No you did not misread that; for most of my life I have not been much of a hockey fan. For some reason I just never got into it heavily as a kid. Maybe it’s because it took me until high school to play a “tough guy” sport like football or lacrosse (not that I think I’m a tough guy per se, it’s just that it was baseball and soccer up until then for yours truly…). Maybe it’s because I loved being on roller blades (read: 90’s child) more than I liked ice skates (the rentals never fit correctly…). Or maybe it’s because my father indoctrinated me with the notion that “5am practices due to ice time are stupid” from a very young age (and I have a sneaky suspicion that it had something to do with his sleeping patterns). Personally, I’m going with the latter (I listened to my father’s wisdom on a lot of things sports related) and I’m also blaming my high school for not having its own team (we had a combined team with our cross-town rival, who we viciously competed with in everything else…I know right?). So yeah, there were a lot of things going against my love of hockey growing up (at least as a player) but I’m finally attempting to make up for it at 24, both out of general sports fandom and because, well, it’s freaking awesome.
I’ve been watching more and more hockey here and there over the course of the past couple of years, trying to educate myself on the ins and outs of the game. But it wasn’t until Sunday, May 1st 2011 that I made a point of sitting down and catching the last 2 and a half periods of an Eastern Conference Semifinal Game 2 between the Capitals and the Thunder. Now mind you it was a good game to catch and I reacted to it in much the same way I reacted to Wimbledon 2009 (awesome final between Andy Roddick and Roger Federer) by saying “I need to watch more of this.” Still, there was one difference between Wimbledon 2009 and this game. While Wimbledon was something of an aberration in terms of tennis awesomeness, Caps-Thunder was just one in a multitude of ridiculously good hockey finishes throughout this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs (and from the sound of it, every Stanley Cup Playoffs in general). Now this wasn’t the first hockey I watched all year. It was, however, the first time I made a point of coming home and making a hockey game the sole focus of my attention, something that’s basically impossible to do outside of my usual favorite sports (just ask my co-workers…or my girlfriend). I came away with it thoroughly impressed with not only the excitement and genuine nervousness that accompanies watching hockey (it was akin to watching the World Cup in 2010), but also with the skating ability of the players.
Now, this is the part where things get a little embarrassing (you know, other than calling younger me something of a wuss about 2 paragraphs above), but I actually grew up watching a fair amount of ice skating. My mother is a huge fan, so as a kid I was brought in to the room on numerous occasions to admire the skills of Michelle Kwan (true bummer she never got Olympic Gold), Nancy Kerrigan (a good sport who was funny in that movie Will Ferrell did with Napoleon Dynamite) Oksana Baiul (an underrated Ukrainian success story who won the ’94 Olympic Gold shortly after the breakup of the USSR), Tara Lipinski and a smattering of good male skaters (although the only name I can come up with is Bryan Boitano…and I don’t feel like looking anyone else up). Aside from the crippling embarrassment as a kid, I learned what good skating looks like (plus, I now watch figure skating on occasion without completely feeling like I’m without my manhood), and have been surprised to see so much of it in the NHL.
Of course a lot more is going on in hockey besides the relative grace and skill of their skating (you know, like nearly killing each other). Still, in between the general mayhem (and awesomeness) of hockey, when someone’s on a break away, or weaving in between defenders or skating back to play defense there is some truly beautiful skating going on. And it makes sense that these guys would be fantastically skilled skaters, I’m just guessing that it sometimes gets lost in everything else going on in the game (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing). Keep it up NHL (both the ice-based pandemonium and the momentary flashes of impressive skating beauty), you’ve certainly got me hooked.
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for; “I’m not much for eye for an eye and all that, but Osama’s death is a long time coming, and I think it’s awesome,” “The Caps are NOT dead in the water down 2 games to none, yet another reason to like the NHL playoffs,” “Memphis is looking very good…and OKC is looking very gassed,” “I’ll let you know in July, but I may have given Bartolo Colon entirely too much shit (terrible pun very much intended),” and the “The 2011 NFL Draft: a bigger c*** tease than post ‘The Girl Next Door’ Elisha Cuthbert…and yes, I have seen her new TV show.”