NHL Is Simply the Best: 50 Reasons Why Hockey Rules

Alison Myers@AlisonM_110Correspondent IApril 4, 2011

NHL Is Simply the Best: 50 Reasons Why Hockey Rules

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    Dylan Lynch/Getty Images

    Hockey is often misunderstood by many who have never watched it for whatever reason.

    Perhaps they're too involved in the NBA or NFL to care. Or maybe they think it would be too confusing to follow.

    However, having been a hockey fan for almost 10 years, I can't help but think it's the greatest sport, even if fan demographics and TV ratings would debate that.

    When I was asked to show Bleacher Report readers why hockey is the best, I had to jump at the chance. 

    Here are 50 reasons why NHL fans adore this sport so much.

    Alison Myers is an NHL and Pittsburgh Penguins Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Feel free to e-mail her at Alison.Myers@mail.com with any job opportunities, questions or comments.

1. Liking Hockey Makes You Unique

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    ST PAUL, MN - MARCH 22: A Toronto Maple Leafs fan celebrates the Leafs 3-0 shut out over the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center on March 22, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    When you meet someone for the first time, you will inevitably end up in a discussion about your hobbies.

    When I have told several people I'm meeting that I enjoy hockey, most of them smile and say "Oh, that's cool" or just look completely bewildered. They may have heard about hockey but can't really get into a conversation about it like they can if you had mentioned you were into football or basketball.

    Telling someone you are a fan of hockey and why is a great conversation starter. It's a great way to get other people curious and maybe encourage them to check out an NHL game, which in turn, boosts attendance and merchandise sales for teams.

    Sure, millions of people enjoy the NFL and MLB, and as someone who also enjoys baseball, I don't hold anyone's sports preferences against them. 

    But when you like hockey, you stand out in a crowd. It's almost a badge of honor to be the only one in a group of your friends or family that likes a sport the rest of them don't follow.

2. Tickets Can Be Cheaper

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    ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 27: Fans show up to purchase tickets for the game between the Ottawa Senators and the Atlanta Thrashers at the Philips Arena on March 27, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    CNBC recently published a report about the sports teams with the highest average ticket prices in the four major sports in America.

    Out of the 16 teams on the list, the only hockey team to be included was the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    The list also included numerous football teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and one baseball team, the New York Yankees.

    This isn't to say that all hockey tickets are dirt cheap, but there are definitely some good deals to be had. 

    You don't even have to get season tickets to enjoy it. Many teams run group specials that include free souvenirs such as hats or perks such as a designated all-you-can-eat concession stand.

3. You Can Be Close to the Action

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    CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 23: Fans line the glass during warmups looking for pucks prior to the game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Florida Panthers at the United Center on March 23, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Don't be fooled. Getting glass seats is not the only way to be close to the action at a hockey game.

    In many arenas, seats several rows off the ice will do the trick.

    This is especially true of older arenas such as the former Mellon Arena and the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

    However, in newer arenas such as the Prudential Center in New Jersey, close doesn't always mean lower level. The 200 level (where I have personally sat) even feels close to the ice. Even when I was five rows up in my section, I still had a great view of the game and didn't feel like the players looked like ants. 

    I didn't get that feeling from the 400 level at Yankee Stadium—one of the most uncomfortable seating areas I have experienced at a sporting event.

    No matter where your tickets are, you will be able to see everything at most NHL arenas. And for some fans, the higher up, the better.

4. Hockey Is Indoors

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    CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 23:  A general view of the fans in the NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on January 23, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    If you go to an NFL game in the thick of a January winter, you'll need plenty of layers to survive the cold.

    If you are at an MLB game in the middle of August, you'll need sunscreen and plenty of water.

    But no matter what time of year you go to an NHL game, you're always indoors (with the exception of an outdoor game, but we'll get to that later). It's a little chilly in an NHL arena, so make sure to dress accordingly, but you won't have to deal with some of Mother Nature's harshest conditions during the game.

5. Winter Classic and Heritage Classic

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  A general view is seen as the Pittsburgh Penguins take on the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Washington won 3-1.  (Photo by Ja
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    I promised you we'd get to that bit about the outdoor game, didn't I?

    Since 2008, the NHL has returned to its roots and hosted the annual Winter Classic, a game which takes hockey outdoors in front of at least twice the fans that even the biggest NHL arena can hold.

    Many NHL players grew up playing hockey on backyard rinks or frozen ponds, and this is a great way for them to relive the memories. The game is also nationally televised and designed to bring in casual viewers. 

    The Winter Classic has been held in mega NFL stadiums and two of the MLB's most historic parks, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park.

    Winter Classic rinks also play host to alumni games between former NHL greats and allow youth hockey players to take skates. The cities hosting the event also take advantage of making it a festival by building additional rinks for public skating or setting up interactive games.

    The response to the event has been so positive that there was a Heritage Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and Calgary Flames in February. It was the first Heritage Classic since 2003, when Montreal played the Edmonton Oilers.

    Outdoor hockey is here to stay.

6. Hockey Has a Great History

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    MONTREAL- DECEMBER 4:  Former Montreal Canadiens (Front Row L-R) Patrice Brisebois, Eric Desjardins, Lyle Odelein, Guy Carbonneau, Stephane Richer, Claude Lemieux and Vincent Damphousse sir in front of current Montreal Canadiens (Back Row L-R) Sergei Kost
    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    Hockey has been evolving since the NHL began in 1917.

