Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why the NHL is greatness

Due to PJ's constant NHL banter since the launch of 110 Percent, I have thought quite a bit about hockey over the past few months. I mentioned before that I used to be a fan, but had lost interest, largely because of ridiculously inept leadership. Upon further reflection, I have been reminded of the things that attracted me to hockey in the first place. I finally decided that I'm not going to let Bettman rob me of a great game, so I'm back on the bandwagon and excited about the Stanley Cup playoffs. Let me make perfectly clear: I have experienced this shift in spite of Bettman and the NHL leadership (or lack thereof), not because of them. Without further ado, here are the reasons why the NHL is greatness.

The Stanley Cup - In Baseball v Cricket, I said the Ashes urn was a nine. For reference, the Stanley Cup is a ten—it is the hockey icon. Watch the final game of the Stanley Cup Finals this year (even the playoffs are named for the Cup) and witness the winning team pass the Cup around, each player taking their turn hoisting it over their head. And then you get to the off season, when each player on the championship team gets the Cup for one day, and legendary stories emerge. In every other North American sport, you talk of winning a ring. In hockey, it's all about the Cup.

Party crashers - There is almost always a young, low-seeded team that rides a hot goalie deep in the playoffs. They win their first round series and everyone calls it a fluke. But when they reach the conference finals, people take notice. A couple years ago, it was the Calgary Flames and the Sea of Red who were the darlings of the Finals. If you like underdogs, hockey is the sport for you.

Overtime playoff hockey - If you like sudden death overtimes, this is the only place it really happens. Basketball tacks on more minutes, and baseball is only sudden death for the home team. I suppose the NFL has sudden death overtime, but that is negated by the fact that it almost always ends with a couple running plays to center the ball before concluding with another field goal. Where's the tension in that? Nothing beats triple overtime playoff hockey, full of breakaways, odd man rushes and jaw dropping saves. Nothing.

Exciting defense - In most sports, good defense makes for boring games. Not so in hockey, where a goalie standing on his head, particularly in the playoffs, is more exciting than the league leading goal scorer. Picture this: Kobe drives the lane after losing his man with a wicked crossover, then clangs the layup off the front of the rim. Result: you were brought to the edge of your seat, but you feel cheated when it doesn't result in points. Now this: Sidney Crosby dekes two defenders and fires off a shot only to be robbed by a Brodeur glove save. Result: no score here, either, but it's still exciting because one great play is trumped by another.

Team handshakes - Two teams slug it out over seven games—they fight, bleed, hack and generally try to tear each other to pieces in order to advance. So when one team has clinched the series, what do they do? They line up and shake hands, congratulating the winners and appreciating the effort of the defeated. You don't get this in any other major American sport. Pure class.

So there you have it. Over the next two months, you have the chance to see some great hockey. Forget Bettman, strikes, lockouts and all the mess and enjoy the greatness of the Stanley Cup playoffs, because you never know when two goalies are going to go nuts and star in a triple quadruple overtime game.

6 comments:

PJ said...

Well, obviously, I'd have to agree with you. Last night was a testament to great hockey, although, I would have preferred for the Stars to have ended it a little earlier. I'm still dragging, and I hate that we lost. At least it was on a good play instead of something flukey...

Chris said...

It's crazy when you get eight combined goals in sixty minutes, they play into the fourth overtime before anyone can add one more.

PJ said...

Yea. Unfortunately, I saw some stat that like of all the longest playoff games in history, the team that won that game usually went on to win the series. Doesn't bode well for the Stars, but I have faith. or hope.. maybe?

Knotwurth Mentioning said...

Well said! The game was awesome, and the better team won, hehehe. Not a bad goal for one taking place that late in the game though... classic Sedinness!

This is a nice article. Will be linking to it on my own blog. It reminds me a great deal of one of the best articles about hockey I have ever read, written by Andrew Coyne. You should check it out... it's a really cool commentary not just on why the playoffs rule, but why the sport rules in general!

heather said...

Kobe losing his man and clanging a lay up on an open goal is not a display of good defense. Good defense is when Sasquatch comes out of no where to block Kobe's shot and shoves the ball down his gourd -- and I find blocked shots pretty exciting. But point taken: great hockey goalies are really engaging to watch.

Chris said...

The Kobe example not being a defensive play was my point. If a basketball player doesn't score, it is usually his own failure, or a good but unappreciable defensive play (forcing an altered shot, a tip block etc). A big sasquatch block is exciting, but your lucky if you get two of those per game. You get, and I'm estimating here, probably 10 'wow' saves in an average game, and 20 other really good ones. And those numbers go up exponentially in playoff overtime. Heck, even a shot that clangs off the post is exciting, in a heartbreaking/relieved kind of way, depending on if it was your team or not.