For my first post I’m going to borrow a summertime feature idea from Puck Daddy, an NHL blog on the Yahoo network. Over the month of August, Puck Daddy posted “Five Reasons” from all kinds of different people throughout the hockey spectrum, from TSN personalities to dudes in hockey novelty bands. As I read each individual take on the best game you can play, I felt it would be fun to put out my top five. Here goes nothing…
5. The Last Name
This really goes for all sports, but it hit home with me as a seven-year-old kid who lived, ate and breathed Wayne Gretzky. I, like many kids, bore out my NHL fantasies playing road hockey, and one day in particular while shooting around by myself, I announced, “Steve shoots, Steve scores!” Speaking my name aloud in celebration didn’t really have the desired effect I had hoped for, and as a result, the top-shelf goal I’d just potted to win the Stanley Cup didn’t really seem all that great. A little bummed, I put my stick away and went inside. Later that day I asked my older cousin Amy why it was when Bob Cole would say, “Gretzky shoots, Gretzky scores!” it sounded cool, as opposed my name, which sounded lame. Amy opened my eyes by saying, “try your last name.” That was all I needed to be brimming with pride and confidence as I won the Stanley Cup — “Cameron shoots, Cameron scores!” was music to my ears.
4. Rooting for the sports-market underdog
Calling the NHL a sports-market underdog is borne of the fact that mainstream sports media, like ESPN and Sports Illustrated, largely push hockey to the periphery. Whenever I come across a sports fan that doesn’t get hockey, I immediately want to convert them into a passionate hockey fan: I want to force them to watch the most amazing plays of the year; I want to take them to a live game; I want to take them to the Hockey Hall of Fame and show them the Stanley Cup. Nothing makes me happier than seeing hockey skeptics fall in love with the game. And for this reason, I root for hockey to get all the good publicity it can. I love it when NHL paraphernalia is worn in hollywood movies or television shows, and I secretly enjoy it when David Letterman is spotted at the Rangers game. I also love reminding American sports fans that both ESPN and SI have called “Miracle on Ice” (the 1980 US Olympic hockey victory over the Russians on home soil) the greatest American sports moment. Go, hockey!
3. Hockey tournaments when I was a kid
I was talented enough to play on the travel team when I was growing up, and lucky enough to have parents who scrimped and saved to pay for all the costs associated with playing travel hockey. Some of my favourite memories were the road tournaments that would take an entire weekend to play. These travel tourneys are the kid version of the adult road trip: You get to go to some unknown place (maybe even on a bus!), you get to stay in a hotel, you get to eat out at restaurants and you get to play a minimum of three hockey games. Perfect. From playing mini hockey in the halls of the hotel, to spending time in between games at the local mall buying crap that wasn’t needed, to crushing the poor American host team in the semi-finals, it all added up to a magical time. I am still swept with romance at the notion of the travel tournament, which is why, today, I love playing in the Canadian National Pond Hockey Championships; it is the Beer League equivalent of a kids hockey tournament.
2. The Live Game
Have you ever witnessed a shot ring off the post? The sound of frozen rubber slamming into steel pierces through a cheering and jeering audience of 18,000 strong as clear as if it were you alone in the building. It elicits sighs and despair from some, cheers and relief from others, as the play continues on with the promise of more chances. Have you ever heard 18,000 people collectively hold their breath when a player is sprung for a break away? It is so quiet you can hear a pin drop. And the inevitable exhale, regardless of the outcome, is always a marvel of acoustics. Live hockey is pretty damn exciting. It is rough and tumble and skilled and beautiful all at once. It is a team game where superstars take shifts and grind in the corners like everyone else. And it is because of moments like those listed above — the moments that capture not just the excitement of sport, but the thrill of the unknown — that the uninitiated, and initiated alike, exist on common ground.
1. The Stanley Cup Presentation and Ensuing Celebrations
The Stanley Cup is possibly the most unique thing about the game. It predates the NHL, has more good stories than F. Scott Fitzgerald and is the only major sports trophy to be engraved with every player’s name from the winning team. But the presentation of the Stanley Cup, and the ensuing laps around the rink with players passing the Cup to one another and sharing the moment with the fans is, I think, the best part the game. The Cup wasn’t always passed around. It was in the 1980s that the iconic celebration started, when Gretzky became the first player to go from simply hoisting the Cup, to skating with it and passing it off. The tradition is something special, and it allows each player a moment to revel in victory and live the childhood dream of hoisting the Cup. It also provides hockey fans a chance to see their favourite player hoist the Cup, even if your favourite player is kind of obscure, like Jiri Hrdina — and he hoisted it three times! Who knew? The presentation and the ensuing celebrations where each player gets to have the Cup for one day is yet another layer to the great Stanley Cup legacy. This didn’t become common place until 1995, and it has now become the unmistakable right of those who win it. In no other sport is a championship trophy so loved. The gesture of bringing the Cup down from its mantle endears fans of hockey to the trophy and the majesty of the game even more. I was in Cole Harbour when Sidney Crosby brought the Cup home this summer. There were multiple thousands in attendance, and I bet many in attendance were as excited to see the Cup as they were to see Sid the Kid. As Sidney described it best, “I think there are a few people here today that are Cup crazy!”