    The league started with four teams and now has 30 active franchises. Players have gone from wearing wool sweaters and almost no protective gear to wearing form fitting jerseys and cutting edge skates.

    Some of the greatest athletes in sports history, such as Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe, were hockey players.

    Historic arenas such as Maple Leaf Gardens, the Montreal Forum and Chicago Stadium saw some of the greatest moments in the histories of the franchises they were home to.

    Hockey has several older fans who can recall the game of yesteryear and miss the way the game used to be played. Even younger fans have the utmost respect for hockey's rich history and don't want to mess with the way things have always been done.

    While most fans will say the past has no bearing on their team's present performance, that doesn't mean they forget about it.

7. It's Fast Paced

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    UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 24:  Goalie Chris Mason #50 of the Atlanta Thrashers makes a save on this breakaway by Michael Grabner #40 of the New York Islanders during the second period of an NHL hockey game at the Nassau Coliseum on March 24, 2011 in Uniondale
    Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    Do you ever feel like the NFL stops for everything, whether it's a touchdown, a fumble or the quarterback's need to tie his shoe?

    Or what about the MLB, where there is no time limit to a game and it can feel like an inning is taking hours to complete?

    Hockey is one of the fastest-paced games around. It is divided into three 20-minute periods. Although they have their own designations of time to stop for (icing, offsides, penalty calls and so forth), the periods usually fly by. Players are racing up ice with blazing speed and firing shots that can go up to 100 miles an hour.

    You can't exactly take your time in hockey. For me, that translates into a preoccupation with getting to a game on time so I don't miss a minute of the action.

    If you love asking yourself "Where did the time go?," you will love hockey.

8. High Level of Skill

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 01:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks to pass against the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Bridgestone Winter Classic at Heinz Field on January 1, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Washington won 3-1. (Pho
    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    It requires a certain level of skill to reach the high levels of professional sports, and hockey players have to have some of the strongest talents to even make the professional ranks.

    First, they have to be able to skate. It sounds easy enough, but they have to be able to skate forwards, backwards and be able to stop correctly. They also have to do it at high speeds.

    Then they have to learn how to hold a stick correctly. Their stick is used for various kinds of shots such as the slapshot, the backhand and the wrist shot. On top of that, they have to balance the puck on their stick as they move up and down the ice. One wrong move with the puck, and your opponent can capitalize.

    Once they learn all of that, they have to combine it and do it for 60 minutes night in and night out. They must also be able to work successfully in the offensive and defensive zones.

    It's something a lot of us couldn't do, and you have to respect the players for being able to do it.

9. Physical Toughness

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    PHILADELPHIA - FEBRUARY 13:  Jarret Stoll #28 of the Los Angeles Kings checking Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers on February 13, 2011 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Lou Capozzola/Getty Images)
    Lou Capozzola/Getty Images

    Hockey is not a sport for the weak.

    You have to be able to endure being thrown into the boards and having an open ice check come in your direction while at center ice.

    You have to be willing to put your body in front of fast moving pucks to block shots. You should accept that you could lose teeth or end up with broken bones as a result.

    You also have to be prepared for the chance that you could get a high stick right near your eye. 

    It's not that hockey players are out to deliberately injure others in the majority of cases. It's just a part of the game.

    It also adds something that most sports do not. Fighting is not tolerated in the NFL, for example, and NBA players aren't known to challenge opponents to a fistfight at center court.

    The physical element of hockey gets fans and players even more involved in the game.

10. Fighting

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    ANAHEIM, CA - JANUARY 07:  George Parros #16 of the Anaheim Ducks throws a punch at Jared Boll #40 of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first period at the Honda Center on January 7, 2011 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Fighting can occur at any time during a hockey game.

    Two players may pretend to be taking an opening faceoff, but as soon as the puck drops, they drop their gloves and helmets and start throwing punches.

    It can also occur in the heat of a battle as an enforcer stands up for a teammate who took an unnecessary hit. A player may also decide to fight if his team is falling behind and needs a wake-up call.

    In some cases, it involves pretty much everyone on both teams squaring off. This leads to extremely shortened benches and box scores that are longer than some rap sheets when looking at penalty minutes totals. 

    Fans especially love take downs in a fight, and these are likely to draw standing ovations.

    Most teams have a player who is there to take care of the tough stuff, but not many players are afraid to drop the gloves.

11. Goalie Fights

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 02:  Brent Johnson #1 of the Pittsburgh Penguins gets in a left against Rick DiPietro #39 of the New York Islanders at Consol Energy Center on February 2, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Penguins shut out the Islanders 3-0
    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    Having two players fight is great entertainment.

    But what fans love more is when the goalies get involved.

    When the five skates from each team are busy pushing and shoving, goalies usually stand in their crease and watch the spectacle unfold.

    But sometimes, they get involved. All it takes is one of them dropping their gloves or coming out of their net towards center ice, and the two netminders show they can throw punches just like the rest of their teammates.

    Yes, goalies get thrown out of the game for fighting, which is why it isn't a common occurrence. 

