It's May 16. The Lightning's season ended not quite a month ago, and I'm sitting here watching Team USA fumble their way into almost losing to Kazakhstan and trying to get motivated to think about hockey in an abstract kind of way. I'm having a hard time.
How do I sit down and pick five things I love about something that has been one of the biggest part of my life for eight months (or more?) "What do you like about life?" Well, living, mostly. How do I narrow this down to things I can count on my fingers? It's a tougher assignment than it seems.
I daresay there are times I could do this fairly easily. My first piece of formal writing about hockey was this piece about why I love the game. All of those things I mentioned there are still true, even though they were written before my heart got battered by the summer of 2011 and before my awareness of many of the worst things about the game started feeding my cynicism.
But right now it's hard. This is the time of year when I'm rebuilding hockey as a holistic experience. Right now, it's all about deliberately not breaking things down.
Still. What do I love about hockey right now? Today?
I love watching young guys reach their potential. I love seeing Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat burst onto everyone's radar. I want to see guys like J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov and Kristers Gudlevskis do the same. Some of these aren't Bolts players. I loved Sami Vatanen in the Finnish league and people are now seeing what I saw then. I love that. On the reverse side, I hate watching Anders Lindbäck fall so hard four years after I started watching him. I get invested in the kids. Seeing them succeed is true joy. Seeing them falter is wrenchingly painful.
I love goalies. I know you already know this, but I do. And not just NHL goalies. The guys I really love are these guys, who know the position intimately and whose passion for it isn't dimmed even after long days spent on skates with their students. They don't get paid much. They're putting in the hours for the love of it, and they're so willing to share what they know with anyone who cares enough to ask. They're a joy to "listen to" and I look forward to Goalie Twitter every morning throughout the season.
I love this goal by Vlad Namestnikov. Who wouldn't?
I love Dennis Morgan singing the anthem at Bridgestone Arena.
Well, I gotta be honest. This time of year I just love watching games. Playoffs. World Championships. Whatever. I love letting the whole thing just happen. I love the way it resets everything for me, how I can stop trying to figure out the reasons and remember what it has all been about all along. I love the randomness, the unexpectedness, the passion. I love just spending time with a game that means so much to me and with players I don't really get to see very often otherwise.
This is the time of year when I fall in love with the game all over again. Every season by the first week in April I'm worn out trying to keep up with the stats and news. This is my time to let all of that go. I don't have to think any more. Hockey just is during the playoffs. And that's a blessing to me.