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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The Weather Underground Railroad

Walking around campus today, in weather that would have made a Dubliner proud, I was struck by the fashion choices I encountered. I considered myself reasonably dressed for cool, wet weather (of course, I was working, so my range of options were a little limited). For me, it was Dockers, a long sleeve dress shirt (no tie) and my UMBC windbreaker. As I said, very appropriate.

 

A cruddy day on campus

 

 

Passing me as I went were students in jeans and hoodies, shorts and tee-shirts, and some in heavy, winter parkas. While the weather wasn’t so extreme that any of these could be classified as signs of mental illness, it did strike me as a wonderful study in personalities.

Are the folks in shorts desperate to hold onto summer, did they spend the money their parents sent for clothes on something else, or do they just sweat more easily than others? And the people in huge winter coats, are they snow-lovers who just can’t wait, did they not have any clean clothes, or do they have circulatory problems?

And then there are the folks (mainly ladies, thank God) who wear sandals or flip flops with long pants, no matter the weather. Do they not have decent shoes? Do they imagine that their feet are really sexy, and they just can’t bear to hide them? Personally, I’ve never worn sandals or flip-flops, because I hate the way my feet feel in them, and then they get filthy inside and I hate that feeling, too.

One thing I’ve noticed that even when it’s really raining, most college students don’t use umbrellas, probably because they can’t carry them with all of the other stuff they’ve got. But they still don’t run to keep out of the rain, because then they’d look like a dork. So they just get wet.  Students who have been on campus a while, though, know how to go almost anywhere without getting wet – by dodging water-traps (like that spot under the overhang at the UC, or the numerous small lakes that develop in key locations) and by following meandering paths through close or connected buildings. It’s like the underground railroad for clever, water-adverse students.

Major Overhaul of this Blog Upcoming – Stay Tuned

I’ve decided to pivot away from the scattered, “a little bit of everything” focus that this blog has had. I’ve already decided where I want to go, but now I’m just working out how I want to implement the change. Stay tuned for details as I settle on them…