Ten Reasons Why Nothing Beats Some NHL Hockey
While I was browsing through Bleacher Report the other day, I saw a poll on the side of the main page.
The question asked what the only thing worse than holiday leftovers was, and one of the choices was hockey.
It got me thinking—are people still not into hockey whatsoever? Did the playoffs last season not intrigue you? Personally, I've always been a huge hockey fan, and the NHL is simply the best level of hockey there is. I can't even fathom the idea of saying hockey is worse than the chances of the Indianapolis Colts making the playoffs.
After all, 1.1 percent of the voters did feel that way as of the last time I checked.
Anyway, for those of you still on the fence—or to make an appropriate analogy, for those of you straddling the blue line—here are 10 reasons to love the brand of sport we see in the National Hockey League.
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One of the biggest criticisms I hear from non-hockey fans is that the game is too boring and low-scoring for them.
Hey, if you think hockey's boring, that's your call. But next time you're watching a game, try to count to three while a player has possession of the puck.
Almost every time, that thing is long gone before you can rattle off half of that count. In the time it takes between pitches of a baseball game, the puck may have potentially visited almost every player on the ice at least once.
It's the only one of the four major sports today that has even a somewhat realistic chance of playing an entire period without a single stoppage of play.
Some will argue with me when I say that hockey is the truest team sport there is, but you simply can't have a superstar solely win the game for you.
In baseball, your pitcher can throw a no-hitter. In basketball, LeBron or Kobe can win you the game (see: Kobe's 81-point game). Football is a close call, but I still see the same playmakers throughout the entire game for the winning side.
Hockey literally takes an 18-man roster giving contributions every time they touch the ice.
They all have to play offense and defense. If one guy isn't getting the job done, an entire line will struggle to succeed.
Two minutes is a very long shift in a hockey game. As well as Ovechkin or Crosby may perform, there's no chance they win the game unless their other lines, their defense and their goaltender are on top of their games as well.
The Absence of the Ego
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Only four players in the NHL make salaries upwards of $10 million.
Brad Richards' offseason deal with the New York Rangers potted him an annual salary of $12 million. Ilya Bryzgalov of the Flyers and Christian Ehrhoff of the Sabres also signed deals with their respective teams this offseason, and they make annual salaries of $10 million.
Prior to those three signings, Vincent Lecavalier was the only player in the NHL earning a salary at the $10 million plateau.
No other major sport can say that, and most of those sports' highest-paid players are making upwards of $20 million each year.
Hockey players don't care about the money. They don't care about the fame. They don't get tons of ESPN face time.
They don't care about their stats or their image. They don't care about their hair or their teeth or virtually any part of their body.
They care about one thing and one thing only—winning games and competing on the ice every single night.
You don't see players in any other sport who unconditionally love the game like hockey players do, all the way across the board.
Gratification of a Goal
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As I mentioned before, hockey is a low-scoring sport in general. There is no debating that point.
But I also explained that it's constantly moving, and for me, that keeps the game interesting. If you go to the fridge or the bathroom, you could easily miss a big hit, a huge save or a quick set of back-to-back goals that completely changes the complexion of the game.
The gratification of a hockey goal is unlike any score in any sport.
Soccer goals are few and far apart (and let us not compare the two sports, please—they aren't alike), but the action in between can be relatively unexciting from afar.
Take my word for it. Being at an NHL playoff game and experiencing the eruption from the home crowd after a big goal is unlike anything else.
Even just watching old videos gives some people the goosebumps. I still get them when watching Nathan Horton's overtime winner against Montreal.
History of the Game
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The "Miracle on Ice" will live forever.
Some people identify it as the best sports moment in our country's history. From that same national standpoint, the tradition is starting to work its way back into the modern age.
I understand that nobody watches hockey. But I bet a good percentage of you saw this goal.
If that doesn't speak for the gratification point I just made, I don't know what does.
Our entire country, which doesn't seem to care about hockey at all, jumped from their seats to celebrate that goal.
