I've been struggling to come up with topics lately, not wanting to go into overkill about the Finals (I've written four articles about it already, I believe). So while thinking about all the possible things I could touch base on, it struck me--I love the game. Why not write about that?
Growing up in Buffalo, NY, I was born into a hockey town. I loved the Aud. Christian Ruutu and Darren Puppa were my idols (stop laughing). And Moginly was Alexander the Great before Ovechkin could even skate.
Aside from those, here are reasons both past and present why I love this game:
Reason #42: The Open Ice Hit
It's died down a bit but a few guys are bringing it back in full force. Dion Phaneuf and Niklas Kronwall have made it an art form as of late. Jack Johnson has shown that he can lay the wood, as well.
It's a shame that the league has received more press for the dirty hits handed out, taking away from the beautiful brutality of a clean open ice hit. Hitting was the only thing that endeared an otherwise atrocious Scott Stevens to me. He was the destroyer of worlds, the end of the line.
Best personal memory: Brian Campbell absolutely destroying R.J. Umberger in the 2005-06 playoffs. The most brutal clean hit I've ever seen. I still can't believe people actually argue it was a dirty hit. Campbell led with the shoulder and most of all, Umberger had his head down. Apparently, he went to the Eric Lindros School of Hockey.
Reason #86: Alex Ovechkin
Anyone who has read my stuff knows how I feel about the guy. He's jaw dropping. He's the most exciting player I've ever seen and I was lucky enough to see Pavel Bure when he was truly the "Russian Rocket.”
Everything about Ovechkin is great. His speed. His skill. That bullet of a shot that makes every goalies pants go a bit dark. That toothless grin makes him seem like a good ol' Canadian boy. Most of all, he loves the game. In a time when athletes are constantly complaining, it's refreshing to see a kid who just loves doing what he's doing.
Best personal memory: The gravity-defying goal he scored in Phoenix. Yes, it was lucky that the puck went in, but the amount of skill it took for him to even get it on net was AMAZING.
Reason #127: The Stanley Cup
How could anyone not want to win this trophy? It's the single most awe-inspiring piece of tin ever made. It'd be great if I didn't even like hockey, but seeing all those names, all that history right there on the Cup is just--wow.
Plus, I can't even begin to think about what I would do if I had a day with the Cup. What would I drink out of it? What wouldn't I drink out of it? Where would be the best place to properly show it off? Should I just wander the streets with this thing over my head?
(Hold on, my head is spinning.)
(Ok, I'm good.)
Best personal memory: Sadly, I don't have a Sabres memory--yet. But as a huge Forsberg fan, I followed him during his days with the Avs and got to see Ray Bourque hoist the Cup. The chills I got from that moment felt like an Antarctic winter. I'll never forget that.
Reason #312: Rick Jeanneret
The best play-by-play guy in the game. I won't argue about this. He could make a nap sound exciting. Don’t even get me started on some of his sayings. Who doesn't love "top shelf where mama hides the cookies?" Or "La La La La La, La LaFontaine!"
Side note: I'm fully convinced that if the Sabres ever win the Cup, Jeanneret will keel over right in the press box. No doubt in my mind. And frankly, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Best personal memory: Back in 1993, the Sabres played the Bruins in the Adams Division semi-finals. In overtime, Brady May scored the series clincher with Jeannerett shouting "May Day! May Day! May Day!" as the Buffalo crowed went absolutely bonkers. I can't even fathom life after him.
Reason #551: Goalies
Everyone loves a great save, but that's not my reasoning with this one. Goalies are insane. Certifiably, clinically insane. Patrick Roy used to talk to his posts hoping that they would save his butt when he needed it. And he wasn't the only one.
Goalies are like pitchers in baseball: completely unapproachable on game days and just as superstitious and weird. Plus, one of my all-time favorites was a Sabres goalie named Darren Puppa (as mentioned above).
Best personal memory: I'm not sure of the time frame, but while he was still in Montreal, Roy was feuding with then-Blackhawks star Jeremy Roenick. While speaking to the media, Roy responded to a comment made by Roenick by saying "I can't hear Jeremy, my Stanley Cup rings are plugging my ears."
Reason # 1,294,175: Game 7's
Nothing quite compares to an NHL playoff game. There's a buzz about it, kind of like a rock concert right before the lights go down. Game 7's are three times that.
That anxiety and nervousness that you feel every playoff game? Amplify it by a thousand and shoot a big dose of heroin in your eyeball. That's the best way I can think of to describe the feeling of your team in a Game 7. But you know what? It's the greatest feeling on earth.
Best personal memory: I actually have two. The first one was viewed from the comfort of a buddy's house. It was Game 7 of the 2001 Finals, Avs/Devils. Alex Tanguay delivered the biggest performance of his life and everyone roared when Ray finally got to hoist the Cup. Unbelievable.
The second I witnessed in person. It was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarters, Buffalo vs. Ottawa. Not being able to finish things up in regulation, the game headed to overtime.
Derek Plante, whom I did NOT like and regarded as a complete and utter wuss, flipped a shot past Ron Tugnutt and the place exploded. Coincidentally, I don't think I ever busted Plante's cajones again. Easily the most exciting game I've been to.
That wraps it up for now. I'm sure I'll have another million or so reasons to add at some point in the future, but these points should more than illuminate my love for hockey and the NHL.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going top shelf where mama hides the cookies.