This summer was very bleak and devastatingly unkind to hockey. Wade Belak, Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien all lost their lives on dark summer days. An entire KHL hockey team perished in one single moment. We keep talking about racism, headshots, homophobic slurs and concussion effects.
While they are all worthy topics and certainly merit their place in hockey discussions around the globe, right now, at the beginning of a new season, I feel itâ€™s best to focus on the positive things surrounding our great game.
A new season always brings fresh optimism about your teamâ€™s chances. Itâ€™s like a drug to us hockey fans. Anything seems possible. This writer is starting his season talking about all the things that fill him with joy and excitement when watching a hockey game.
The first thing I look for when entering a hockey arena is the vastness of the crowd. I have a theory that hockey crowds differ from other sports crowds because of the unique way hockey works. Here in Europe, we have our in game chants, but even so, you can still feel the intensified buzz in the crowd whenever a puck is fired on net, or a big save is made. More than any other, itâ€™s a sport of many moments.
At the end of a period, I always look for the Zamboni driver. For some unknown reason, that has become a custom for me. The patterns he makes while he circles the ice, making it new again. Every period truly seems like a fresh start that way. A kind of symbolic testament to the fact one period can change the flow of any given game.
The flexing stick, the movement of a goalie, the moment of high expectation and wonder â€“ is it in? A goal. Scored by a fourth line player or a legend of the game, does it really matter? Because, itâ€™s not the legends, but your legends, your memories and the simple joy of being on this Earth and focusing on a game that has all the elements to make a person go â€“ how did he do that?
Iâ€™ll never forget Selanneâ€™s goal celebration when he scored a goal for the Jets, breaking the rookie goal record held by Mike Bossy. Teemu tossed his glove in the air and pretended to shoot it with his stick. From then on, Iâ€™ve looked at countless faces during goal celebrations and I always find the same thing. Joy and hope.
Come to think of it, he was a different Selanne back then, a hungrier, more spectacular Selanne. He wasnâ€™t #8 back then, but a magical #13. The number some of us wore/wear in his honor. The durability of hockey players compared to any other sport (Chris Chelios, Nick Lidstrom, Dominik Hasek etc.) is astonishing. Iâ€™ve spent almost my entire life watching Teemu play hockey. He was always there, always an idol. Even when that shotgun celebration turned to tears after winning his first Cup, holding his wife in the process. In a way, itâ€™s as if we grew up together. This season, I’ll probably be watching him play for the last time. When he retires, part of my youth willÂ undoubtedlyÂ retire with him.
Iâ€™ll never forget seeing Doug Gilmour on tape for the first time. He taught me what hockey really was and how to play it. Digging for pucks, playing with every inch of your being until youâ€™re absolutely sure you gave it everything you had, then taking a seat and doing it on the next shift. In part, I also owe that to Steve Yzerman. Peter Forsberg showed me how to love the game, to truly love it. Love it to a point where if it wasnâ€™t there it would make a person hollow, be it in a non existential, to some superficial, part of his being. When they finally raise his number to the rafters, it won’t only be a testament to a great player, but also a testament to a player’s undying love for our game.
More than any other game, the sounds of it translate as much of the game as anything else. We all love those sounds. We love the sound of the puck touching a stick after a fast pass. So crisp in how it fades away into a push and glide. We love the sound of skates cutting the ice, the sound of sticks crackling in a corner battle. We love to hear the shots bouncing off the goalie pads and that ending sound the puck makes when it enters the goal and suddenly stops. We love the hear the crowd, jumping up and that ohhhhh when a chance is presented and missed, that same ohhhhhhh when the puck bounces off the goal frame with a regrettable clang. Oh boy do we love to hear the boards when a hit is made. A hollow, powerful sound that just feeds the energy of the sport to every watching soul.
To explain why I love our great game to someone from the outside, to someone not yet captivated by its energetic beauty, would probably take a lot more than whatâ€™s written here. But to explain it to you, I really only needed one word â€“ hockey.