Last week, my brother called me from Virginia to tell me to ask what hockey team he should support.
It was a valid question. Born and raised on the East End, professional hockey was never really on our radar. It didn’t help that after-school pickup games were more exciting than the Islanders in the ’90s. That all changed when I moved to Florida for a year after college. Yes, I became a hockey fan while I was living in the Sunshine State. My first live game was a Tampa Bay Lightning matchup, and I was hooked from the moment the puck dropped. As I’ve moved back to the East End with my NHL fandom intact, I quickly discovered that hockey is the easiest professional sporting event to attend. Not having to deal with city traffic is infinitely appealing. And hockey is one of those sports where you can enjoy the atmosphere, even if you’re not a fan of a particular team.
Here’s why it’s awesome:
1. It’s fast-paced
Hockey players race up and down the ice at warp speed, stop on a dime, and then reverse directions. They dodge flying pucks, flying fists and members of the opposing team flying, just as fast, in their direction. Goalies see upwards of 30 shots a night on their nets, each fired at 100 miles per hour. And if you can’t keep track of the black saucer flying through the air, pay mind to the goalie’s mask: No two are the same. They’re works of art that depict the home city, fierce monsters, fire, a combination of all three or…whatever.
2. The fighting is civilized
Sometimes it’s nice to see conflict resolved so decisively. And it’s more than just throwing fists. There’s an aura of civility to the dance.
“Hey, I don’t appreciate that check.”
“Oh yeah, what are you going to do about it?”
“Want to fight?”
Sticks are thrown aside. And the crowd starts cheering.
Which leads to…
3. The Loyalty
Can’t fight your own fights? Someone will cover you. There’s also something to be said for watching 19-year-olds skate with 40-year-olds. Where else can you see such a display of youth vs. veteran skill? With few “bench warmers,” hockey is a sport where everyone has to pull his weight.
4. Lord Stanley’s Cup is a championship trophy steeped in tradition and ridiculousness
The tradition: Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor General of Canada, purchased the Stanley Cup in 1892, when it went to the Canadian amateur ice hockey champions. It has been the ultimate prize for the winner of the grueling NHL season since 1927, although a replicated, authenticated trophy was produced in 1963 to protect the original from wear and tear. And worn and torn it gets.
The ridiculousness: Unlike the championship trophies for baseball, basketball or football, a new Stanley Cup is not made each year—it changes hands as a new champion team is crowned.
Hockey Rule No. 1: Don’t touch it ’til you win it. But when you do, each player skates around the ice with it before using it as a champagne glass. Then, every member of the team gets his own personal day with it. The Stanley Cup has served as a baptismal fountain, a trough for the winner of the Kentucky Derby, an ice cream bowl, a sleeping companion, a cereal bowl and a cooler. It’s gone to the movies, to the MTV beach house and has been found at the bottom of swimming pools—at least twice. There’s little limit to what you can do with the Cup, although official Keepers of the Cup accompany it on its journeys. Just in case…
As we’re just three weeks into the abbreviated season, there’s still plenty of time to head upisland for some entertainment. Take advantage before the Islanders bolt from Nassau to Brooklyn.