Over the summer of 2009, Puck Daddy was asking bloggers to contribute a post detailing five reasons why they love hockey. Recently, fearless leader John Fontana suggested resurrecting the topic through a series of posts here at Raw Charge. So far, Cassie, Alex and John have weighed in. Now it's my turn.
Not everybody is a hockey fan
Let's face it; there's a certain amount of smug satisfaction that comes from being a hockey fan when we know that everybody isn't. It's a niche sport and we're in the niche. We know something cool that they don't. Ha ha! We chuckle as much as we cringe when they make the mistake of referring to "periods" as "quarters" and we pity them for only knowing the words to one country's national anthem. And they simply can not get their heads around the concept of two teams fighting with each other and then lining up to shake hands when it's over (see "The Hockey Family" below). Oh, you poor, knuckle-headed, non-hockey fans. You're ignorance is simply adorable.
...But everybody can be
Unlike the annoying hipsters who find the coolest dive bar where they choose from a wide variety of unknown craft beers while listening to the most eclectic collection of vinyl on the jukebox and immediately stop going there once other people find out about it, we're more than happy to share our passion with anybody who shows an interest. Some of us (outside of parts of Canada, anyway) are downright evangelical in sharing our passion for the game.Taking someone to their first game and patiently explaining offsides and icing over and over is not only not a chore, it's a pleasure and privilege.
In hockey parlance, the arenas where teams play are referred to as buildings. That's great because I've worked in sports and entertainment from the venue operations side for over twenty years now (yikes) and people like me refer to all entertainment venues as buildings. We have a tendency to view the experience in the arenas we visit like comparative inspectors. Sure, we're there for a game but it's added fun to see what kind of concessions they offer, the staff's uniforms, how clean (or dirty) the place is, especially in the minor leagues where things are a little less buttoned down or in older facilities where a lack of modern amenities is more than compensated for with charm and history.
Of course, every sport has uniforms that are uniquely suited to the game being played, but there's truly nothing like hockey jerseys. For starters, they're called sweaters, not jerseys. Another thing is they have long sleeves. Basketball jerseys don't even have sleeves. Neither do football jerseys anymore. Those sleeves allow for the display of a lot of personality, from the simple, classic blue stripe that goes all the way around the home red sweater of the Montreal Canadiens to the European teams whose sweaters are covered in ads and flamboyant graphics like a stock car. The front of a hockey sweater (with a few notable exceptions) identifies its team by the prominent display of just the team's logo like the crest on a shield. And what peculiar and wonderful logos they are. Be it a winged wheel, an orca whale crashing through ice, a shark biting a hockey stick in two or a bright blue lightning bolt, all are logos that would look odd on the side of a football helmet or the front of a baseball cap but look right at home on the front of a hockey sweater.
"The Hockey Family"
I watch Lightning home games from the press box. One of my favorite things is the Community Heroes presentation that takes place in the first period. When it's completed, Lightning players tap their sticks on the boards and the ice as a show of applause. More and more, visiting players, who presumably have never heard of the program, tap their sticks as well. That's The Hockey Family in action. Last year, I watched rowdy Canadiens fans in section 316 go at if for over 60 minutes with equally rabid Lightning fans in section 315. When the game was over, they met in the aisle between the two sections, shook hands and wished each other well. That's The Hockey Family in action. Every team in the NHL has been represented by at least one player who has spoken on behalf of the "You Can Play" initiative which promotes the support of all teammates, regardless of sexual identity. That's The Hockey Family in action. When teenagers Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette were seriously injured in youth hockey accidents in Minnesota, they received an outpouring of support from The Hockey Family far and wide. Like any family, the Hockey Family isn't perfect. There are fights and hard feelings but at the end of the day, those of us in it... and if you're reading this, that's you too... recognize and appreciate that we're all a part of something bigger than rivalries and disagreements.