It’s Hockey Season (and you probably don’t care)!

My team - The Buffalo Sabres

As soon as my NFL teams, the Ravens & the Vikings, are eliminated from competition, my attention shifts to the next sport on my schedule: ice hockey. (My team is the Buffalo Sabres, but I’ll save that story for another day.)

Now, I know that there aren’t a ton of hockey fans out there in Maryland, and for perfectly understandable reasons. First off, it’s almost never cold enough in Maryland to safely skate outdoors, which means that if you learned to skate, it probably happened at an indoor arena. Skating at an indoor arena in this area is inconvenient (there just aren’t that many of them) and, if you get serious about skating, can be expensive. As a result, very few Marylanders are good skaters, and if you’ve never experienced the thrill of whooshing along at 20 miles per hour on a sheet of glass, you’ll probably find it hard to relate to hockey.

That having been said, there is a second, and I think larger, barrier to acceptance of ice hockey in America: television. Some sports really benefit from television; the NFL is the perfect example. Before the NFL became a packaged product of the broadcast networks, it was a niche sport in the United States (that’s why the 1958 Colts-Giants game was so huge – it created interest in the game from television networks). As color broadcasts of the NFL became the norm in the 1970s, the sport exploded in popularity, because frankly, football is much better on TV. It’s true. Slow motion replays, reverse camera angles and extreme close ups of the action make the game much more entertaining on your couch than in the stands. It’s like someone designed football in the late 1800s knowing that one day someone else would create a medium to exploit it. It’s no wonder that most of the revenue NFL teams depend on for survival comes from their TV contracts.

Hockey, on the other hand, exists at the opposite end of the spectrum. As a hockey fan who regularly sees televised games and has also been to many in person, I can testify: hockey live is 100% better than hockey on TV. The NHL has wracked their collective brains for decades to figure out a way to translate the electricity of the game to the small screen, but without any real success. When I was a child, they had apparently decided that education was the key, so I was treated to a series of cartoon interruptions by Peter Puck, who explained the rules of the game in a way that might appeal to fans of Scooby Doo.

In the 1990s, when Fox took up the NHL banner, it was decided that the problem was that people had a hard time following the puck. The answer? A strange, glowing puck that changed colors depending on its speed.

More recently, rules have been change to promote scoring, cameras have been placed closer to the ice to replicate the intimate feel of a hockey arena, and rink-level microphones have been added in an attempt to capture the intensity of the game, with varying degrees of success.

The truth is, if you want to be converted to ice hockey, go have to go to a rink and see a game. As soon as you walk in, and that rush of cold, dry air smacks you in the face, something changes. The small arenas let you get closer to the athletes than you may be used to, and the way the sounds of the game (pucks being slapped by sticks and then ricocheting off the glass, bodies driven into the boards) echo inside the building are completely unique to the live experience.

It’s been thought that Americans can’t accept games that finish at 2-1 or 1-0. Honestly, the tension of a low-scoring game, where everyone knows that the next goal will likely decide the outcome, is about as much drama as you could hope for. And when your team finally, suddenly, unexpectedly puts the puck into the net (because that’s the way goals are scored in hockey – unlike the inevitable, relentless feeling of a scoring drive in football), the explosive release of emotion by everyone in the arena is unsurpassed in sport. (At a Caps-Penguins game last year, my pre-teen daughter nearly had a heart attack every time the Capitals scored, such was the reaction of the crowd.)

Hockey is a game of speed and endurance (the physical toll taken on players is so great that that they need to be switched out every minute or so), played almost without interruption (take that baseball & football), and is mercifully short, with games rarely going over 2:30 hours.

