Growing up, there were two sports I didn't play: soccer, because I was lazy; and hockey, because I was poor (and tall, and not very good on the slippery stuff). If we were ever forced to play soccer or floor hockey in gym, I usually gravitated toward goalie. I didn't like running around, and I was usually good at stopping things from getting past me.
Then, in 1995, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche. All of a sudden, I was hooked on hockey. It probably didn't hurt that they gave Colorado its first professional championship that year. If a putrid team like the Blackhawks had relocated, or Denver had gotten an expansion team and put together a squad like the Blue Jackets, would I have been so quick to jump on the bandwagon? I actually think so. Even though I never really played it, I hadn't ever seen it regularly played at the highest level. When you're exposed to it constantly, you begin to appreciate it.
I still don't like soccer. That's just me - I remember waking up at two in the morning or whatever it was to watch the United States in the 2002 World Cup. That was special. That made me a fan - for a few weeks. Hockey, for better or worse, has made me a fan for life.
What I don't understand is why it can't do that for other American sports fans who, I believe, are just like me.
So, as a guy who, admittedly, has never been face-washed; never laced 'em up at the break of dawn to skate around the pond; hell, someone who's never even been to Canada - here are the reasons Americans should embrace hockey.
You like football, right? And what do you like about it? The off-tackle run on second-and-seven? The check down to the fullback for five yards? Those 36-yard field goals to make it 20-13? No, you like the violence. The hits. The sticks. The bone-crunching, helmet-cracking, snot-spilling, ball-breaking, tendon-twisting, teeth-clacking, skull-crushing blows. The carnal bloodlust oozing from deep within our DNA, the barbarian instinct to stand toe-to-toe with that fucking guy and hit him so CODDAMNED hard that his bowels forget where they are and his mother regrets giving birth to him. The wanton disregard for human safety, the passion to hate a complete stranger's very soul because he had the fuckin' nerve to wear something different than you and your fellow gladiators. Well, guess what? Hockey's got that - in spades. They're swinging wooden weapons of destruction at each other and skating on Ginsu knives. What's the football equivalent of this? Joe Theismann breaking his leg? Gimme a life-threatening, several-people-including-fellow-players-vomiting, blood-spewing-everywhere break.
But there's gotta be some skill, though. We're not Neanderthals - oh, heaven's no! When not running it at full speed into large, immovable humans, most of us actually like to use our brains. We see wonderful, beautiful things - like, perhaps, Michael Jordan or Dr. J resisting the natural pull of gravity, gliding through the invisible blanket of air in ways that we're just not accustomed to, and then, lo! Behold! As if defying the laws of physics weren't enough, they are gracefully manipulating that spherical orange orb, moving it betwixt hands, around limbs, tantalizingly teasing their over-matched foes, moving in a wondrous, congruent arc, splitting the figurative lane of our hopes and our dreams - and the literal lane, widened at first by their swooshing ascent, and later by their glorious descent - before finally, mercifully, finishing at the hole, the ball through the rim signifying Cupid's arrow through our smitten heart. For a game played on a reflexive surface, hockey has its moments of young love, too.
Sometimes, however, you just want a dominating performance. No two positions in different sports are quite as similar as the goaltender in hockey and the starting pitcher in baseball. Sure, the goalie plays a bit more, but they follow parallel paths. If you're having an off-night, you get pulled. But if you're on - and I mean on - then you can steal a win for your team, even if everybody else is playing like recycled Spam.
If you can't invade them, beat them. Wait, we're America, right? Go in, wherever we want, whenever we want, punch your wife in the face, fart on the dog, take some Hot Pockets and the last Hawaiian Punch and then just fucking roll? That's us, right? So why not get behind the one sport where not only can we beat teams from another country, but we can do so with jaw-dropping regularity? And in their pride-and-pig-fucking-joy sport? I mean, it's one thing to go North and beat up on the Raptors and Blue Jays, but damn if it don't mean a whole bunch more when it's the Maple Leafs. (And, lest we forget, four of the Original Six were from the good ol' US of A.)
Buck-Cherry. We've got Joe Buck for damn-near everything, and hockey's got Don Cherry. One gets offended by everything, the other offends everything. Which one would you rather have? That's what I thought. And since we're talking about announcers, when was the last time you actually listened to an entire hockey game? Hockey play-by-play announcers should be paid thrice their PRO sports counterparts. Since something is usually always happening, there's really no time for that loathsome, grating, "So, when you played, did you ever eat the same meal before games?" blabber. There's just ... sports. And it is wonderful. Besides, have you ever tried to do even thirty seconds of hockey play-by-play? "Niedermayer centers, back to Kofulwicz, to Pedersen on the point, and it's off his stick, poked away by Stillfredsen, OH! and a crushing blindside hit by Barker on McDonald along the center boards, a quick change by the Ducks, and Milfredveckivichensteinassonajakkenrikkervic straddles it near the left circle..." I mean, that was only about ten seconds. And I think I need a cigarette after it. In fact, to help them out and make it more appealing to us lowly Yanks, let's just American-ize all the names. Valtteri Filppula, you’re now Vinny Filpo. Andrej Meszaros? Andy Marsh. Say goodbye to Keith Tkachuk and hello to Keith Kachuck!
Rick Tocchet is the exception, and he's been retired for five years. I mean, all we do is bitch and moan and complain and whine and whimper and preach and gasp and feign fainting when (insert pro athlete here) (insert felony here). "It's the end of civilization!" "Why do I let my kids watch this nonsense?" "Yes they deserve to [be convicted] and I hope they burn in hell!" Well, guess what happens, you harbingers of moral standing? These guys come back, win a game or two for you, and then you're right back in front of the tube, wearing their replica jerseys and bidding for their bobbleheads on eBay. But what do hockey players ever do? I mean, besides make very little money (compared to baseball, basketball, and football players, and most golfers and NASCAR drivers; I'm not stupid) and work ridiculously hard to play the game they love? Could you even fathom what Pacman Jones or Ron Artest or Elijah Dukes would do with the Stanley Cup if they had it for one day? (I'm thinking: filling it with stripper piss, drinking clown's blood out of it, and clubbing his wife to death with it, respectively.)
And finally, the Stanley Cup itself. Blind kids won't even touch the Cup because they don't think they're worthy. Blind kids. That's pretty much it right there.