    The rarity and the twisted humor of a goalie fight makes it worth watching.

12. Penalty Shots

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    NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 02:  Goalie Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadians blocks this penalty shot with his leg as Mattias Tedenby #21 of the New Jersey Devils faked and tried to put it in next to the post during the first period of an NHL hockey game at t
    Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

    Penalty shots are awarded in hockey when a player is taken down on a breakaway.

    The referee awards the player the opportunity to go in all alone on the opposing goaltender to score and give their team an extra boost.

    The success rate on penalty shots is not that high, but like goalie fights, they are one of the things you don't get to see every night.

    Fans go nuts when a penalty shot is awarded, and many will even stand up to add extra excitement.

13. Timeouts

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    WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Cory Clouston of the Ottawa Senators talks to his team during a timeout in the game against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on January 16, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    While other sports leagues allow a certain amount of timeouts per half or per quarter, the NHL does things a little different.

    Each team gets one 30-second timeout during the game. Once that's used, they can't huddle up to discuss anything unless it's during a TV timeout or intermission or some sort of other break.

    Coaches know they have to use their timeout wisely. If they use it right, a team could rally from behind to pull out a win. If they don't, it may be too late for the team to do anything or do little to get them under control.

14. Regular Season Overtime

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    GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 01:  Jay McClement #16 of the Colorado Avalanche faces off against Brett MacLean #39 of the Phoenix Coyotes during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on April 1, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona. The Avalanche defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in an ov
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    At the end of 60 minutes, when teams are tied, you don't just send them home without settling the score.

    After a one-minute break, teams go into a 4-on-4 overtime for five minutes.

    Overtime is exciting because it gives both teams an extra chance to wrap things up, and it gives out a point to the losing team, who certainly did enough to get there. Teams are also down one player, and overtime can become 4-on-3 if someone takes a penalty.

    Several games have been decided by penalties in the extra period.

    But if teams still can't pick a winner after five minutes, there's the alternative in the next slide...

15. Shootouts

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    BOSTON, MA - MARCH 31:  Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins stops a penalty shot by Mikhail Grabovski #84 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 31, 2011 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Boston Bruins 4-3 in an
    Elsa/Getty Images

    Two teams have now played 65 minutes, and the score is still 1-1, 2-2 or whatever you want it to be. 

    In the pre-lockout era, the game would end in a draw, and each team got one point.

    Since the NHL returned from the lockout in 2005, the league has decided there should be a winner of every game, and the shootout was born.

    Coaches must pre-select three players, and the team who gets the most goals on their three shots is the winner.

    However, it's not always so simple.

    If the teams are tied after three skaters, the shootout continues until one team scores and the other does not. This leads to some shootouts being 10 rounds or longer.

    Some NHL fans despise the shootout, but others love the now-or-never element it brings, because the game is truly coming down to the wire. It also gives goalies a great chance to show some extra skill by how many highlight reel saves they can make in a shootout.

16. Special Teams

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 05:  Nicklas Lidstrom #5 and Johan Franzen #93 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrate after Franzen scored a first period power play goal against the Phoenix Coyotes during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on March 5, 2011 in Glendale, Ar
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    When teams are penalized, each team goes into its special teams mode.

    As we know, the team who has a player in the penalty box is shorthanded, and they are forced to go on the penalty kill.

    The team who still has five skaters on the ice is on the power play, and they have a chance to get a goal while the other team is down a skater.

    The team who is penalized does not want to be scored on, even though this would end the penalty to their teammate. They are trying to defend their zone and make up for the workload of the penalized teammate.

    Meanwhile, a team on the power play will take advantage of their situation and try to spend as much time in their offensive zone as possible. The power play even starts there, so getting control of the puck immediately is crucial.

    Each team also has designated players who play in special teams units, and proficiency on special teams further boosts a player's skill level.

    Of course, if your team is particularly dreadful on one or both special teams, this element will lose its excitement. But at least you can still hope for improvement, right?

17. Playoff Races

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    PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  A fan of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates after his team defeated the Philadelphia Flyers to win the Stanley Cup in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    NHL teams are competing for 16 spots in the Stanley Cup playoffs when the regular season starts each October.

    But it's as the season winds down when the race for the playoffs starts to get interesting.

    For example, this season, it seems like the Western Conference teams are changing places everyday. You never know from one minute to the next what the matchups could look like if the playoffs got underway tomorrow.

    Every year, at least one race comes down to the wire. Teams are always threatening their opponents' positions by remaining just a few points back and never taking their foot off the gas pedal. Sometimes, it may even take an overtime period or a shootout to decide who gets into the playoffs and who doesn't.

    Aside from a few teams who get into the playoffs on a consistent basis, you can never say from one year to the next who will be in the postseason.

18. Seven-Game Playoff Series

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    BOSTON - MAY 14:  Tuukka Rask #40 and the rest of the Boston Bruins react as the Philadelphia Flyers celebrate the win in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 14, 2010 in Boston, Mass
    Elsa/Getty Images

    NHL playoffs do not operate like the NFL playoffs, where teams only have one chance to win, and if they don't, their season ends.

    In the NHL, teams get up to seven chances to send their opponents packing.

