NHL and the Love of The Game

by MaxPower

October begins, schools have started, the air is increasingly crisp and we reach ‘that’ time of year, the start of the NHL season. I can see some of you yawning in bored anticipation, going back to your needlepoint or computer programming. For some of us, however, optimism springs eternal – especially in October. ‘This year will be different’ you think, but will it? Possibly, more likely not however, yet we still keep coming back to the game we love.

Sure there are discussions every year, about rules and all of the NHL problems like insanely rocketing ticket prices and player salaries, protecting small market Canadian teams, and avoiding the commercialisation of this last truly Canadian cultural icon. Yet we, the hockey fan, keeps coming back each year, with dogged enthusiasm.

In U.K., Hockey is always called ‘Ice Hockey’ as to differentiate it from the Field version. In the U.S., one often has to qualify his statement, with Ice yet again, as some would confuse it with the Street or Roller versions. In Canada it was and forever will be simply Hockey. To that point, some naysayers would point to the NHL’s failure to gain name brand recognition in the United States, playing behind football, baseball and basketball on most evening sportscasts. That to me is a reason to keep coming back, to support my team, to pay the higher ticket prices, because it is not made in the United States, it is made in Canada. There are economies of scale at work, if one wishes to support a home-grown alternative to a mass-produced imported product, one must pay a price premium.

Look at the major sports in the United States, have you ever seen a more commercialised league than the NBA? The last minute of any NBA game may take up to 25 minutes to play because of endless timeouts, not only for the team benefit but for commercialised broadcasting companies (I’m looking at you NBC) who use the opportunity to bring us a commercial break every 10 seconds during the most exciting point in the game. Look at NHL playoffs, the NHL doesn’t even allow commercial breaks in overtime.

Professional baseball, excuse me to those of you who enjoy it, is a sport full of, and made for, lazy whiners. They play a sport whose main period of physical exertion is that of running 90 feet to a new base and then stopping for a break. They complain of torn ligaments and strained tendons, where as the whole ethos of work surrounding the NHL is that of sacrificing the body. An extreme example of this is when Stars’ goalie Ed Belfour, blamed his sub-par play on prescription drugs his own teammates, railed on him for his lack of commitment. When one plays hockey one must play with everything they have. Sure you could make exceptions to the rule (ie. Alexi ‘Mr. I-want-more-money-even-though-I-have-a-contract Yashin’), yet they get no support from the media and even less from the fans.

How about the NFL? My biggest point of contention with that particular league is the attitude of the players. Have you ever heard so many sanctimonious and hypocritical players thanking God for helping them put the ball into the end zone or to complete a pass? Come on now, you think God is looking over these players using divine intervention to affect the results of pro-football? These players are hypocritical, as they thank God one minute, extolling how their lives are touched by the Good Word, then the next minute are being indicted on drug or assault charges. NHL players are a cut above, not only NFL but also most other pro sport athletes. Would you feel comfortable walking up to any NBA or NFL player to ask for an autograph, I wouldn’t – I would be afraid I would get pummelled in a cocaine induced rage. Again there are NHL exceptions (ie. Theo ‘Mr. I-made-it-big-in-NYC-so-I’m-gonna-take-a-ton-of-drugs) but he couldn’t pummel a 3-year-old. One major pro when it comes to the NFL is their salary cap and revenue sharing scheme that allows small market teams to field competitive teams year after year (ie. Minnesota and Green Bay), something the NHL should think heavily about in 2004, if we still want to have Canadian teams.

Hockey has tradition – a 100 + year old cup and league, physical toughness – playing with a broken bone in the playoffs is the rule rather than the exception, and intensity not matched by any other sport, where games are not over till the final whistle. For all of hockey’s shortcomings, faults and problems, it continues to be a truly Made in Canada sport.

I can not remember a moment, in which I was so involved with a large group of people, or had a spine tingling sense of excitement, then when I attended an Edmonton Oilers playoff game versus the Dallas Stars. With 30 or so seconds left, Edmonton scored to make it 3 – 2, and then with literally 3 or 4 seconds on the clock, scored to tie it. I will remember that feeling and that incredible noise for as long as I live. One remarkable thing about it is that I will remember that moment, yet it remains untarnished by the fact the Oilers lost in overtime and were later knocked out of the playoffs.

This year it will be different, or maybe it won’t. Got playoffs?

  • NHL and the Love of The Game
  • by MaxPower
  • Published on October 1st, 2001

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