Desmond Bieler (a hockey name, if ever there was one) penned a "Throwing it Out There" piece in today's Washington Post. In, he talks about five things people like about the NHL -- a response to a perceived lack of notice that the regular season is now underway. The five he notes, and we'll let you read his piece to see the whys, are:
The Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Hockey Song
We have no quarrel with any of those things. All are integral to what makes hockey, "hockey." But his having expressed the wish that, "We wanted to go in a different direction and find out what people actually like about the NHL, eh?"...well, we'll do just that, too (we'll even add one). In no particular order:
1. The pace.
We are not talking about just the speed -- the fact that you have players gliding at high velocities around a 200-by-85 sheet of ice. It is the fact that the sport encourages continuous action. Substitutions are made "in-play," the game is not divided into "plays" with a clear beginning and end (like baseball or football). And, with pace comes the violence of collisions. A well-executed hit in hockey is among the most exhillarating aspects of the game, and one that can energize fans and change the momentum of a contest.
2. The athleticism.
Perhaps no other team sport requires such a combination of strength, endurance, balance, dexterity, vision, speed, and quickness. That these men could perform all of those feats on two thin blades of steel is astonishing. The Peerless marvels at how they can make the simple act of skating look like a stroll down the lane, and how they can maintain their wits (not to mention their ability to remain upright) with very large men with malice in their hearts bearing down on them.
3. The access
It is always a source of wonder and happiness that hockey players seem the most accessible and accommodating to fans of any professional athlete. Even the stars seem more like just guys who happen to play hockey than the elite of their profession -- with the behavior that often accompanies it. It is one of the most underreported, if not underappreciated, aspects of the NHL. Guys...on behalf of fans everywhere, thanks. And that applies not only to players. Caps fans have the pleasure of perhaps the most accessible owner in all of team sports in Ted Leonsis. The Peerless cannot fathom George Steinbrenner either having a blog or responding personally to e-mails.
4. The uniforms
Leaving whatever opinion one might have of the new designs aside (and like in all things, some are great, some are....not so), hockey uniforms are simply the best. Sure, you have the occasional fashion faux-pas (the Caps white pants, and the Vancouver pajama tops come to mind), but are there any better uniforms or logos in all of sports than the Montreal "CH" or the winged wheel of Detroit, or the "B" with the spokes running into it signifying Boston as "the hub?"
5. The Goalies
They are among the most mysterious athletes in team sports, trussed up in pads and gloves and hidden behind a caged mask. No position in any other major team sport carries more naked responsibility (yes, we acknowledge soccer and lacrosse goalies having similar responsibilities). You are there to stop pucks. That is your job description. If you can start a play up ice like a Martin Brodeur, that's a bonus, but if he couldn't stop pucks, he'd be a defenseman in a beer league (well, maybe the AHL). And when you don't stop pucks, everyone knows it was you who failed. You've got to fish that puck out of your net. Ah, but when you do -- especially on a breakaway or with a glove darting out to foil a drive -- fans chant your name, and the energy ripples through the whole team.
6. The quirkiness
The Peerless remembers a television show from the not-so-distant past called "Northern Exposure." Set in Alaska (coincidentally), it was a show depicting a community of characters who were equal parts independent and unique. Well, that's hockey, too. Hockey has so much about it that you just don't find in other sports -- things that are enduring and endearing...the trophies, for example. Hockey fans know without having to think what the "Hart," the "Ross," and the "Conn Smythe" represent. What the heck is the "Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy?"
Then there are the nicknames. These days, a Brendan Witt becomes a "Witter," a Steve Konowalchuk becomes a "Kono," a Michael Nylander becomes a "Nyles." And when The Peerless hears the nickname for Alexander Ovechkin -- "Ovie" -- he starts conjuring the tune to "The Andy Griffith Show." But more than that, there are the nicknames of years gone by...Don "Grapes" Cherry, Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrrion, Harry "Apple Cheeks" Lumley, Ken "the Rat" Linseman, and the Richards -- Maurice and Henri -- the "Rocket" and the "Pocket Rocket." Hockey abounds with them.
The Peerless thinks hockey lost something when the NHL took away the division names associated with men of the sport -- Patrick, Norris, Adams, Smythe. It was part of what made hockey, "hockey," and we hope the NHL sees fit to restore that bit of history soon.
We could go on and on about what we like about hockey and the NHL, but we'll leave that to you, dear reader. Desmond asked what people like about the NHL...well, chime in. The NHL has taken a pasting in the media the last few years. Let 'em know that there are things to like, things that make the hockey and the NHL special.