(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.H ave a suggestion for a "Five Reasons" guest blogger? Hit us on email. Enjoy!)
After a long career as the VP of media relations for the New York Islanders, Chris Botta switched to the other side of the fence and became a member of the media. Running a blog about everything Islanders at Islanders Point Blank, as well as joining Fanhouse last season as a national hockey writer, Botta's been keeping busy in his post NHL-executive life.
Having been around the game for a long time, Botta knows a thing or two, which makes this read a fun one.
Let's get to it...
Here are Five Reasons Chris Botta Loves Hockey
1. The Best Spectator League
When it comes to watching a professional sporting event in person, is there really any doubt whether the NHL is the most enjoyable? With easy access to tickets, I've been able to convert casual observers into obsessed fans with just one hosting. They have always gone back, paying for tickets. Years ago I pushed for a "First NHL Game" promotion where, for a great price, a prospective fan could get a good pair of seats and something to remember it by — like a post-game autograph from a player. My experience is that once you get someone into an NHL game, they are often hooked for life.
2. The Hockey Media
When you consider I was in service to the press for two decades before becoming one of them for these last two years, this is not a self-serving selection. The respect began when I was an intern for the Philadelphia Flyers in their Stanley Cup Final season of 1986-87 and Jay Greenberg (Daily News) and Al Morganti (Inquirer) seemingly wrote 2,000 words of passion and insight every day. The hockey media is a fascinating collection of personalities and talents. I love almost all of them.
Big respect to people like Larry Brooks and Helene Elliott, who could move on permanently to bigger sports in the U.S. but continue to write about hockey. We won't have to use the term "blogosphere" much longer; there's too much good stuff and now Down Goes Brown goes "legit." The best Islanders writer out there could be a guy named Dominick who writes Lighthouse Hockey for SB Nation from his home in St. Louis. And don't forget the minor leagues. I hired for the Islanders a pair of broadcasters out of the minors, the fabulous Steve Mears (now with the Penguins) and John Wiedeman (Blackhawks). I'll match up the daily work of Mike Fornabaio, who covers the AHL for the Connecticut Post, over anyone. Assuming he wants it, someone should give Fornabaio an NHL job.
3. Crosby and Ovechkin
Yeah, we've heard it all: Crosby whines on the ice, complains to the refs too much and is too boring with the press. With one Game 7 loss to Montreal, Ovechkin was trashed like he was a replaceable third-liner and still not the most exciting player in the game. Enough already. As long as the NHL doesn't over-expose them for the sake of the Winter Classic — OK, never mind — show some respect for what they are: the two players you secretly wish played for your team.
4. The Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum
First as an employee and now as a writer, I've driven to the old barn on Hempstead Turnpike the majority of my days for the last 22 years. The building is 15 minutes from where I grew up, 10 minutes from where I live today. To this day, as I start to see the Coli in the distance, I always have the same thoughts. I cannot believe this arena was ever built in Uniondale, N.Y. I cannot believe it looks virtually the same as it was when I was 7 years old 38 years ago. I cannot believe the Islanders made it to the conference final in their third year. I cannot believe they won four Stanley Cups, 19 straight playoff series, and there was an age when a team with Potvin, Bossy, Trottier, Gillies, Smith, Nystrom and the rest could be left almost completely intact.
Like tennis writer Bud Collins once said about the U.S. Open site, "It's a dump, but it's our dump." For good reason, the Coliseum will be re-done or torn down by 2015. It will be missed by a lot of people.
5. The Hatred for Former Players from Your Team
Reporter — "What do you think the fan reaction will be?"
Player — "Uh, I haven't really thought about it."
Oh, c'mon! The press and the players really don't know? I'm not talking about Alexei Yashin(notes) or Dany Heatley(notes) coming back to Ottawa here. No, it doesn't matter if a player sat out with time left on his contract or some other crime. For some reason, 90 percent of NHL players who are traded or sign with other teams get the crap booed out of them when they return to play a game in their old barns. It doesn't matter if the guy was an angel, never wanted to be traded or the team didn't even want to bring him back at the minimum. This is just the way it is! Despite the post-playoff handshake, hockey is not a gentleman's game. You don't wear our latest uniform anymore, so you will be booed.
Like someone once told me, if you're not on the team, you're not on the team. I'm perfectly OK with that. Actually, I love it.