As far as I’m concerned, there are no better playoffs than hockey. Intensity, duration, speed, skill, it’s all there. Here are the 10 best reasons why hockey play-offs are the best (there’s many more)
1. Guys with sticks
From the dawn of time, right up through the Rantalec remote , man has grasped a stick and put it to use. And no one puts a stick to use with more artistry than a hockey player. Pin point passing, shooting a puck at 90mph into a 3″ x 3″ corner, or tipping a moving puck — we carry these stick skills in our genes, hockey players get to practice them all the time.
2. Walking on water
Hockey players do all this on ice, skating, moving at upwards of 30 mph. When you watch, it’s hard to remember they’re moving with such grace and speed in funny shoes on a slippery surface, but they are. With that little glare off the ice at the beginning of the period that says the ice is smooth, that goes to a flat, dull gray by the end of the period.
I stopped by my local Missoula Vann’s 5 years ago with my wife to buy a washer and dryer. I got there a little earlier and decided to browse. Not washers and dryers; I saw a giant TV next to the register, playing a hockey game. It was amazing. I had just been home to Pittsburgh and gone to the Igloo to see the Penguins. This TV replicated the sights of that live game perfectly. We bought the washer and dryer, but that was my first lesson in the clarity of the top-rated flat screen. We got a new TV soon after. A big one.
3. Guys with sticks . . . redux
“The hockey stick is the great equalizer”. So said Terrible Ted Lindsay. Not every move with a stick is a graceful and smooth erudition of the players skill, sometimes it’s just a big old swat. Which makes us move onto . . .
4. A gathering of the clans
When the sticks start swinging, penalties get called. And sometimes when the penalty gets called, there is a bit of extra curricular activity. In a recent Sports Illustrated poll of NHL players, 98% of them felt that fighting should NOT be banned. I guess it goes all the way back to Clarence Campbell, the 3rd NHL president, who said, “the safest and most satisfactory way to retaliate a foul is with a punch in the nose”. Quick, simple done with.
And a top-rated flat screen TV is a real joy when teams get into a scrum. When I first started watching hockey on a full 19 inches of curved glass, in B&W, with no cable, two guys would pair off, and then two more, and you just had no idea why. Now, with 42″ of flat screen color and digital sharpness, you see the face rub, the quick stick lift and the casual butt end that gets the second set of players to have a go.
5. The interviews
The post-game hockey interview is unfailingly polite, no matter the subject or the situation. There is no “Bulletin Board” material in a hockey interview. Win a game by seven goals? “We had to play a full 60 minutes out there”. Just scored four goals? ” My team mates made sure I had the puck at the right time” Make 47 saves in a 1-0 shut out? “The team skated really hard and kept the other guys from getting quality shots”. There is no “I” in team, no bragging, no trash talking (at least to the media) and never, ever give the other team a reason to get more involved than they already are.
6. No rest for the wicked
Once the play-offs start, you play a hockey game every other day for 56 days. 4 rounds of 7 games. Maybe you get a break if you close out a series early, but not much of one. And the stick comes back into play, as do the boards, and the ice, and the puck. It hurts to play hockey, and when one team emerges holding the cup- you can be sure of one thing. They wanted it the most, because if you don’t want it, you fall by the 56 day wayside.
You play till the game is won. Sudden death. Sometimes it takes 9 seconds. Sometimes it takes an extra 92:01 to get the clincher. But anyway you slice it, the game goes on till a goal is scored. I’ve embedded this link to Bill Clement and Mike Emrick. This was only a 4 OT game, and these guys were just the announcers, and look at them. Imagine how the home team fans behave!!
I saw this live (on TV), and it was an amazing game, and an amazing announcing of the game. Instant TV classic! Wish I’d had a top-rated flat screen in ’87.
8. Because they’re hockey players
It happens every year. Some baseball player gets a finger blister and sits for 3 weeks, or a soccer player player gets injured reaching for the remote control. And then there’s hockey players. Sometimes, with a minor facial cut (say 6 stitches or less) they don’t even leave the bench. And miss a shift? Only if the trainer can’t sew fast enough. There’s tough, there’s $2.00 steak tough and then there’s hockey player tough.
9. The Stanley Cup
You get your name engraved on the cup. No other sport does that. And as a winner, you get the cup for a day, to do whatever you want with it. The Stanley Cup has been abandoned in airports, sank to the bottom of Mario Lemeuix’s pool and baptized a baby. No other trophy has the night life or the legacy of Lord Stanley’s bauble.
10. The handshake
At the end of every series, no matter how emotional, no matter how chippy, how many overtimes, or how many penalties were called, the teams line up and shake hands. No exceptions, with the goalies traditionally at the end of the line. No other sport has this show of sportsmanship, this recognition of hockey as still a game. Important? Undoubtedly. But still just a game, to be ended with a handshake, like gentlemen. Despite all the evidence that showed that some players were, perhaps, not as gentlemanly as they could be, at the end of every series, the ceremonial handshake.
Take a look around, we could do with a little more sportsmanship in our lives, a few more handshakes at the end of a squabble.