How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hockey

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I had two options when writing my article this week. One, try and break down the Edmonton Oilers game and somehow try and use a sample size of one to forecast the Canucks season and how it will go, or two, take the week to talk about how that was the first game of hockey I have enjoyed in a long time. And while I know I should probably try and talk about how that game showed the Canucks odd approach to defense (they are very gracious hosts, allowing multiple visits to their slot without bothering their opponents), I thought it might be fun just to talk about a subject that brings all of us here in the first place; the simple love of hockey. Read more past the jump!

Back before I got into the writing gig, I used to watch hockey from the comfort of my home, screaming at my TV, and asking questions to nobody in particular about Dan Cloutier’s ability to play in net. It was a simpler time, a time when I could say whatever I wanted and do whatever I wanted.

Fast forward to my current writing gig, in which I am not quite a journalist and not quite a blogger, and I find myself watching hockey with an entirely different mindset. If you read my stuff often, you’ll notice I often talk about how watching games in press row is a very somber experience. It feels like you are encouraged to look to the person beside you as much as possible and scoff audibly at what you’re seeing. 

“Pfft, you call that a pass?” 

“Pfft, you call that a dump in?”

“Pfft, you call that a hat trick?”

“Pfft, you call that a hot dog?”

I’m pretty sure at this point that the more negative you are, the more points you get, and at the end of the year somebody gets a car for having the most points. 

The main reason I can ascertain why this happens is because somehow a negative tone has come to be associated with being an unbiased, telling it like it is reporter, whereas a positive tone means you’re just an idiot with a press pass. 

Since I know I am on the lowest rung of the ladder, I would often try and just fit in. Soon I was watching games and learning to temper my enthusiasm about anything exciting that happened. A nice goal was scored? I would tilt my head slightly and nod a few times, as if begrudgingly giving respect for a nice play. A huge hit happened? I would narrow my eyes slightly and say “hrm” aloud, as if I was internally debating whether violence still had a place in the game. A massive fight would occur? I would lean back as if trying to avoid the spectacle of it all. Oh the horror!

Now, doing this during a normal season was toxic enough to my hockey passions. Then came the Torts season, in which the hockey actually was pretty much unwatchable. There were no pretty plays. There were no Sedins being amazing. There was just a whole bunch of blocked shots and weird hockey cliches. Instead of talking about practicing the shootout, Torts told us about “stiffness.” Always with the stiffness.

Before I realized it, I just didn’t enjoy watching hockey. I would watch the games, but it felt flat, like I was just watching something for the sake of something to do. 

Then came the game against the Oilers. This was a game that showed a daring lack of defense, but was overflowing with passion and excitement. The crowd was alive in the building. The teams were trading goals. There were pretty plays in the offensive zone, there were scrambles in the defensive zone, it was an amazing spectacle to watch. And a funny thing happened after Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fought. I stood up and clapped. I didn’t scoff it off, I didn’t sit back and shake my head, I stood up and clapped because god damn, that was a fun, unexpected fight to watch.

The rest of the game I just took it all in and had fun for the first time in many years at a hockey game. I went back to my roots and actually got into the game, watching everything unfold before me, taking in the emotion and excitement of the building and the action on the ice. It was glorious because I had forgotten what made me love hockey in the first place.

It’s easy to get caught up in the negatives in a hockey market. People have such a passion for the team that we can break down one play for weeks, trying to figure out what went wrong. With the rise of social media, it’s even easier for people to talk hockey and have back and forth discussions, and negativity can creep in very easily. As I said, negativity is often viewed as being a realist, while being positive can denote you as an air headed fan with no analytical skills of any kind. 

However, that is not always the case. I am very capable of high-fiving my friend over Hamhuis trying to punch Nugent-Hopkins in the face, then ten minutes later, discuss and break down how for every one good thing Lucas Sbisa does, he immediately follows it up with two very bad things (The Sbisa Formula is real, people). Enjoying what you’re watching doesn’t somehow cripple your ability to sift through the game and point out flaws, nor does pointing out how a player is fun to watch mean you are putting him on some pedestal that he will never come down from.

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Case in point, Radim Vrbata is the most serious looking Canuck on the team. Honestly, look at that face. He looks like he could murder you and he wouldn’t give it a second thought. On top of that, he has a great shot and is playing really well with the Sedins, which means it has been a ton of fun for me to pump his tires on Twitter. Does it mean I won’t write a post about his January scoring slump (I asked my magic 8-ball, this will happen, sorry guys)? Of course not. But hockey is just hockey, we might as well have some fun with it while we watch the Canucks find new ways to break our hearts every year, otherwise what’s the point?

In closing, I just wanted to remind people to try and have fun with hockey once in a while. Don’t lose sight of how you fell in love with it in the first place. Passions and emotions fuel sports at the end of the day, so just make sure you include some positive ones in there if you can. I know this year I plan on having fun for the first time in a while, and I hope others do too.