Sunday, October 7, 2007
It's the most wonderful time of the year....
Summer’s over, or so the calendar says. Then again, in South Carolina the weather stays nice almost till Thanksgiving. It’s not quite like New England, where there’s already frost on the pumpkins. It’s still hitting 85 during the days, but the humidity is a little less and the nights are certainly nicer.
Most people I know are deeply entrenched in football mania, both college and pro, the NASCAR fans are watching their final few races, and baseball fans are catching the pennant races. Not me. I don’t really follow football or baseball much more than cursory glances at the standings, and I just can’t get into watching folks drive in circles.
Nope, my attention is fixated and riveted upon a 200 foot long by 85 foot wide sheet of ice surrounded by a 40-inch tall wall topped with Plexiglas. I’m one of those weird people. I’m a hockey fan.
Some people subscribe to Time, or Rolling Stone, or even Cosmo. Most people watch “Football Night In America” on NBC on Sunday nights oblivious to the fact that NBC stole the idea from traditional Saturday ritual of “Hockey Night In Canada” on CBC. I get weekly deliveries of The Hockey News. My co-workers ask me if I saw that 99-yard punt return for a touchdown, and I shake my head “no”, and ask if they saw that guy steal the biscuit off a rebound in his own defensive zone, one-time it to the winger, who skated coast to coast, deked the d-man at the blue line and tossed a wicked wrister over the keeper’s shoulder, top shelf where Momma keeps the Vegemite. Of course, that always gets me a funny look. And when football ends in January, with the Super Bowl, I’ll be watching the All-Star Game and still have half a season left of action.
Instead of NFL football’s 16 once-a-week games, NHL hockey players endure an 82-game season. Both sports ostensibly play a 60-minute game with potential for overtime. Many footballs games, and all baseball games, are played on grass with players wearing cleated shoes. Hockey players don their gear and then balance on skate blades only 1/8 of an inch wide on a hard-frozen sheet of ice.
Hockey is fluid poetry, speed and agility, and elegance in motion, combined with brute force. Players strap on armor plating and helmets, lace steel razor blades on their feet, and wield 5-foot long sticks. In the normal course of play, one can expect to be slammed into the boards and glass, knocked to the ice, shoved and jostled, and sometimes struck by the puck itself, which is a 6-ounce disk of frozen vulcanized rubber 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, easily reaching speeds of a hundred miles an hour. And then there’s the fights.
Fighting is a normal part of the sport. It’s penalized, and not an every-game occurrence, but it happens as an accepted aspect of the game. It’s a brutally honest way to handle on-ice “differences of opinion”, and once the tussle is over, it generally leaves no outstanding animosities. Two guys have a “heart to heart” and then sit out 5 minutes. Unlike other sports that degenerate into brawls that ooze into the stands. That’s just tacky.
So yes, it’s that magical time of the year when I dig into the front closet & pull out the hockey bag full of cowbells (You gotta have cowbells!), spare hats to toss for a hat-trick, and some of the props I use to do my now-famous Mojo Dance in the third period of Stingrays games. Time to break out the jerseys, hats, and t-shirts with the team logos. Time to see friends I haven’t seen in damn near six months in some cases.
Up in the NHL, things are off to a great start with plenty of surprises. As of the time I write this, the Washington Capitals are 2-0 and Alex Ovechkin scored his 200th career point. Sid the Kid Crosby is the Penguins captain at 20 years of age. The Bluejackets blanked the defending Stanley Cup champion Ducks 4-0, and then the Pens’ beat the Ducks. Only winning one game out of your first five isn’t really a great start, Anaheim.
Promising rookie Patrick Kane had the shootout game-winner for the Blackhawks over the Red Wings. The 2006 #1 draft pick, Blues rookie defenseman Erik Johnson, scored his first NHL goal only 2 games into the season. A third Staal brother is playing in the NHL now. Jeremy Roenick showed the tiger still has teeth by notching 2 goals in his first regular-season game as a San Jose Shark after a miserable season on Phoenix.
Oh yeah…it’s the most wonderful time of the year.