It's a question I have been pondering for quite some time. What truly makes a hockey game exciting, and what truly makes a hockey team exciting? The question first dawned after New Jersey's last game before the All-Star break, a 5-2 victory over the Habs. I remember after the game, I had a very happy debate with various Habs fans, along with one or two other Devils fans on a Habs blog, trying to defend the accusation that the Devils were a "boring" team. Well first off, anything that was said that night, was strictly said out of the heat of battle and debate, so no hard feelings towards fellow hockey fans that were involved that night. Tonight, the Devils defeated the Boston Bruins 4-3 in overtime, which was another game I thought was very epic. Between those two games, I've watched a couple of different teams play, and I saw some of the All-Star game as well. In my opinion, to determine whether or not a team is boring or exciting to watch, I broke it down in four major categories that I call the Elements of Excitement, and developed a five rank scale, which I will describe later.
I think the fans play the most crucial role in making a game exciting. The fans have to think and know that they are watching is an exciting performance between two hockey teams. Whether they cheer or boo, it's all about energy, the buzz that goes around the rink. If you have fans that are screaming, booing, chanting, getting themselves, and others pumped up, whether it's because their team scored a goal or just because they're excited to be there, it creates an entirely new atmosphere in the arena that is loud, energetic, and electric, showing that the fans who are there want to be there and are into the game. Many times, I have seen games played (many Devils games), where a very lively and active game is going on, but the stands were as silent as a grave. Don't think players notice. Fan's interest and excitement in a game definitely effects the players in some degree. It won't change the direction of the game, but you can say it may be a little discouraging to realize that your alleged supporters are more concerned about the comfort of their seats, than supporting and hoping for success for their team. When you watch a Habs, Wings, or Sharks game this year, the fans go crazy, cheer, bang on the glass, chant, boo. The arena is always loud, energetic, and ultimately reveals how passionate the fans are about that one particular contest and how into their team they are.
Goals! Goals! Goals!
I'm not saying that they have to be a part of every single game, and in order for a game to be exciting, someone has to win 6-5 or 8-1, but whenever goals are scored, they obviously add some excitement to the game, no matter who scores them. Now, if you have a game where a team wins 6-1 or 7-0, you can call that one-sided excitement, meaning the fans of the winning team are obviously more fired up than the team getting scored on, whereas a 6-5 or 7-6 game, even a 4-3 or a 3-2 game, which is much closer keeps the fans of both teams at the edge of their seats, as they know the next goal is much more crucial than the previous one scored, which was significant enough. Goals definitely set the tone on the ice, and can shift momentum instantaneously during games. What I love about hockey is you can be watching a 2-1 game, get up to get a drink of water, and come back to see the score is all of a sudden 3-2. Goals are exciting in most cases, but it also depends on how they are scored as well. I will get into that next.
Say what you want, but if you have a game, where the outcome is 3-2 or 4-1, even 7-2 or 6-1, and the entire game simply consisted of goals scored without anything in between, then that is really what I would call a one-dimensional game, in that it simply displayed one of its many great features: goal scoring, if that. A real hockey game can have a lot more involved in it. Extracurricular activity, those scuffles in the corner or in front of the net after play was whistled to a stop, that unbelievable save, center ice check, or mind boggling play that guy made, those three consecutive post or crossbar shots, the occasional player or in some cases bench clearing brawl, and of course killing penalties and trying to convert on power plays...I can go on for hours. These are those little things that just goes to show hockey isn't all about watching players score goals and pass the puck. Fights, great saves, big hits, and amazing dekes and plays tend to come at random, surprise the fans, and add great amounts of energy to the game, the overall atmosphere, and can shift the tide and momentum as well.
The flow of the game is how the game plays out. It's pretty much the blank canvas that is waiting to be transformed into a beautiful, dazzling work of art that is the hockey game (don't make fun of my metaphors). A simple back and forth game, the same rush after the same rush and breakup becomes boring, predictable, and decreases interest and desire to watch the game. During the trap days in New Jersey, particularly the seasons when they were low scoring and won games 2-1, 3-2, and 1-0, watching everything in between was more torturous than getting root canal without anesthesia, when you know there were teams out there that were involved in much more entertaining contests. As far as I am concerned, spontaneity is a key asset in the flow of any hockey game, or any sport game in general. Throughout the flow of the game that leads to every great save, fight, hit, or goal, what happens in between has to be established on the spot, and has to have a pace of intensity that is easy to follow, but makes the spectators pondering what the outcome of the next rush will be, instead of having a 6/10 chance of being able to predict its outcome. How and when goals are scored impact the flow of a game greatly. The game automatically becomes exciting when someone scores a goal ten seconds in, or if a team gets two goals that were only seconds apart. The flow of a game that ends with a score that has not changed in over a period is predictable and boring, whereas everyone loves or hates to watch a comeback occur in the final minutes that shifts the winner of the contest at the last minute, or forces the game into overtime or a shootout.
Out of these four categories, I developed a scale you can use to measure the excitement of a contest between two teams, or even the overall excitement of a team and or its home arena in general. It is a one to five scale. Each number has its own rank and description.
A five rank means the team, fans, or arena is at its peak in that category. There is a lot of excitement, intensity, which keeps everyone into the game, and the energy is always electrical in that particular category.
Anything that catches the eye or catches someone's attention contains a great amount of interest, excitement, or enthusiastic energy in some way, shape, or form. This category has the kind of excitement that is easy to get into, but is not at that level, where it can be proclaimed as truly extreme.
Not the most exciting category, but not the most boring. Something that can go either way and something that can have a good, bad, or moderate overall effect. It won't be the most exciting category for a team, its fans, or arena, but it won't bore you to tears either.
Consider it like you're watching a horror movie for the third or fourth time. The victim is about to get killed by the murderer, and is around the corner, but you're sitting there emotionless, because you already know the victim's fate is sealed. Any category with a two is in a suspended state, where the team either seems to play a routine game, or the fans know what is going on, but pay minimal mind to it, therefore dimming the overall energetic state and atmosphere in the arena.
Something that is not even worth watching, attending, or cheering for. Odds are it will be the same thing, day in and day out. Fans, if any, have no passion, excitement, or seem to have little to no desire to even be there, Boring people watching a boring team, in a boring arena.