions are what make me love hockey.

What sports do you love? Why do you love them? You can share them in the comments section or tweet them to me @SportingAJenda.

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