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Five Reasons Why I love Hockey

Over at Puck Daddy, they’re doing a series on why various people love hockey. So I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth. Which, with the prices of copper these days, is probably closer to being worth a dime or so, but I digress. I figured, why not join in on the fun?
So, here you go – five reasons why I love hockey.

1. Tacoma, Washington, and the WHL
I’d always known that I’d like hockey. Even as a kid. It wasn’t something I grew up with, but I knew that if I took the time to sit down and watch it, I’d probably love it. Well, it wasn’t until the WHL came to Tacoma that I got a chance to sit down and watch it. Sure, the Seattle Thunderbirds have been around for decades, but I was rarely in Seattle – it was an hour and a half away. My family is from Tacoma, tho, and I was always there for one reason or another.

At 19 years old, I went to my first hockey game. It was in the Tacoma Dome, and it was a playoff game between the Tacoma Rockets and the Spokane Chiefs. My friend and I ended up sitting behind the Tacoma bench – which became our regular seats for the following two seasons. Not season tickets, but just as a preference. I don’t remember who won that first game I went to, but it didn’t matter – I was hooked.

So hooked, in fact, that a group of girls I’d met while watching hockey and I got together and started up our own team. We figured that since it was so fun to watch, it must be fun to play. At the time we were told, in the early 1990s, that it was the largest women’s ice hockey group on the west coast of North America. And we were right – there is no better sport to play. I’ve been a diehard fan of the game ever since.

2. Hipchecks
Weird, I know, but true. A well-thrown hipcheck is a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, it’s a dying art. No one does open ice hits anymore. Which may not be a bad thing since most guys probably don’t know how to take an open ice hit and not get hurt. You’ve got to know how to land after receiving a hip check, after all.

I saw only one all last season. Anton Stralman of the Toronto Maple Leafs threw a hip check on Tampa Bay Lightning captain, Vincent Lecavalier. It was a clean open-ice hit (see video HERE), but Vinny came up spitting nails – I guess he didn’t care for it. Maybe that’s why nobody does them anymore.

More after the break.
3. Atmosphere

I grew up watching football. Football is my first love, but hockey is my true love. And the atmosphere during a hockey game is comparable to the atmosphere of a college football game – only without the annoying cheerleaders – but in an entirely different way. It’s hard to describe, but if you’ve been to both, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

4. Practices
I love going to games, but sometimes going to practice is far more interesting and entertaining. Seeing how the coaches and the players approach the game, the work ethic the players put into a practice, and the odd little things they throw in to a practice are what make it interesting. I wanted to throw training camp in on this, too, but that’s not really the same thing.
At practice, for instance, the casual fan probably has no idea that individuals will practice how to fight. It’s not so much the throwing punches part that they’re working on as it is working on their balance on skates while throwing punches. And occasionally a forward or defenseman will borrow goalie gloves and sticks and practice goaltending after regular practice. That kind of thing is usually accompanied by a lot of joking, laughing, and hamming things up for effect. It’s a good time, actually. Both watching and participating in, if you play yourself.
5. The Players
As a woman, I can take this one of three ways, so I’m going to make this a three-part answer and cover everything.

A. In most big league sports, the athletes tend to cruise a little bit. For many individuals, getting to the Show and collecting a hefty paycheck is pretty much all they had ever hoped for. Not many of them still have that fire in their belly to win a championship after that, sadly. And quite a few of the most talented players exert just enough effort to get them by, instead of truly competing.

Hockey players are typically the lone exception. Maybe it has something to do with the ingrained philosophy that hockey is a team sport first, last, and always – or maybe it’s because a lot of hockey players are small town guys who have their heads on straight. I don’t know. But come around playoff time, you have to be dead to not get on the ice to play. And even teams who aren’t in the running for playoffs still put in a good effort down the stretch. That’s almost unheard of in the NFL, the NBA, and MLB. The individual and team efforts in hockey is what puts the entire sport head and shoulders above the rest.

B. The players themselves are the most normal guys you can come across in professional sports. (They’re still not exactly “normal” – whatever “normal” means – but as compared to the rest of professional sports, it’s close enough.) They take time to talk to the fans, they’re involved in the community, and most of them are totally unpretentious. There are always exceptions to every rule, of course – Dany Heatley sort of comes to mind for some reason. But, for the most part, they’re genuinely good guys – including the star players. The time they’ll take to patiently do autographs and pictures for everyone, especially for kids, is just amazing. You don’t get that with any other sport these days.

C. Hockey players are the best looking crowd of athletes – after soccer players, of course. (On the hierarchy of attractiveness for most female sports fans, no group of athletes can compare to soccer players.) Some might argue that baseball players are better looking than hockey players, and that’ll always be up for discussion, but there’s no disputing that hockey players are a good looking group of men. After soccer, hockey, and baseball, tho, the attractiveness quotient drops significantly for the rest of the major sports. Which is sad, but true. Women don’t typically watch football for the players, unless it’s maybe college ball – and that’s a big maybe. Sorry to disillusion all of you men out there.

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