    Get a bad bounce or have an off night in Game 1? No big deal; Game 2 is the next night.

    Teams try to stop problems from one playoff game growing into bigger concerns for the next games of the series, but at least, they know that things won't crumble under them after their first loss. 

    A possibly lengthy playoff series also allows great things to happen. In last year's playoffs, for example, the Montreal Canadiens came back from a 3-1 series deficit to knock out the top-seeded Washington Capitals. Also, the Philadelphia Flyers fought back from a 3-0 hole to defeat the Boston Bruins in seven games.

    It's not just about upsets. It's about making history.

19. Playoff Overtime

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    PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 and win the Stanley Cup in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Cent
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    When the playoffs roll around, the shootout is taken out of the games.

    Instead, the NHL sets up a regular 18-minute intermission  break and brings the teams back out for an overtime period of 20 minutes, almost like the game is still in regulation time.

    Inevitably, one overtime is sometimes not enough in the playoffs. Some games go two or three overtimes, ending after 12 a.m. The players are getting exhausted, but they do everything they can to stay hydrated and keep fighting.

    Multiple overtime games have kept teams from elimination or decided that the Stanley Cup would not be lifted that night. They also take up space in the NHL history books as some of the longest games ever played.

    Fans will also do whatever it takes to stay up and watch multiple extra frames.

20. Presentation of the Stanley Cup

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    PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman presents Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks with the Stanley Cup after teammate Patrick Kane #88 scored the game-winning goal in overtime to defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 and win the St
    Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

    When the playoffs come to an end, one team is crowned that year's Stanley Cup champions.

    The presentation of the trophy is an elaborate one. Keepers of the Stanley Cup from the Hockey Hall of Fame walk down a red carpet, carrying the Cup with protective white gloves. They set it on a table, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman comes out (always to some boos) and gives a speech congratulating the finalists on their success.

    Once the winner of the Conn Smythe trophy for playoff MVP has been announced, Bettman asks the captain of the winning team to come get the Cup. He then hands if off to them to show their teammates and begin passing it.

    The best thing about the presentation is the respect the Cup is treated with and how the team decides which players get the Cup once the captain has lifted it.

21. Days with the Stanley Cup

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    Photo courtesy: HHOF.com
    Photo courtesy: HHOF.com

    After the Stanley Cup is won, the next best part is what the players do with it.

    Each player and coach from the winning team, along with staff members such as the general manager, gets their own day with the Stanley Cup. And oh, the places it goes.

    The Stanley Cup has ended up in Mario Lemieux's swimming pool and been on Niagara Falls with Patrick Kane. It has been on fishing boats and gone to Europe. Players have eaten cereal or drank beer out of it.

    Many have been generous enough to take the Cup to children's hospitals or back to community rinks where they spent their youth playing days. They have had family parties and held autograph signings where the Cup has been the guest of honor.

    There is no limit to what players can do with the Stanley Cup, and fans will go online or go to certain cities to get a glimpse of it.

    You can't say the Lombardi Trophy or the NBA Championship trophy has done any of the things the Stanley Cup has done.

22. Long Schedule

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    Each NHL team plays 82 games a year, so they end up playing about three to four times a week.

    The NHL does not keep you waiting a week for the next game like the NFL, and they don't overload you with games like the MLB's 162-game season.

    Instead, they give you a good balance of games each day to stay occupied from October to June.

    Even if your favorite team isn't playing on a given day, if you want to watch hockey enough, you can find another game on the schedule to suit your desires. This schedule from earlier in the season, for example, shows seven games happening on the day this screenshot was taken.

23. Banner Raising Ceremonies

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    RALEIGH, NC - FEBRUARY 17: Glen Wesley #2 of the Carolina Hurricanes watches as his jersey is raised to the rafters during a ceremony before the game against the Boston Bruins on February 17, 2009 at RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    NHL teams love to hold ceremonies, and one of the best parts of them is seeing banners raised to the rafters of teams' arenas.

    Fans love when teams host a valuable player after their retirement and raise a banner displaying the players' numbers to the ceiling, thus ensuring that another player will never wear that number .

    Of course, one of the best ceremonies is the raising of the Stanley Cup banner. Even if it signifies that it's now time to get back to work, fans and players alike like one last chance to relive the previous season. The Cup even makes an appearance at the ceremony.

    Tickets often sell out for such ceremonies and include pomp and circumstance such as speeches and presenting guests of honor with additional gifts.

24. NHL Awards

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    LAS VEGAS - JUNE 23:  Actor/comedian Jay Mohr hosts the 2010 NHL Awards at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort June 23, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for NHLI)
    Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    I'm not talking about the dreck that is the actual ceremony. With unfunny comedians and washed up musical performers, last year's NHL Awards ceremony was not on my must-watch list.

    But that doesn't mean I don't want to see what players take home what awards.

    The only awards that are obvious are those based on stats, such as the Rocket Richard Trophy for the top goal scorer and the Art Ross Trophy for the top point scorer.

    For the rest of the awards, such as the Vezina Trophy, the Jack Adams Award and the Hart Trophy, there is much debate to be had as the season winds down. Awards are not based on playoff performances, so fans and writers are trying to make cases for their favorites to win in March and April.