Hockey also has one element that no other team sport has – fighting as an accepted part of the game. Once, twice or (if you’re lucky) maybe a few times per game, players will drop the gloves and spend a few minutes wailing away at each other’s faces. Please understand – these are not baseball or football fights. When the referees decide that the contest has been settled and they start pulling the fighters apart, well, (to quote a recent film) there will be blood. Fighting is considered a natural part of the game, in effect the self-policing of the more violent tendencies of the sport, by the participants. What I mean is, let’s say that one of your guys has just absorbed what you think is a cheap (and maybe dangerous) hit from an opponent. You’re angry, you want to settle the score, and you want the other team to know that this kind of dirty play won’t be tolerated. You could try to injure the other player as retaliation, or, you could just skate up to him, push him into the boards and rub his face into the glass. Of course, he’ll resist, and then the two of you will drop your gloves and try to break each other’s noses. When it’s all said and done, the anger is quenched, the message has been sent and no lasting damage is done. All in all, I’d say it’s a pretty good emotional venting system for a pretty violent sport.

But alas, once again, fights are so much better when observed live.

So my advice to the uninitiated: get thee to a hockey game. Don’t know where to go (without dropping several hundred dollars in D.C.)? No problem. UMBC has the best college hockey team in Maryland, and they play a lot of home games at Piney Orchard Ice Arena In Odenton. Students are free, but otherwise, you’ll pay a few dollars for great seats and a totally fun ride.

But try to get out there soon; it won’t be hockey season forever.

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TOP TEN UNSAFE TOYS FOR CHRISTMAS (and more)

TOP TEN UNSAFE TOYS FOR CHRISTMAS

10. Junior Electrician Outlet Panel
9. Hasbro’s Slippery Steps
8. Black & Decker Silly Driller
7. Roof Hanger Paratrooper Outfit
6. Remco’s Pocket Hive
5. Traffic Tag
4. Will It Burn? from Parker Brothers
3. Chimney Explorer
2. My First Ferret Farm
1. Ooh – You’re Blue!, the Exciting Hold-Your-Breath Game

TOP TEN LEAST-LOVED CHRISTMAS STORIES

10. Ahahl and the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
9. The Sweatiest Angel
8. Santa’s Three-Day Eggnog Bender
7. Christmas Eve at the All-Male Cinema
6. A Holiday Visit from Salmonella
5. Ironman Mike Tyson Hurts Santa Real Bad
4. My Christmas Sauna with Burl Ives
3. Jack Frost Loses the Feeling in His Extremities
2. I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus
1. The Teddy Bear Who Came to Life and Mauled a Retail Clerk

(courtesy of The Late Show with David Letterman)


The Top 10 Least Popular Holiday Specials

10. Andy Williams and the Osmond Brothers’ Kwazy Kwanzaa

9. It’s an Utterly Horrible Life, Charlie Brown

8. Miracle Whip on 34th Street

7. Frosty the Ex-Girlfriend

6. Harry Potter and the Marketing Tie-In That All of Your Friends Will Get for Christmas So You’d Better Ask For It, Too

5. Pay It Forward, with 0% Financing and No Payments Due Until January of 2003

4. Prancer II: Pass the Steak Sauce

3. Dude, Where’s My Sleigh?

2. Winona Ryder in “How the Wench Stole Christmas”

1. Crouching Reindeer, Hidden Yule Log

(courtesy of the Top Five List)

My Favorite Quotes From Christmas Programs – With Video Links!

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

In no particular order:

I suppose it all started with the snow. You see, it was a very special kind of snow. A snow that made the happy happier, and the giddy even giddier. A snow that’d make a homecoming homier, and natural enemies, friends. For it was the first snow of the season. And as any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic that comes with the very first snow, especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow… Well, something wonderful is bound to happen.”

I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.

Santa Claus: Don’t cry, Karen, Frosty’s not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. It sometimes goes away for almost a year at a time and takes the form of spring and summer rain. But you can bet your boots that when a good, jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn into Christmas snow all over again.
Karen: Yes, but… He was my friend.
Santa Claus: Just watch.

” ‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

[Props man tries to attach antlers to a mouse]
Props man: I can’t get the antlers glued to this little guy. We tried Crazy Glue, but it don’t work.
Frank Cross: Did you try staples?

Jacob Marley: In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing hole! Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!
Ebenezer: But it was only that you were a good man of business, Jacob!
Jacob Marley: BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business! And it is at this time of the rolling year that I suffer most!

