When the sports world shut down in March, there was a lot of uncertainty as to when and if competitive action would return. Four months and untold of hours of watching reruns of games from yesteryear, actual live hockey that meant something returned this past weekend.
It was different, yet familiar. The piped in crowd noise, different camera angles, announcers belatedly realizing what happened on the ice because they’re watching it like we are for the most part all took some getting used to. Yet, while the clock was running, the action pretty much stayed the same. One of the advantages of hockey broadcasts is that for the most part the crowd isn’t noticeable, so, unlike baseball, there isn’t the same constant reminder that the stands are empty.
Having some game watching under our belts, we open up the week with the questions - what about the game of hockey did you miss the most?
The Lightning power play. Yes, in the one game we saw it wasn’t quite THE Lightning power play since Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos weren’t on the ice, but even with their understudies filling the role the fun was there.
Nikita Kucherov nets an EXPLOSIVE 1️⃣ timer on the power play! ⚡— FOX Sports Bolts (@FOXSportsBolts) July 29, 2020
Watch the @TBLightning #TBLvsFLA exhibition LIVE FOX Sports Sun | FOX Sports Go: https://t.co/YT4WQZFjqs#GoBolts #NHL pic.twitter.com/Jm57vAu7Sp
It’s so much fun to watch this team when they’re clicking and playing with confidence, and no part of their game illustrates that better than their power play. Crisp passing, multiple options, folks moving into position away from the puck - it’s all a little bit of poetry on ice. Then they start launching one-timers from both sides of the ice and the other team starts scrambling...that’s the good stuff. It combines the planned aspect of set plays with the chaos of improvisation that makes hockey fun to watch.
What I missed the most was the routine of the season. With the exception of a couple breaks through the season here and there, there’s multiple Lightning games every week. With most games happening on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, it gave me a fairly set evening schedule during the week, whether it meant driving to Tampa for the game or setting up to watch it from home. That loss of routine felt even more overwhelming when coupled with the other changes required of working from home and not being able to go out to eat with friends.
Granted, the offseason means there are no games going on as well. But the big difference is that with the offseason, there’s a definite end in sight and some important events in the NHL Entry Draft, awards season, and free agency that help to break it up. Since the season was paused however, there was no draft, no awards, no free agency. Just endless speculation of what would come next and when. Having some certainty now has also brought back my drive to write about hockey knowing that there’s something worth talking about and that there will be something to talk about for a while before settling in for another “offseason” this fall that should have a more definite timeline of when it will end.
Having something live to look forward to watching on TV or listening online. Sure, it was great reliving past games as filler at first, but after a few months of the same “great” moments over and over again, you long for new live games to reminisce about. Even if it’s in a bubble and you have fake crowd noise.
I’m probably a bit different from my fellows here because what I’ve really missed I still don’t have. This is going to sound super cheesy, but I miss going to the Arena. I miss the community that’s there, the feeling that everyone in the building at that one specific time is there for something greater than themselves. The War Memorial is a smaller building, so the community is tighter. I might not know everyone’s name, but I know enough about the people I see regularly to compliment their new haircut or ask about their grandkids.
Although social media has certainly helped, it just isn’t the same as getting a fistbump from the team’s public address announcer (Mat) or talking hockey and family with the other season ticket holders in my section. There’s a reason I tend to call the War Memorial “home” and in the past few months, I’ve thought a lot about what it’s going to be like to just be able to walk back through the doors. I miss it all very, very much.
I’ll be honest, I don’t miss the hockey I remember. With everything that’s gone on in the world since the murder of George Floyd, it’s only brought into more clear definition my reality as a minority fan of hockey. I see the need for change more clearly than ever, in Canada as well as the United States. Canadian Emancipation Day was on Saturday — yes, my country owned slaves as well. We treat our minorities poorly as well. We judge, we stereotype, we live in paranoia of our fellow humans too.
It’s impossible to ignore that part of our society. And it’s also impossible to see the moment right now where change is possible, and not push as hard as we can to create that reality where all people are created equal, judged equally, and given equal opportunity. I’ve seen my parents struggled through racism their whole lives, I don’t want that life for myself, I want something better. I want hockey back, but I also want it back in a better position in terms of diversity than what we had before. I feel like I’ve at least earned the right to try and move it in that direction.
The NHL has been really frustrating in their resistance to move. There has been a lot of walking back from the company line in the past week due to so much activism from the Hockey Diversity Alliance player video and the Black Girl Hockey Club Twitter movement of #Kneel4Hockey. They are both standing on the shoulders of JT Brown, who protested racial injustice here in Tampa Bay not too long ago.
The NHL has taken the step of saying what I wrote in my second paragraph; that it’s impossible for minority fans to ignore racism. I am grateful for that, it’s a real and important step to make and one I’ve also taken. But they haven’t reached the next step yet; that teammates need to stand up for each other. It’s not a team if one player is left to struggle on their own without every other player by their side. For as much of a team sport as hockey is, it feels quite hollow and isolating looking from the outside in, and often for players, from the inside out.
For so long, the burden has been on players to be strong for their teammates, which that implicitly meant keeping their struggles to themselves. But in this hockey culture, there’s no one to support because no one knows how each other is struggling. Right now, players of color are trying to share the racism they struggle with, but we don’t see teammates supporting them.
It’s starting to change — Matt Dumba’s teammates walked with him to the tunnel between the benches before he gave his speech — but it’s still an introverted support. Seeing it loudly with an exclamation mark would mean so much to every young athlete wanting to play in the NHL, to every nerd who wants to run a hockey team, and to every fan who wants to feel comfortable watching a game wherever they are.
The NHL is better when it’s diverse. It is better when it has the talents and enthusiasm minorities are on the ice and in the front office. It is better when it has more fans watching and investing in the sport. It is better when everyone can enjoy the game, when no one at a rink has to worry about being thought of as less because of some superficial difference. I guess that’s what I’ve missed most — being able to just talk hockey.
So what about y’all? What do you about hockey? Let us know in the comments.