    You can use stats to guess who the majority of awards might go to, but it isn't as obvious as you would think.

    Just skip the ceremony.

25. NHL All-Star Game

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    RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 30:  Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars for Team Lidstrom and Eric Staal #12 of the Carolina Hurricanes for Team Staal go after the opening face-off in the 58th NHL All-Star Game at RBC Center on January 30, 2011 in Raleigh, North
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Prior to this year, no one really cared about the NHL All-Star Game.

    This year, though, the NHL tried to make it a little more interesting. And if they keep up with the current format, the game could be something NHL fans circle on their calendar.

    The weekend kicked off with a fantasy draft, where team captains Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom took turns picking who they wanted on their teams for the game. Fans and analysts were excited to see if Staal and Lidstrom would pick based on team allegiances, personal relationships or pure skill. 

    Or were there other factors we didn't know about?

    The teams were named Team Staal and Team Lidstrom, as opposed to previous years when it was just Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference.

    The skills competition part of the weekend is a must see. Players square off in events such as fastest skater, accuracy shooting and hardest shot. They make the event interesting by showing off their sense of humor, such as when Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban donned a jersey belonging to Carolina Hurricanes rookie Jeff Skinner.

    Players also sign autographs for fans, giving them a personal interaction they don't always get a chance to appreciate.

26. Personal Interaction with Players

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    RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 29:  Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes for Team Staal arrives at the NHL All-Star red carpet part of 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend on January 29, 2011 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
    Harry How/Getty Images

    At some arenas, fans have the opportunity to show up early or stay after games and wait for their favorite players to stop by. If the players have time, they almost always take time to sign autographs and pose for pictures. They also try to make conversation with their fans, and they do it with a smile and an appreciation for those who are paying for tickets.

    Players also do autograph signings at businesses such as sporting good stores and shopping malls.

    Hockey teams are willing to do this at little or no cost to fans, whereas fans of other sports may not get this opportunity without paying an exorbitant amount of money.

27. Local Network Coverage

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    The NHL gives fans an opportunity to watch games on local and regional networks and the broadcasting talent that goes along with it.

    Each team is also affiliated with a local radio station that carries the games. Regardless of what side a fan is on, each broadcast team consists of a play-by-play announcer and a color commentator.

    It's also great because not every NHL fan gets NHL Network or Versus, where some of their team's games are carried at any point in the season.

    Fans tend to get annoyed with their local talent from time to time, but it sure beats having to listen to Pierre McGuire every week.

    There is a reason why he won't be found on this list...but maybe we can do it for 50 reasons why we sometimes hate hockey, no?

28. Non-Traditional Hockey Markets

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 29:  Fans of the Phoenix Coyotes hold up a sign during the NHL game against the Dallas Stars at Jobing.com Arena on March 29, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Stars 2-1 in an overtime shoot out.  (Photo by Christia
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Some NHL fans would be happy if teams in non-traditional markets were wiped off the face of the league.

    But aside from the Florida Panthers and the Atlanta Thrashers, who are mired in mediocrity and just can't draw fans of their own (the Panthers were even running promotions for fans of their opponents!), I don't see why hockey should be kept out of certain places just because of their climate.

    Let's take a look at the successes of some non-traditional markets:

    -The Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning and Anaheim Ducks each have one Stanley Cup to their franchise's history.

    -Non-traditional markets have seen some of the NHL's greatest players play some or all of their careers there (Mike Modano in Dallas, Wayne Gretzky in Los Angeles, Teemu Selanne in Anaheim and Shane Doan in Phoenix, just to name a few)

    -The Los Angeles Kings are a young franchise on the rise.

    -The San Jose Sharks make the playoffs on a consistent basis, even if it doesn't end well.

    -Tampa Bay recently clniched a playoff spot for the first time since 2007.

    It just goes to show that you can't take a team away just because of its location on the map.

29. Oh, Canada!

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    MONTREAL, QC - MAY 22:  Fans and players stand at attention as the Canadian National Anthem is perform prior to the start of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre on May 22, 2010 in Montreal, Canad
    Michael Heiman/Getty Images

    MLB and NBA each have one team in Canada. The NFL does not have any Canadian teams.

    But the NHL has six Canadian squads, a nod to the game's roots in Canada.

    Canada lives, eats, breathes and sleeps hockey. They have a passion for the game that not even the most passionate fans in America can match.

    Plus, hearing the Canadian anthem in addition to the American anthem is a nice bonus.

30. Hockey Is a Global Sport

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    STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - OCTOBER 02:  Players from Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues line up for the national anthems of United States and Sweden before the start of the 2009 Compuware NHL Premiere Stockholm match between Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Bl
    Paul Gilham/Getty Images

    Not all NHL players were born in Canada or the United States.

    Many players come from European countries such as Sweden, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany.

    Every four years, numerous NHL players go to the Olympics to represent their country and become teammates with players they were rivals with just weeks before.

    The NHL has also been introducing themselves to Europe by holding early regular season games in European countries as part of the NHL Premiere. NHL teams have played games in Sweden and Prague in recent years.

    Furthermore, leagues such as the KHL and the Swedish Elite League are very popular overseas, and some NHL players have played parts of their careers in European leagues.

    Anyone who thinks hockey is just Canada's game would be mistaken as soon as they looked at the diversity around the league.

