August 01, 2010
(Ed. Note: Our series "5 Reasons I Love Hockey" features puckheads from all walks of life revealing five things that either made them a fan or that keep them watching hockey. We're bringing it back periodically. Have a suggestion for a "5 Reasons" guest blogger? Hit us on email. Enjoy!)
Mike Chen has written almost everywhere on the Internet. From his original blog to contributing at Fox Sports,Versus and the Battle of California to his time at Kukla's Korner to his current gig as Managing Editor at SB Nation's From the Rink, Chen is a well-known voice in the hockey blogging community.
A Bay Area San Jose Sharks fan, Chen loves himself some indie rock, sci-fi and most importantly, video games.
Here are Five Reasons Mike Chen Loves Hockey
1. A clean sheet of ice
For anyone who's played the game, there's nothing quite like stepping on to a freshly cut sheet of ice. Before the game starts, before the warm-ups have really begun, you take a few good strides and feel the cold air hitting your face. Sure, it's not the rush that comes with scoring a goal or making a nice assist, but that first skate is always a zen-like moment for me: the calm before the beer-league storm, when it's just the sensation and sounds of thin blades gliding over ice. Well, most of the time -- out here in California, some of those happy thoughts go by the wayside on humid days when puddles form and you realize you'll be playing in sludge.
2. The one timer
You can have your dekes, your glove saves, and your hard hits; to me, nothing sums up hockey quite like the one-timer. In less than a second, you've got everything that makes the game great: the critical pass, the precision of hitting a shot right when the puck arrives in the sweet spot, the power of a full-fledged slapper traveling 90 MPH towards the net. It's a thing of beauty, and when you get a bona fide passer and a true sniper playing through traffic, you get near-miraculous moments. Out here in San Jose, we still wax nostalgic about the 2005-06 season of Joe Thornton(notes) and Jonathan Cheechoo(notes), when Thornton would float a pass over a bed of sticks and skates, only for Cheechoo to slam it home with an off-balance shot. Now let's move on to the next one before I think about Cheechoo's current state.
3. Hockey in HD
I'll admit, I was late to the HD game. In the Chen household, we didn't get an HDTV until February 2009, and we didn't actually get HD service until the start of the 09-10 season (thank you, DirecTV/Versus dispute). My friends had warned me that Center Ice in HD was probably worse than heroin or crack, and they were right. Even the games that I didn't care about were glorious to watch. And, to go with the drugs analogy, HDTV seems to be one heck of a gateway drug into hockey. I've had friends and family tell me that they never watched hockey until they caught a game in HD and they were hooked. Years ago, Gary Bettman talked about how HD could be the biggest marketing tool the league ever had, and looking back, he's probably right.
4. Hockey video games
Most of my friends growing up had Super Nintendo's, but I was a
Sega Genesis kid, and the one thing that us Genesis fans could always hold on to was that our versions of EA's
NHL games were far superior thanks to the faster Genesis processor. I spent way too many hours in my teens playing the different NHL iterations, along with trying the awful Brett Hull Hockey for the PC. In college, it meant near-daily NHL battles with my roommates, including the infamous "no-goalie" match-up that broke the game (NHL 97 on PC; after about 50 combined goals, the game couldn't handle it anymore and Mark Messier scored just by skating past the benches and throwing his arms up in celebration). I thought those days would never return after we moved out and moved on, but today's online gaming has brought trash-talking video hockey back into my life. We still haven't tried the no-goalie thing again, though -- after all, we wouldn't want to break EA's servers.
It's a pretty strange thing when you look at the number of hockey fans in my family. These days, the Bay Area is a good hockey market, but it's still not a tradition the way that baseball or football are. Back in the days when it was a niche sport, my dad -- a Taiwanese immigrant who loved the NFL and tennis -- gravitated towards the game the same time I did, and we found ourselves watching Chicago Blackhawks games on the old SportsChannel package in the early 1990s. From there, it's been a constant in our lives, even breaking up a pre-wedding family dispute. And the funny thing is I married into a hockey family too; on our first date, my wife told me how she hated Peter Forsberg(notes), and her step-dad played roller hockey until he threw his back out. Even his nephews are in the Junior Sharks program. I'm not exactly comfortable around children, but get some sticks and pucks out and I'll be the best babysitter in the world, like I was at Thanksgiving with my wife's step-dad's nephews (step-nephews?). In a non-traditional market, it's rare to have hockey be so prevalent on both sides of the family, and you can bet I'm grateful for it.