In a town that is woefully devoid of hockey love (and has chased its fair share of minor league hockey franchises away over the years), I’m once again in danger of catching Stanley Cup Fever.
After loving hockey immensely during my youth and covering the Skipjacks and Capitals in a previous life in the 1980’s (I made a video on Wednesday night of my Caps love…click here to view), I have come to grips with the realities of hockey.
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who love hockey and those who laugh at hockey.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Slapshot” — a cult classic for any sports fan — you know that hockey is the one sport (and pro wrestling is NOT a sport) that can laugh at itself a bit. Hockey has a sense of humor.
The Canadian accents. The fights. The excitement of the score and the horn and buzzers going off.
Yet when it comes to the chase for Lord Stanley’s goblet, it’s no laughing matter.
Hockey fans take the Cup — the one prize in sport that never changes (there’s ONLY one Cup!) — and the chase for it during April and May quite seriously.
The games began in earnest on Wednesday night. This year, we’ve got some “old-time hockey.” Devils vs Rangers. Boston vs. Montreal.
And here in these parts, if you have any hockey fan in you at all, you’ve gotta love a Capitals-Flyers seven-game war to start the playoffs. These two franchises battled through the late 1980’s every April it seemed. It was Ali-Frazier on ice in some of their classic battles.
Of course, the most famous playoff night in Caps history was on April 18, 1987 (video here). I can’t believe it’s been 21 years! And I really WAS at that game!!
I suppose this is the time of the year that I have to explain to the rest of the world just why the hockey playoffs stand out and are so good. Year in and year out, the Stanley Cup playoff chase is the best tournament in the world of sports.
The first thing is how much it matters to the players. While it’s easy to see baseball players or NBA players look like they’re going at half speed, I assure you that you don’t need to know much about the game on ice to appreciate the intensity once the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.
Go ahead. Put a game on this weekend — any game — and you’ll see the speed, action, grace and will of the players and you might fall in love with hockey, too. (And you only need to watch it for a few weeks…that’s what everyone does, it seems!)
The one knock on hockey for much of my lifetime has been that it’s a “bad TV sport.” The puck is too small. The game is too fast. No one understand “offsides” or some of the more esoteric rules.
But, with the advent of high definition television, I almost like watching the games at home more than being there.
That is, when you can actually find the games in the evenings now that ESPN has dumped the league from its radar as a “major sport.”
Of course, being there costs a lot more. Hockey for all of its positive attributes is just too damned expensive, if you ask me. And I love it. And I think it’s worth my time.
But I’m not sure if rinkside seats are worth in excess of $100.
So, I’ll be on my couch — mainly — watching the ebb and flow of the games.
There will inevitably be overtimes, and big goals, and a few fights (not so many in the playoffs, to be honest).
And the Capitals will probably wind up not winning the Cup. Again. They came close in 1998, but they were even swept in the Finals that year, so you can’t say that they came too close.
But it’s just nice to know as a sports fan that there’s still one tournament left with some integrity, some grit and some real deep-seated love of the game and the thrill of the traditional skate around the arena holding the Stanley Cup and having your name forever engraved upon it.
And if you’re a player and win the Stanley Cup, you get to take the Cup for a day to your hometown and parade it around and have a picnic with friends and family.
Old school game. Old school traditions.
As the NHL once said in its marketing campaign.
And if I REALLY get sucked in, I’ll pony up a few bucks and head down to D.C. for game.