I watched my first hockey game on TV during a visit to California in 2008. The San Jose Sharks were facing the Calgary Flames in the Stanley Cup play-offs and, despite not knowing the first thing about the sport, I soon found myself avidly following the team’s exploits, first against the Flames and then the Dallas Stars, on the television and in the press during my two weeks out on the west coast.
On my return home, with more than a little help from a good friend from Canada who loves his hockey and his Bruins (thanks Mr B), I started getting into the game and developing a rather unexpected passion for the Sharks.
Now it seems there is no going back. Hockey’s got me hooked. So, in recognition of the start of the NHL season today, here are five reasons I love hockey:
1. The outrageous moments of skill
I am a firm believer that the best sport is beautiful sport. Sport that moves you. This beauty can take many forms. I have found beauty in great goals which emerge in a split second to transform a football match. I have found beauty in the intricate perfection of a maximum break in snooker. I have found beauty in watching a sprinter take the human form to peaks previously unreached.
In hockey I have also found beauty. There is something truly incredible about some of the things these athletes are able to do at speed, in the briefest moment, on skates. Even in the short time I’ve been seriously following the sport I’ve seen Alexander Ovechkin score a goal as beautiful as this and Miikka Kiprusoff pull off a save like this. In each moment I sat back and marveled at what I had just witnessed.
Hockey is phenomenally skillful sport. It’s fast, physical, and intense. That every now and again you can be confronted by an astounding moment of skill makes it all the more special.
2. The rough and tumble
Fighting is a part of hockey. Whether you agree it should be is a debate for another time, but we’re just going to have to accept that it’s intricately woven into the very fabric of the sport. In a country such as Britain, where (ice) hockey is very much a niche sport, many people could only tell you one thing about the game: that’s the one where they try and knock the crap out of each other, right?
Indeed it is, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Football, that’s soccer for our friends across the pond, has become almost a non-contact sport in recent years, and who could honestly say they wouldn’t relish the chance to see the players slugging it out when tensions boil over?
Imagine Ferdinand and Drogba going toe-to-toe in a United-Chelsea game. Hard to picture, isn’t it? But in hockey you might just see two big-name stars get it on during a crucial match. Take this little dust-up between Sharks centre Joe Thornton and Ducks centre Ryan Getzlaf. This pair dropped the gloves in the opening second of a crucial play-off game, and as a spectator you felt the excitement level and intensity of the match being ratcheted up even further by this scrap. I do believe there’s something beautiful in moments like this too.
Sadly the same can’t be said for this incident. There is absolutely nothing beautiful about someone getting Staubitzed, but I love it just the same.
3. Fear The Fin
Being a hockey fan in the UK isn’t the easiest thing in the world. I don’t have the option of getting together with friends to watch the big game, and even if I did there’s the slight issue of games on the west coast starting at the rather antisocial hour of 3.30am GMT. This means I lose a lot of sleep by rising in the dark, watching the game until the sun rises, then going back to bed to try and grab some sleep before work. This sucks. But what makes it suck a whole lot less is fearthefin.com.
Fear The Fin is a San Jose Sharks blog. But it’s an awful lot more. It’s my first stop for Sharks news and the only place where I can share some gameday banter while the world around me sleeps. The guys and gals who contribute to this site do a great job and have helped me immerse myself in the game. I’ll be forever grateful.
4. The fantastic montages
Confession time. I’m just a sucker for a really great television montage. I love ‘em so much that the Enrique Iglesias song Hero still makes me think of the 2002 FA Cup Final because the BBC used it over their highlights at the end of the game.
CBC, the Canadian national broadcaster and the people behind Hockey Night in Canada, are kings of the killer montage, especially at play-off time. Favourites of mine include this offering before game four of the 2009 Stanley Cup Final, this tribute to the 2009 play-offs, and this pre-season teaser at the start of last season. During the long off-season these are a sure-fire way of getting me all excited about the impending return of hockey.
5. The sheer physicality
Picture the scene, a skater is heading up the ice fast, puck glued to the stick, then just as he’s about to cross the opponents’ blue line: BOOM. A defenceman lays down a hit so powerful, so devastating, that it feels as though the very fabric of space and time has been irreparably torn. Admittedly that sensation is simply caused by the cameraman suddenly jerking backwards to where the offensive play has come to an unceremonious halt, but still, you get what I’m trying to say.
Hockey is a startlingly physical game and the guys who get suited up and hit the ice are some of the very toughest in the world of sport. These guys play back-to-back nights, something that’d leave your average footballer crying like a child. They lose teeth, but simply go to a rink-side dentist, have it seen to, then step back out on the ice.
Sharks centre Scott Nichol once said: “I’ll take a broken nose for getting the puck out of the zone.” I need say nothing more.
So there you have it, that’s why I love hockey and the San Jose Sharks. Here’s to the start of a new season and to seeing the Cup paraded down Santa Clara Street come June. Go Sharks!
(This piece was inspired by the Puck Daddy series Five Reasons I Love Hockey, which features puckheads revealing five things that either made them a fan or that keep them watching hockey. Click here to read some more.)