August 30, 2009
Special weekend fun! 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. It will run every day through August. Enjoy.
Steven Ovadia has been blogging on Puck Update since 2002, and it remains one of those blogs whose updates we happily anticipate due to their unpredictability. One day, it's a post about how Robert Esche's KHL ad campaign looks like something out of a "Japanese cereal commercial/game show"; another day, it's suggesting "an owner-only roller derby league" featuring Jim Balsillie that the NHL could sell to CNBC in prime time.
Ovadia, who lives in Queens, provided us with 5 Reasons He Loves Hockey, and we think you'll agree they're pretty darn good. Here's Steven:
1. Line Combinations.
I imagine most NHL coaches can't sing or play an instrument or paint or write poems, so the only real way they can express themselves are through line combinations. Line combinations tell you everything you need to know about a coach.
Does he roll the same four lines game after game? The coach is afraid to lose. Will he put a gritty third-liner on the top line to send a message? Then the coach respects a solid work ethic. During a game, you'll see coaches put together crazy lines on the fly, and it truly is the game within the game. I love hockey, but if it's a dull game or a blowout, I'm not watching the action, I'm watching who's going over the boards.
No other sports offers that kind of tactical excitement from minute to minute.
2. The Penalty Kill.
A power play is supposed to be one of the most exciting parts of hockey, but anyone watching the offense is missing out on the beauty of a great penalty kill. A great penalty kill is a ballet, with sticks swinging through shooting lanes as players move in concert to break down the man advantage. Shots are blocked, goaltenders sprawl, and defensemen must decide whether to charge the point or wait for the shot, all while a teammate (or two!) sits helplessly locked in a box.
A penalty kill is the ultimate commentary on the human condition. To love it is to love life. To hate it is to hate humanity.
One of my favorite things about Madison Square Garden is that fans will cheer for an especially strong penalty kill. They'll cheer like someone scored a goal. That should be standard operating procedure for every fan in every NHL arena.
3. John Davidson.
Before leaving to run the St. Louis Blues, John Davidson called Ranger games, baring witness to some great Rangers teams and a lot more horrible ones. And it's to Davidson's credit that the quality of the on-ice product had no impact on the quality of the Ranger telecast.
Davidson always brought his A-game. Davidson taught me everything I know about hockey. He had an amazing grasp of the game, but more importantly, he knew how to explain it. He could break down plays without sounding dull. He would roll tape of players using the boards to clear ice off of the puck, knowing the amount of ice on the puck would impact its behavior. No detail escaped him and he shared everything with us.
Davidson was also a homer who didn't hide his love for the Rangers, but he also couldn't hide his disgust when players weren't performing. And as smart and articulate as Davidson was, he was also entertaining. He and Sam Rosen, his play-by-play partner had a wonderful chemistry, born of equal parts knowledge and respect. They knew when to joke and they knew when to focus on the game. Anyone stepping into the booth of any sport to do color commentary should have to watch tape of Davidson.
4. Hockey Video Games.
I owned a Sega Genesis well into the 21st century simply because of NHL Hockey (the first year, when there were no years indicated). I played the game as controllers for contemporary gaming systems grew buttons and as graphics got more and more realistic.
But NHL Hockey held up because hockey is a cool game. You pass. You shoot. You check. You fight. Sure, the modern games are better, but when push comes to shove, hockey works on just about any system. Even a bad hockey game is better than a mediocre baseball or football game.
Last summer, I played some kind of godforsaken off-platform, outdated hockey game for hours with some friends and we had a blast. If someone tells you they don't like hockey, set them up with a video game and see if they don't fall in love.
5. The trade deadline.
There's nothing as exciting as the NHL trade deadline. The player movement can by dizzying. Teams with no playoff chance will blow themselves up, while teams looking to make a dent in the playoffs will grab as much talent as their roster can hold. And bubble teams have to decide whether to make a push for the playoffs or to give up and see what they can get for what's on their roster. If you play video games or fantasy hockey, you know the joy of a truly insane trade, where stars are swapping uniforms and draft picks are moving like junk bonds in the 80s.
The trade deadline is just like that. Except it's real.