“…there are only three jobs available to an elf. The first is making shoes at night while the old cobbler sleeps. You can bake cookies in a tree. As you can imagine, it’s dangerous having an oven in an oak tree during the dry season. But the third job, some call it “the show” or “the big dance,” it’s the profession that every elf aspires to. And that is to build toys in Santa’s workshop.”

“Every Who Down In Who-Ville Like Christmas a lot… But The Grinch, Who lived just North of Who-ville, Did NOT! The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all May have been that his heart was two sizes too small. But, Whatever the reason, His heart or his shoes, He stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos, Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown At the warm lighted windows below in their town. For he knew every Who down in Who-ville beneath Was busy now, hanging a mistleoe wreath. “And they’re hanging their stockings!” he snarled with a sneer. “Tomorrow is Christmas! It’s practically here!” Then he growled, with his grinch fingers nervously drumming, “I MUST find a way to keep Christmas from coming!””

“Just a minute – just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was – why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why – here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You – you said – what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be.”

“Scrooge was better than his word… and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Top Ten Not-To-Be-Missed Christmas Shows

There are plenty of Christmas television specials and movies out there; how do you decide which ones to watch? Well, here are the ones I stay home for:

10. Elf – One of the few Will Ferrell movies I can sit all the way through. It’s cute, it’s funny, and Bob Newhart plays Papa Elf. Fortunately, I don’t have to make time for this movie, because it’s on sixteen separate cable channels every day during the month of December.

9. Scrooged – I detest remakes of A Christmas Carol that repeat what’s already been done better. I’m fine with versions that update the story or take it places where it hasn’t been. In this version, Bill Murray is a cynical, vicious television executive who gets the Dickens scared out of him by an excellent supporting cast, which includes John Forsythe and David Johansen (below with Murray).

8. It’s A Wonderful Life – The 1946 Frank Capra classic. Yes, it’s a sappy story, but it reminds us of all the good we can do, and maybe already are doing, for the people around us every day. At this point it’s passed from being a film to being a Christmas tradition, which makes it immune to cinematic criticism.

7. Saturday Night Live Christmas – SNL has done a lot of really funny stuff over lo these many Christmases – none funnier than Steve Martin’s Christmas Wish.

6. A Christmas Story – I’ve never seen a film become iconic quite as quickly as did the story of Ralphie’s quest for the elusive Red Ryder Ranger Model Air Rifle. A huge bonus is the acting of Darren McGavin, who also played Carl Kolchak in the Night Stalker series. If you like this movie, you can see it for 24 hours straight on TBS.

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Debuting Christmas 1964, this is the claymation classic that started it all. As much as I enjoy Rudolph, every year Santa seems to become more and more of an insensitive jerk. If this were remade today, Rudolph wouldn’t run away, he’d sue Santa under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

4. Frosty the Snowman – A little song becomes an indelible part of our lives with the help of great voiceover performances from Jackie Vernon (Frosty), Billy De Wolfe (Professor Hinkle) and Jimmy Durante.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – Dr. Suess’ Christmas staple first appeared in December of 1966, complete with narration by Boris Karloff and singing by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was also the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. Directed by Chuck Jones, of Tom and Jerry fame.

2. Scrooge (1951) – The definitive version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a brilliant cast headed by Alastair Sim set the bar so high that all other Scrooge films seem like disasters by comparison. The original was in black and white, but the colorized version really brings out the feel of London in the early 19th century. Another bonus is how close this version stays to Dickens’ text.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas – For me, Christmas is in full swing when I hear Linus say, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Released in 1965, when people weren’t afraid to quote the Gospel of Luke and some actually had aluminum Christmas trees illuminated by rotating color wheels, the message is about rejecting the commercialization of Christmas. If Rudolph created claymation holiday specials, Charlie Brown did the same for animation. [Irony Central: Let me say here how disappointed I am with ABC for cutting a full five minutes from A Charlie Brown Christmas last night so that they could squeeze in more commercials. Being the network that gets to broadcast “ACBC” is a sacred trust, which ABC violated for the sake of commercialism. Shame on you, ABC.]

Honorable Mentions:

The Year Without a Santa Claus

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

The Little Drummer Boy

Miracle on 34th Street

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town