March 21, 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. It will run every weekend. Have a suggestion for a "5 Reasons" guest blogger? Hit us on email. Enjoy!)
If you're looking for information about the Pittsburgh Penguins, Brian Metzer is the man to go to. Having been a credentialed media member since 2006, he's covered the growth of the Penguins from up-and-comers to eventual Stanley Cup Champions. Along the way, he's earned a gig at XM satellite radio as their Pittsburgh correspondant and recently was named Senior Penguins Blogger at Hockey Independent. Metzer is also branching out on his own with From the Point, a hockey blog touching not only on the Penguins, but also news from around the National Hockey League.
Now that we're done with introductions, here are Five Reasons Blogger Brian Metzer Loves Hockey:
1. Hockey Connected Me With Dad
I didn't have the best relationship with my father over the years, but hockey was one thing that always seemed to bring us together.
It all started when I stumbled upon some old school, red and white gear that looked like armor in my grandmother's basement. It turned out to be my dad's old shin guards and leather hockey gloves, which looked a lot like the gear you see Gordie Howe wearing in old Red Wings pics. My dad had played a lot of puck in his younger years on a frozen lake in Pittsburgh's Highland Park and as soon as I showed some interest in that gear -- it was on.
Father and son began watching the Penguins on the local television affiliate WPGH 53, listening to Mike Lange call every game on radio and hitting the alley for some hardcore ball hockey. Not only did it give us something in common, but it helped me learn the game that I would go on to play and pseudo professionally cover.
My dad scored us tickets to the Penguins first playoff game of the "Lemieux Era," a first round match-up with the New York Rangers, whom the Penguins went on to sweep in four. It was one of the highlights of my then 13 years on earth. We would attend several more games over the years, the last of which was a brilliant performance by Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) in his debut against the Los Angeles Kings.
We continued to drift apart, but hockey was always an important connection for us. We would talk from time to time, but nothing meaningful until my father shared horrible news on January 27, 2007. He had been diagnosed with cancer.
Unfortunately, my dad passed away after a ten-month battle with the disease, but hockey was important until the end. One of the last times that I saw my dad and got to spend meaningful time with him in which he was able to communicate and enjoy himself was watching a game. I decided to take a night off from going down to cover the game and my girlfriend and I sat at the Wayner's (as we affectionately called him) bedside as the three of us watched the Penguins beat the Atlanta Thrashers 5-0 one week before he passed.
2. Mario Lemieux
My discovering the game of hockey seemed to dovetail with the Penguins acquisition of a highly touted prospect from Laval. This kid was pure magic and he did things on the ice that no one else was able to do. Mario Lemieux made every aspect of the game look effortless and brought something that was already exciting to a completely different level.
If I had a crush on hockey before, Lemieux's arrival turned it into a full-blown love affair that has burned hot ever since. Watching Le Magnifique use his wand to set up teammates, deke opposing defensemen out of their equipment and to burn goaltenders just made you want to get out and play the game.
Watching him deal with so much adversity over his career was inspiring. At times he couldn't even tie his own skates due to debilitating back issues, but when he hit the ice he was still better than everyone else. His battle with cancer was one of the ages and showed you the kind of fire that burns in the man. That battle and eventual return to the ice on the final day of his treatments earned him a standing ovation in Philadelphia ... that alone speaks to how revered this man is.
It is often that a departing superstar can bring tears to your eyes, but Mario's two retirements did just that. Losing him to injuries and ultimately an ongoing heart issue was heart breaking. Thankfully we have been able to keep Mario in Pittsburgh as the man who has saved our franchise on multiple occasions.
3. Pure Athleticism and Coordination
Hockey is a game of constant motion. Not only are its players constantly moving on the ice, but they are being hit and knocked around by just about every other player on the ice.
I realize that folks out there might say that football has more physicality, but they are playing for 20 to 30 seconds at a time. There are times when a hockey game will go on without a stoppage for six, seven or even ten minutes. Amazing when you think of what is happening out there. Hard skating, hitting, and coordinated line changes that when executed properly take nothing away from the action.
The game also requires a level of coordination that just isn't needed in other games. These guys aren't just skating out there. They are stick handling, passing, shooting and staying on their feet at up to 25 mph.
Hockey is always beautiful to watch, but watching it at the NHL level is a treat. It is graceful, elegant and really gives you an appreciation for the conditioning that goes into the game.
4. Winning the Stanley Cup
Let me preface this by saying that I have never won the Stanley Cup, however I have watched many of my hockey heroes raise that sacred silver grail. I realize that championships are won in all sports, but I have never seen the level of exuberance and excitement that comes with winning the Stanley Cup.
Not only is it the coolest championship trophy in all the land, but it is probably the toughest to win. No other sport requires you to win sixteen games before you can call yourself champion - at least not 16 games that require such physical exertion.
The run to that championship also brings us some of the best battles you will ever see, as it requires you to play four, seven game series against each of the teams along the way. Rivalries are built and those rivalries bring respect, animosity, fear, and loathing and sometimes hate, but at the end of it all they shake hands and leave as gentlemen.
Winning the Cup takes the most hardened warriors and turns them to gelatin. The moment that the Cup is rolled out, bruisers turn to children, leap into each other's arms and whoop and yell like nothing you have ever heard.
Though the Penguins have won the Cup three times, I can find enjoyment in watching any team's Cup presentation... aside from the Flyers that is...
5. The Personalities of the Game
We have already talked about many of the things that make hockey great, but another of my favorites comes in the form of the personalities that surround the game. Not only does the league boast some of the most colorful athletes, but the folks in and around the league are amazing.
It is all brought together by the great work of play-by-play guys like Mike Lange with his catchy anecdotes, Rick Jeanneret with his over-the-top excitement, and "Doc" Emrick's "Drives!"
Folks like Hockey Night in Canada's Don Cherry with his insightful and sometimes maddening commentary, his straight man Ron MacLean and Mike Milbury with his "just punch him in the gut" approach to broadcasting all make this game something to love.