I know T-Bone and the Hockey Doggz is where ya’ll turn to for the most up-to-date hockey laffs and straight-from-the-cuff insight from some of the internet’s foremost luminaries in the field of professional men’s ice hockey. Heck, that last sentence had the word ‘hockey’ in it three times by my count. So it probably comes as a bit of a surprise that I want to rap for a second about basketball (a word and concept which are appearing in this blog for the first time ever).
It looks like it’s going to be a long winter of discontent for lovers of professional basketball, unless they happen to be a fan of the game as well as a lawyer specializing in labor law. Hockey fans are good dudes, though, so rather than gloat about being the only (professional) game in town once the NFL mercifully winds down, let’s help some lost souls out. I, for one, would like to take a second and extend the old Sherwood olive branch to our cousins on the hardcourt.
In many ways, hockey is a weird amalgamation of several sports, so we, qua hockey fans, can relate to others pretty well. Like baseball, hockey is full of great hand/eye coordination and weird, inane commentary from former players. Some watch football for the hits, but we enjoy seeing the same spectacle take place… on ice… with knives on the players shoes… And why watch NASCAR when you can still get a kick out of the player’s speed as well as appreciate the mean machine that is the zamboni. And although they may seem pretty disparate, hockey and basketball really have a lot in common than an 82-game schedule.
Firstly, we can all strongly empathize with what basketball partisans are going through. I mean, the NHL is only a few years removed from a season lost to a labor dispute. Which was a harsh toke, to say the least. But, like a phoenix rising from its ashes, the NHL has come back strong and is kicking ass on the hoods of countless Trans-Ams.
And a lot of the negativity surrounding hockey stems from the pre-lockout NHL. From about 1999-2004 most games looked like a swingers’ night at a creepy roadside tavern with all the old dudes clutching and grabbing one another for 60 minutes (at least there was probably more scoring at said tavern). I believe 98% of NHL broadcasts from this period involved Colorado, Detroit, St. Louis, Dallas, New Jersey, and Philadelphia- geezer squads, all of them. And none too fun to watch. But the NHL thankfully improved their product and even those old stalwarts have transformed (except for Detroit) into exciting, young squads, much to the boon of the viewing public. Just as basketball is praised for its quick pace and volatile lead-changes, hockey is once again full of what we insders and pros call “end-to-end action.” The game looks great, especially on these modern, fancy televisions and anyone not sold on hockey will be won over yet if they can actually see a game played live. What basketball fan wouldn’t have had a great time watching the Winnipeg Jets take down the Flyers 9-8 in overtime? What human being wouldn’t have liked that?
Wait. There’s a white elephant in the room, though, and I’m not talking about former NHL goalie Norm Maracle (right). Hockey has always faced an uphill battle with the whole… uh… race thing. And its something that likely needs to be addressed in these epistles to the non-believers. Let’s put it to rest, though, because that’s what we do at TB&TheHDz: we stop prejudice dead in its tracks.
“It’s just a bunch of white guys chasing a puck around.” Well, that’s still kind of true, but beside the point. While it used to be the case that guys like Grant Fuhr were the outliers that covered many-an-ass in such uncomfortable debates, hockey has become a much more diverse sport in recent years. For instance, few would have believed that a black guy from Long Beach, CA would ever get drafted in the first round, but Emerson Etem is well on his way to becoming a pro NHLer in Anaheim. And this trend is not uncommon, either, as young players like Chris Stewart, Evander Kane and Wayne Simmonds have established themselves as solid NHL players (and former high draft picks) with bright futures. Even though I didn’t get my degree in professional sports ethnography, I am willing to wager that this trend has more to do with class and access to facilities than race, anyways. As sweet, sweet middle-classdom expands beyond the pale, expect to see hockey’s demographics shift with it.
This subtle change in hockey culture has been going on for a while in basketball, too, where several Europeans with hilariously-un-American names (except for Tony Parker) have made their way to the NBA. And just like the NBA, hockey’s pundits also occasionally employ a grumpy, charming brand of xenophobia, warning the world of their sports’ slow, subtle transformation into *gulp* soccer. So before someone tries to complain that all those zany hockey names are too much, just ask them how to pronounce Chukwudiebere Maduabum.
More to the point, though, ice hockey has about a million cool things going for it right now. But most of those things aren’t immediately apparent or just don’t happen in every single game. I’m talking about playoff beards, penalty shots, and 20,000 people throwing their hats on the ice at the same time because, holy shit, somebody just scored three goals. That’s just a concise list of what floats through my head at the moment I thought ‘why is hockey cool?’ You can’t just lay down some next level shit like that on some newcomer, unfortunately. Might frighten them off.
But hockey has an honest foot in the sports door these days in terms of individual and team starpower. Think about how basketball got so danged popular in the 1990s:
You know most of those guys! And the teams that many of them played for, in cities like L.A., New York, Chicago, and Boston were competing for the championship regularly. Well, the same goes for today’s NHL: lots of young, skilled talent, playing for storied franchises and developing awesome rivalries en route to the Stanley Cup.
There’s no accounting for bad taste, though, and you can’t win ’em all. The scales may never fall from the eyes of some, but don’t let that keep you from spreading the good word and passing out copies of The Hockey News like it’s The Watchtower or something.