31. Many Kinds of Fans

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    GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 02:  Fans of the Vancouver Canucks, Force and Sully, perform during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on February 2, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Canucks defeated the Coyotes 6-0. (Photo by Christian P
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    When you go to an NHL game, you will meet many kinds of fans.

    In Vancouver, you may meet the famous green men, who entertain the crowd and taunt opposing players by doing handstands near the penalty box.

    You may also meet the dreaded puckbunny, who thinks players are just dying to marry her, and she will go as far as to dress up as a bride to try and fulfill her fantasy.

    There are also people who sport jersey fouls, people who are there to drink endless amounts of alcohol and people who are so embarrassed to be a fan that they wear paper bags over their heads.

    Of course, the kinds of people you will meet are not limited to those listed in this slide. However, they will make your experience that much more enjoyable.

    Who have you run into at a game recently?

32. Great Relationships with Other Fans

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    ST PAUL, MN - MARCH 22: Fans pose in front of the puck wall of fame prior to the game between the Minnesota Wild and the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Xcel Energy Center on March 22, 2011 in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    As I said way back in the first slide, one of the reasons I love hockey is because being a fan makes you unique in your social circle.

    But when you feel like no one understands why you love this sport, you can always turn to other like-minded people.

    Whether they sit by you at games or you meet them on Facebook, other hockey fans can become some of your best friends.

    Personally, I have so many great friends that I would not have met if our passion had not brought us together. We get together in the offseason and outside of games, but some of my best memories have been formed on road trips to see our team play and going out for some food and drinks after a great win. We also go to team functions where we can interact with the players.

    It's nice to have good friends. It's even nicer when you have friends who are just as obsessed with hockey as you.

33. Hockey Players Are Great People

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    Other major sports are riddled with players who have criminal histories or huge egos. Their players hold television specials to announce where they are signing next, abuse steroids and bring guns into the locker room, just to name a few incidents.

    But this never seems to occur in the NHL.

    No, NHL players are not perfect. It's just that many fans love the good character the players display.

    Players willingly go out in their communities to visit sick children in hospitals, host members of the military at games and even raise money for homeless shelters.

    If a player does get into some sort of trouble off the ice, the NHL handles it quietly, but they don't have to very often.

    Hockey players are very approachable and carry themselves with a high standard of integrity. They are truly great examples to young fans and almost never act like they are above the fans who devote their time and money to their teams.

34. Developmental Leagues

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    BOSTON - OCTOBER 27:  David Andrews, president of the American Hockey League,  stands with his 2010 Lester Patrick Trophy on hand for an afternoon media availability at TD Garden on October 27, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly a
    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The man in this picture is David Andrews, the president of the American Hockey League. The AHL is the top developmental league of the AHL.

    Unlike the NFL, where college players tend to make the jump to the big leagues almost immediately after their NCAA days, most NHL players are carefully groomed in lower leagues like the AHL and the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL).

    Numerous players have broken into full-time NHL jobs after starting their careers in the minor leagues, and that number is growing every year.

    It is impossible to list every player who is in the NHL after playing in the minors, but here are some examples:

    -Mike Richards (Philadelphia Flyers captain, won a Calder Cup with the Philadelphia Phantoms)

    -Ryan Miller (Buffalo Sabres, set an AHL record with 40 wins in a season while playing for the Rochester Americans)

    -Deryk Engelland (Pittsburgh Penguins, two-time Calder Cup finalist with the Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)

    In addition, coaches and officials also must work in the lower leagues before getting their big league breaks. Stanley Cup winning coaches such as Dan Bylsma and Mike Babcock began their careers in the AHL. Guy Boucher, a potential Jack Adams finalist, was named the AHL Coach of the Year in 2010 with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

    The best thing about developmental leagues is how fun it is to watch players mature in their careers and how AHL and ECHL fans get to say they watched a player before they made it big.

35. Trade Deadline Day

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    Trade deadline day is like Christmas for hockey fans. They'll go as far as to take time off work to watch TSN until the 3 p.m. deadline.

    The deadline rolls around every late February or early March and involves a flurry of activity where almost no player is safe from packing his bags and heading to a new city.

    Several big names, including Marian Hossa and Dustin Penner, have been moved on deadline day.

    The discussions begin almost immediately after the trade is announced. What kind of impact does a trade have on a team? Who wins and who loses? What can the teams expect from the players they are getting?

    Teams approach deadline day differently. Some teams choose to stay put, while others make minor tweaks. Still others, like this year's Ottawa Senators, opt to blow up their teams and start over.

    Not only do the rumors keep fans talking, it is also fun to see the new look your team has once the deadline passes.

36. Free Agency

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    GLENDALE, AZ - MARCH 29:  Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars during the NHL game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Jobing.com Arena on March 29, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Stars 2-1 in an overtime shoot out.  (Photo by Christian
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Every year on July 1, players who are unrestricted free agents are set to explore the market to see what kind of deals they can get.

    Many sign contracts on this day, while others may be traded.

    Regardless of what happens, there is always at least one big-name player on the free-agency market each year. For example, once this July 1 comes around, Brad Richards, currently of the Dallas Stars, will be free for the taking.

