August 04, 2010
(Ed. Note: Our series "Five 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 "Five Reasons" guest blogger? Hit us on email. Enjoy!)
Dirk Hoag is a blogger covering anything and everything about the Nashville Predators over at On the Forecheck. Not only does Dirk break down Predators news, he also provides interesting statistical looks at various things NHL-related. You may have read his annual "Super Schedule" every summer breaking down the mileage each NHL team will travel for the upcoming season or the always fun "Alternate Awards."
Here are Five Reasons Dirk Hoag Loves Hockey
1. Stanley Cup Playoff Overtime
It may drive the TV networks nuts because of its unpredictable impact on scheduling, but playoff overtime represents the pinnacle of the NHL experience. The combination of marathon-like endurance with frantic competition for every loose puck pushes the athletes to their limits, and keeps the audience on the edge of its figurative seat. Those rare contests, which run into multiple overtimes, become legendary in the history of both teams, and permanently branded in the minds of fans.
A multiple-OT goal is a ticket to hockey immortality for the lucky player, securing their place in the pantheon of their franchise's greats. Names such as Pat LaFontaine, Keith Primeau, Steve Yzerman, Kirk Muller and Petr Klima instantly conjure up memories among their respective fan bases. If such a goal actually finishes off a Cup win, forget about it — guys like Brett Hull (1999) and Jason Arnott(notes) (2000) have lived the dream that every kid playing street hockey has acted out in his/her own mind.
2. College hockey
One thing the college game has over the NHL is the rivalries, which are fostered by a limited, conference-heavy regular-season schedule (which makes each game more important), conference tournaments which precede the NCAA, and the series of holiday tournaments (like the Beanpot and the Great Lakes Invitational) which make sure that traditional rivals face each other on a big stage every year.
For me, this meant early and mid-1990's nights at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, watching the Michigan Wolverines host teams like Michigan State. A jam-packed barn with a rabid crowd, a pep band and two top-notch teams is a great place to take in a game.
3. Hockey blogs
What began in the mid-90's as endless threads in Ye Olde USENET newsgroups has blossomed into a diverse community of hockey writing which offers something for just about everyone. Whether you're looking for in-depth analysis, quick hits on the latest news, or the completely juvenile "your team sux"-type of content, there's a blog out there providing it.
Sure, there are a few bad apples in the bunch that give the genre a bad name when it comes to establishing connections with the NHL and individual teams, but progress is being made. And for those who clamor for media-style access, just be careful what you wish for. There's no cheering on press row, after all; you'll probably have a better time watching from the stands.
4. Hockey stats analysis
Part of the appeal of hockey is the mysterious, almost alchemical nature of teamwork. Sometimes, great individuals fail to become a great team, and a squad
of unheralded pluggers prevails over more talented opponents. Fans and commentators alike can speculate about line combinations and potential roster moves until they're blue in the face, secure in the fact that most of those scenarios will never come to pass, and even if they do, any number of factors can be used to qualify the results (yes, the coach put my line together but played them with the wrong D pair, etc.).
Over the last few years, however, the public discussion around hockey stats analysis has led to some significant steps forward for informed hockey fans. We know how to set offensive contributions in proper context (accounting for the amount and quality of the ice time players are given), how to separate the truly great goaltenders from the rest of the pack, and how to value the ability of some players to consistently draw penalties from their opponents (note to Kings fans — Dustin Brown rocks).
While these and many other items have enhanced our understanding of the game, there are still numerous questions, which are open to investigation. Individual defensive ability, optimal line combinations, and matchup selection are just a few areas, which hold potential. The landscape here is wide open, and rife with opportunity.
5. Beer leagues
At one point in my early 20s, I had dropped out of the University of Michigan and could easily have had my life go completely off the rails. Instead, while hanging around Ann Arbor, I threw myself into the game, playing on beer-league teams and going to drop-in sessions whenever possible. The pursuit of personal development on the ice, both to become a better individual player and teammate, led to immediate and lasting results away from the game; I eventually got started on a productive career and put myself through school to finish my degree.
The competition and camaraderie in beer-league hockey can't be beat. Sure, the action's not NHL-caliber, but to the folks involved, it might as well be. There's no better release from everyday stress than to hustle your butt off for an evening, feel that rush of blood into your feet as you loosen your skates in the locker room afterward, and enjoy a frosty beverage as the gang recaps the highlights, which of course grow more sensational in the telling.
Today, as a 40-year-old father of three, the constraints of real life don't allow for as much on-ice action as I'd like, but even the occasional once-a-week beer-league game gets the juices flowing and keeps me thinking positively, rather than bemoaning the spare tire around my waist or the arthritis in my hands. Like George Bernard Shaw said, "We don't stop playing because we become old; we become old because we stop playing."
Put simply, I'm just a better person when I'm playing hockey.