Posted by: Nathan | April 16, 2007

Give hockey another chance

Hockey is getting a raw deal from the average American. In my mind, the NHL is the third best sports league in the U.S. behind only the NFL and MLB (in that order). However, most people don’t care about it and don’t watch it. And why should you? It’s confusing, there are random fights, and it’s dominated by foreigners, right?

Let me begin my defense of hockey by asserting that it’s exciting. No game moves faster up and down its field of play than hockey. The game is so fast that the players sub in and out after only a minute or so! It’s extremely demanding athletically. Adding to its excitement is the rarity of goals. Every goal is huge in hockey, so when one is scored, the celebrating is understandable. This is the very antithesis of basketball, where a two-point shot is easily matched on the other end.

crosby.jpgNow to the other objections I raised: first, hockey is confusing. It has strange rules and whistles come at seemingly random moments. There is no way to counteract this other than watching a few games and listening to the commentators. Usually, hockey announcers are great at explaining a call and the rules surrounding it. There are some odd rules, but every sport has these. The only way to make the rules familiar is to invest the time and watch a game or five.

Onto fighting, which is a point of contention even among hockey enthusiasts. To the uninitiated, hockey seems like it engages, allows, and even encourages violence that is unrelated to the game in the form of brawls between players. Fights are certainly not uncommon in the NHL. There are two schools of thought about fighting: 1. Fighting is part of the game and is good because fans love it and it permits players to self-police their own league; 2. Fighting needs to be eliminated from the NHL before the sport can be accepted by the general populace (Wilbon supports this view). I haven’t decided on which side I fall. I enjoy a good fistfight if it’s fairly uncommon, but the Todd Bertuzzi situation of a couple years back must never happen again.

Lastly, the game is dominated by foreigners. It is. There are two main factors in this reality: 1. Citizens of other countries love hockey, so their players are better; 2. Americans care more about other sports and play them. If you want more Americans in hockey, watch it! I personally don’t care much about a player’s nationality—I want to see talent on the ice. Many players from overseas or across the border are incredible talents and well worth watching. It certainly seems that we don’t have this hangup in other sports: Yao Ming, Ichiro Suzuki, David Ortiz, etc.

If you’re still skeptical, I’ll just say that now is the best time to try hockey again because it’s playoff time. There are very few playoffs better than the NHL’s. The intensity is huge, the goals matter more, and every player is out to win. It’s fast-paced and exciting! Give it a try. For your first game, try to catch the Penguins against the Senators (Senators lead the series 2-1). Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh is an incredible talent, and I don’t see any of the games in this series ending in a shutout.

Lastly, I must add that the NHL has the best uniforms of any sport. There’s so much surface area to work with! Additionally, their logos are usually better.

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Responses

  1. Hockey playoffs do rock! I like the NBC announcing crews too, so far. Plus, with the new rules, people are flying down the ice and they call penalties for grabbing and holding. It’s good stuff

  2. A good defense of the NHL. To my mind, fighting is okay as long as it’s within reason (ie, doesn’t involve sticks). There’s something really exciting about seeing a fight on the ice and wondering who’s going to come out on top. And I agree, the unis in the NHL are great.

    I think the primary reason hockey gets the shaft is that it just gets lost in the midst of the other majors (NBA, NFL, MLB). It starts while football season is still in swing, finishes up when the baseball season is just getting under way, and has its playoffs at the same time as the NBA playoffs, which are terrible in comparison, but draw a bigger number.

    What’s interesting to me is that, even though hockey keeps getting zero recognition in the US, foreign players still come here to play. Why has it not followed the same path as futbol, where the world’s best play in other countries?

  3. nice header, by the way


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