    Free agency holds some of the same questions the trade deadline does. However, it also enables fans and experts to pick apart contracts and praise teams who spent wisely while laughing at those who completely overpaid.

37. There Are No Cheerleaders

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    ARLINGTON, TX - FEBRUARY 06:  TCU cheerleaders perform before the Green Bay Packers play against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Yes men, I know that you think NFL and NBA cheerleaders are nice to look at. That's great.

    However, it's nice to see the NHL doesn't have cheerleaders. The league has never needed girls in revealing outfits and waving pom-poms to keep the crowd entertained. The fans can make their own entertainment and appreciate the fact that the players keep them into the game.

    OK, there are a few exceptions. The New Jersey Devils have dancers, but again, they are really not necessary to the fan experience.

    Males, if you must have girls to look at during a hockey game, most teams have Ice Girls who come out and clean the ice during TV timeouts.

38. Goal Celebrations

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    NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 17:  Fans celebrate after a goal is scored by Mike Fisher of the Nashville Predators on February 17, 2011 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    The best part of any game is when your team scores a goal.

    The red light goes on, and at least 15,000 people jump out of their seats to yell and wave pom-poms or rally towels. Then everyone finds themselves clapping and chanting along to a goal song.

    Some teams such as the Washington Capitals add extra effects such as sirens or spotlights to make the celebration even more exciting.

    Teams are also putting their spin on their goal celebration by using less predictable music.

    For example, the Chicago Blackhawks are known for using Chelsea Dagger for their tallies, while the Nashville Predators use a mash-up of Tim McGraw's "I Like it, I Love It" and "The Hey Song" to get their fans going.

    It sure beats just standing up and clapping, doesn't it?

39. Hockey Music

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    There are many great pieces of music written or composed exclusively for hockey. 

    Brass Bonanza is one of the greatest, and it was used during the Hartford Whalers' time in the NHL. It is now used by the Connecticut Whale, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers.

    Other greats include "The Good Old Hockey Game" by Stompin' Tom Connors and "I Wanna Drive the Zamboni" by the Gear Daddies.

    The theme for Hockey Night in Canada is an unmistakable classic as well.

    The NHL also uses great music in their ads, using "Not Afraid" by Eminem in last year's Stanley Cup Finals promotions. CBC has jumped in as well and used "Sleeping Sickness" by City and Colour in commercials for the 2009 playoffs.

    Hockey music doesn't have to be about hockey to be great. Sometimes, the perfect song in a promotion is good enough to qualify it as a hockey song.

40. National Anthem Performances

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    Some NHL teams' fans show their country pride loud and proud when it is time to perform the national anthem before a game.

    In the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs, Edmonton Oilers anthem singer Paul Laurier started to sing "O Canada" alone, but the Oilers fans were already joining in. Shortly after Laurier started, he raised the microphone to the Oilers faithful and let them finish singing.

    The Chicago Blackhawks fans cheer all throughout the American national anthem, a tradition started at the 1985 Campbell Conference Finals.

    Although not the national anthem, Kate Smith brought the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers teams luck when she performed God Bless America before home games. Today, during playoff games, Flyers anthem singer Lauren Hart performs a "duet" of the song with Smith, whose video recording of the performance is shown on the Jumbotron.

    I will take any of these over Christina Aguilera's botching of the U.S. national anthem, thanks.

41. Fans Wearing One Color in the Playoffs

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    CALGARY, CANADA - APRIL 15:  Fans of the Calgary Flames form a'Seas of Red' to support their team against the San Jose Sharks during game four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Pengrowth Saddledome on April 15
    Mike Ridewood/Getty Images

    During the playoffs, teams encourage their fans to wear one color during the playoffs.

    The original tradition started with the Winnipeg Jets, who created the white out during the 1980s. You guessed it; every fan was asked to wear white.

    The Philadelphia Flyers fans wear orange to every playoff game, while the Calgary Flames deck out the Saddledome in a "C" of Red.

    Other teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Phoenix Coyotes carry on the whiteout started by the Jets.

    Having the crowd in one color encourages unity among the fans and can be an intimidation factor for opponents.

42. Celebrity Presence

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    NASHVILLE, TN - FEBRUARY 17:  Country music singer Carrie Underwood celebrates after a goal by the Nashville Predators against the Vancouver Canucks on February 17, 2011 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    While it is a bigger deal to spot famous people at football or basketball games, don't think celebrities shy away from hockey.

    Country singer Carrie Underwood is married to Nashville Predators forward Mike Fisher. Hillary Duff is the wife of Pittsburgh Penguins center Mike Comrie. Actress Elisha Cuthbert is attached to Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.

    Other stars, such as singer Taylor Swift, have turned up at hockey games.

    In a DVD about Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, Crosby meets MLB star Johnny Damon and presents him with a hockey stick.

    If hockey becomes more popular, more celebrities will want to be seen at games, and not just because they happen to be attached to one of the players.

43. Don Cherry

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    PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  CBC sportscaster Don Cherry reports before Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruc
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Love him or hate him, Don Cherry is one of the most influential figures in hockey. 

    He is a former player and coach, and he has a long running segment on Hockey Night in Canada known as "Coach's Corner." Cherry has sounded off on controversial subjects in hockey and does not spare anyone his criticism.