The lockout really hurt this sport, because back in the day—the era of the Big Bad Bruins, for example—hockey was a thing of beauty in the minds of most sports fans. I'm just waiting for history to repeat itself.
Skill—Just Think About It
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Think about every major sport we have in our society. We're talking about some tremendous physical athletes in the sports of basketball and football, some great hand-eye coordination and sporting IQs in the game of baseball.
What sport puts every aspect together in a more complete fashion than hockey does?
If you don't have incredible balance, you can't get to the show. If you don't have an incredible hockey IQ, you'll never make it. If you aren't tough as nails, forget about it. If you don't have blinding speed or amazing strength, what do you bring to your team?
No sport puts it all together the way that hockey does.
Oh, and did I mention the fact that these guys perform on a set of metal blades each an eighth of an inch wide?
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Whether it is before the game, during the game, after the game or at their favorite team's championship parade, there is no line that hockey fans won't cross.
Are there more absurdly diehard fans in all of sports?
There is nothing cooler than hearing a full house slow-chanting the opposing goalie's name. If you're lucky enough to have a seat behind that goalie, you're sure to hear plenty of wisecracks as drunken and disorderly fans heckle him straight to the buzzer.
If you attend an NHL game and you get tickets in the balcony, you're almost assured to get an elbow in the face, a beer doused on you, damaged ear drums and an unforgettable fan experience.
This experience is heightened in some of the notoriously crazy hockey towns—Philadelphia, Montreal and Boston, just to name three of the many cities.
Hockey fans just don't seem to care about anything more than their team.
Every Game Matters
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It's an 82-game season, so you probably can't say that every game really matters. We see NBA teams rest their starters throughout some of their 82-game seasons in the interest of getting to the playoffs healthy.
Not in hockey.
You never get tickets to a game only to see your favorite player taking the night off for a rest. It doesn't happen. You'll never see a player go easy or play timidly. Every game actually does matter to these guys, because like I said, they unconditionally love the game. It's in their blood.
If they're stepping on the ice, they're going all out. What sport offers a physicality similar to football and an unparalleled pace of play over a full 82-game season?
You just don't see it anywhere else.
No Corruption, Lots of Parity
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I can't help but notice how little corruption and controversy there is in hockey.
It's a bunch of guys just bringing their lunch boxes every day and playing the game. No performance-enhancing drugs, no videotaping allegations, no rigged conspiracy theories, no recruiting violations or legal accusations that epitomize the modern day sports culture.
It's as straightforward as it gets and there are so few problems of that nature—I guess that's part of the reason why it doesn't dominate the sports media these days.
ESPN loves controversy and diversion. Hockey doesn't provide that, and that's part of the reason why you never see hockey stories littered all over the dominant sports network.
Regardless, hockey is a staple for its own fans. Despite a lockout a few seasons ago, its consistency and parity make those fans love it so dearly.
Who will win the Stanley Cup this year? Nobody has a clue. It doesn't matter who has the superstars. It matters which team is the hungriest for the Cup come June.
It's the any-given-Sunday mentality of the NFL applied over the course of an entire season. Every minute matters, every minute is pure and it's all still as unpredictable as any other game out there.
Uniqueness and Everything Else
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The list could go on, but it will end with a wrap of everything that remains.
Have you ever actually thought about some of the aspects of hockey? If you're a goon and a stickler for the physicality, what other sport actually allows its players to just drop the gloves and have at it?
If you're more interested in the skill level and impressiveness of the players, let's think about the flip side.
Sure, I'm impressed by what players in the NBA and the NFL do on the playing surface. But think about what they're playing on—a natural, everyday surface with athletic sneakers or cleats. Things that humans are used to performing on in their natural environment.
What happens when you bring those elements of speed, strength, agility, conditioning and hand-eye coordination to a sheet of ice?
Like I said, their skate blades are an eighth of an inch thick.
Hockey is a sport like no other, and every sports fan should—at the very least—give the game a chance.
You never know when you'll find a new favorite sport, after all.
Be sure to follow Derek Robinson on Twitter. @DRobMachine