How I (Kinda) Got Into Hockey

This was supposed to be the season I started watching hockey. It wasn’t. So why am I enjoying the Stanley Cup finals so much? That’s what this post is about! When I say I was supposed to be watching hockey this season, it’s because of a podcast. I’m a big fan of the Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave show on the Smodcast Network. Basically, some of director Kevin Smith’s friends from when he was younger who still live in the Tri-State area get together and talk about pretty much everything. Before this season began, Walt Flanagan talked several times about the New Jersey Devils signing a player by the name of Ilya Kovalchuk who sounded like he was supposed to be the Michael Jordan of hockey. They talked about this guy a few times and even created a brand new hockey-themed podcast called PuckNuts, my excitement grew.

Now seems like a good time to talk about my history with hockey up until this time. Frankly, it’s a sport I didn’t care about even when the Red Wings were on their mid-90s Stanley Cup streak. To me it was a bunch of guys fumbling around on ice, trying to score and mostly missing, which made it only slightly better than soccer in my mind. Yes, those were snap judgements and no, they weren’t well thought out, but that’s how it was. I wound up being friends and bandmates with a dude (hey Chad) who actually played hockey in high school, but (sorry Chad) that was only interesting when he was on the ice. The future-missus wound up being a pretty big hockey fan and even took me to a minor league game once which was fun, but I didn’t catch the fever.

I wanted to catch it this year, though. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to root for a major New York team. I’m not the biggest fan of Jersey, but listening to Walt and company’s love of the team was pretty infectious. Plus, being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan in Giants and Jets country, I wanted a team that I could reasonably watch on TV without having to go to a sports bar or something. The Devils are on all the time here, plus we’ve got friends who are big Devils fans, so it seemed perfect.

But, it turned out Kovalchuk was more Jordan-playing-baseball instead of Jordan-playing-basketball. I watched a game or two and wasn’t super impressed or excited. Then I started listening to PuckNuts and neither were they. To use an expression, the Devils shit the bed. I can’t talk from experience of actually watching the games, only what I heard on the podcast, but they just couldn’t get their game together and win games. They were in last place. Eventually they fired their coach, got a new guy in and started winning games. It was too late for me to get really excited, but I was kind of tangentially paying attention thanks to the podcast and occasional talks with our Devils-loving friends. It actually got kind of exciting towards the end of the regular season as it looked like the Devils might actually make it. If they won all the games and lots of other teams lost. It didn’t happen. I stopped paying attention.

Then a few weeks later–or was it a month, how long is the hockey post season?–the missus told me that the Boston Bruins were actually doing pretty well. As we tend to do when a Boston team starts doing well in any sport, we watched the games starting with the end of the finals leading up to the Stanley Cup. Much to my surprise it was exciting! Great hockey being played by great players. THIS is what I wanted to see. Now, here we are with the time ticking away on the seventh game of the Stanley Cup. I’ve watched six of seven games and actually gotten really into them. Not Steelers or Notre Dame football-level excited, but it’s been fun. I don’t know if the victory will make me a Bruins fan or not. They’re still pretty far away and not likely to be on TV in the NY area next season. Also, I’m hoping the Devils can get their stuff together and actually have a winning season next time. We’ll see.

I should also mention that, teenage arrogance notwithstanding, I actually have a lot of respect for hockey, even before I got curious about the sport. It’s just such a crazy game. Strapping skates on your feet so you can play a game on ice where you’re trying to hit a tiny black thing into a not-very-big net is nuts! But, because there’s so much going on (skating, stick control, field of vision, goalie stuff, hitting, not dying) I think it’s also the major sport that requires the most skill from the average player. I can barely keep track of the puck on TV, I have no idea how they do it. I can ice skate alright, but you put a stick in my hand a puck in front of me and you’ll be scraping me and possibly my teeth off the ice in about 2.6 seconds.

Congrats Bruins! You guys–and Vancouver–showed me some pretty impressive hockey, both offense and defense. I’m excited for next year. Not football-excited mind you, but you get the idea.

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