    He is also known for his flamboyant outfits. In fact, this picture probably showcases one of his few normal outfits.

    Cherry also has a softer side, which he shows by paying tribute to fallen Canadian armed forces in his weekly segment.

    Watching his segment is like a trainwreck. You know it's going to be outrageous, but you can't help but watch every minute of it.

44. HBO 24/7

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    Prior to the 2011 Winter Classic, HBO ran episodes of their series "24/7" which went behind the scenes with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals as they prepared for the Winter Classic.

    The series took viewers into team locker rooms and meetings with coaches and general managers. They saw players being evaluated on performance and what is said in the locker room before the games and during intermissions.

    HBO also took a look at players' lives away from the rink, showing them celebrating Christmas, for example.

    "24/7" was a series that kept fans of every team talking, not just those who followed the Penguins or Capitals. It has a broad appeal, and fans were left wanting more once the series came to an end.

    If the HBO follows two more NHL teams next season, they will draw back fans who watched this year and maybe even encourage non-hockey fans to watch.

45. Shift Changes

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    UNIONDALE, NY - MARCH 31:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins jumps onto the ice for a shift against the New York Islanders during their game at the Nassau Coliseum on March 31, 2006 in Uniondale, New York. The Pens defeated the Isles 4-0.  (Pho
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    As already mentioned, the NHL is a very fast-paced game.

    It is no different when it comes to the amount of time players spend on the ice each game.

    Players are jumping on and off the bench in as little as every 30 seconds, and coaches try to keep players coming on and off the ice every 60 seconds at the maximum.

    However, sometimes players end up out on the ice for longer, pushing their bodies to the limits and challenging them to stay on top of their game.

    The fact that you will never see the same five players playing a whole period is very exciting, and it gives you a chance to see what every guy is made of.

46. Hockey Jersey Collections

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    Hockey jerseys are very unique. They have been made up of many different materials and have been designed by many different manufacturers such as CCM, Koho, Nike and Reebok.

    Teams are changing jerseys very frequently to make money from their fans, and their supporters always pony up with the cash, especially for throwback jerseys. 

    In addition to creating home, away and alternate jerseys, teams may make up jerseys for special themes. Some of these themes include military tributes, jerseys to honor a player whose number is being retired and St. Patrick's Day-themed jerseys.

    These jerseys are usually worn for one game and auctioned off. While the money goes to charity, fans can add a one of a kind souvenir to their collection.

    Be careful, though. Collecting jerseys can be addicting...and expensive.

    However, it's hard not to get sucked in.

47. Post Playoff Handshakes

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    CHICAGO - MAY 23:  The Chicago Blackhawks shake hands with San Jose Sharks players after the Blackhawks 4-2 victory to advance to the Stanley Cup after winning Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Unit
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Over a long playoff series, players are trying their hardest to physically wear down their opponents and score as many goals as possible.

    Once the last game ends, however, the players acknowledge their opponents' efforts by lining up for the traditional handshake.

    The teams slowly make their way through a single file line to shake hands and exchange pleasantries with each other. Although it may not be a fun experience for one team, it is a great show of respect.

48. Short Offseason

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    By the time the Stanley Cup is awarded in June, there is usually only a little over three months left until hockey comes back again.

    Sure, you may be tired of watching a winter sport by the time the month rolls around, but you miss it once it's gone. However, it comes back before you know it, as training camps and preseason games begin in September.

    If you must have your hockey fix during the summer, though, you can also look forward to the NHL draft and rookie camps.

49. Olympic Hockey

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    VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 28:  (L-R) Duncan Smith #2, Shea Weber #6, Brent Seabrook #7, Drew Doughty #8, Brenden Morrow #10, Patrick Marleau #11, Jarome Iginla #12 and Dany Heatley #15 of Canada stand together during the playing of the Canadian National An
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Every four years, the NHL goes on hiatus to allow players to represent their countries at the Winter Olympics.

    Players who were rivals just weeks prior will don the same jersey for their country and work towards the common goal of a gold medal.

    Many players take the honor of representing their country very seriously, and some place a higher importance on a gold than they do on a Stanley Cup.

    The Olympics allow those who may not normally watch hockey to see the games and look at some of the talent the NHL has to offer. Those from one country band together to root their team towards glory.

    The tournament was also the site of one of the greatest moments in sports history, the 1980 USA team's victory over the dominant Soviet Union team.

50. Passion Is Unmatched

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    MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 8:  A Boston Bruins fan celebrates the Bruins first goal of the game during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on January 8, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    NHL fans are some of the most passionate around.

    They will travel near and far to see their teams play. They will pay more for tickets than they ever dreamed of because it means seeing a Stanley Cup playoff game or the Winter Classic.

    They deck themselves out from head to toe in team colors and will camp out hours in advance for tickets. 

    For some, no matter how bad their team gets, they will never stop coming to games (kudos to Maple Leafs and New York Islanders fans).

    When they experience heartbreak, they can follow it up with a reason why they are proud of their team.

    They know they are a minority among other sports fans, but they like it that way.

    The fans are the biggest reason why hockey is the best, and the last spot on this slideshow should not take away from that.

    This list wasn't ranked in any order, anyway.