As a hockey fan in America, I sometimes find myself in a situation which I'm sure some of you have faced before as well. When talking sports with someone, you may happen to mention that your favorite sport is hockey, and in response you receive nothing but a blank stare. It's almost as if the other person is silently answering, "No, seriously, what sport?" It is indeed frustrating on many levels, but mostly because as a sport, hockey has everything that America loves about its other three sports all rolled into one, and yet in this country it is taken about as seriously as roller derby (probably looks the same to them too). And it is with this thought in mind that I write this blog, not to convince the hockey fan of anything that they don't already know, but rather to serve as a reference to explain to the uninformed that everything they love about football, baseball, and basketball is present in the great sport of hockey. Should you ever find yourself in this situation, feel free to pull from this whatever you deem necessary to defend your love of hockey.
Let's start with what is clearly America's favorite sport, football. Typically what attracts people to football is first and foremost the physical play. Each sport is rife with contact, and there is nothing to say that a big tackle or sack in football is any more exciting than a bone-crunching check into the boards or a Stevens-esque open ice hit. Toughness is certainly equaled in both sports, with the only difference being that hockey players are allowed to release their aggression by fighting.
In addition, football preaches the concept of teamwork. Every player on the field, both on offense and defense, has their specific job to do, and the whole does not succeed without all of the individual parts performing their jobs to the best of their ability. So too does this concept exist in hockey. Each team is made up of snipers, playmakers, penalty killers, face-off specialists, defensive forwards, grinders, puck-moving and stay-at-home defensemen, and goaltenders...and it is only when all of these players do their specific part that the team as a whole enjoys success on the ice.
Ah yes, the great American pasttime...a sport which values above all else, its rich tradition and history. The history and tradition of hockey go back around the same time as baseball, and despite the advance of time, the simplicity and integrity of the game in both instances is carefully maintained.
Along with being a game of tradition, baseball carries an heir of grace and elegance about it. There are times when the flow of the game is one of discipline and finesse, not unlike watching a player like Sidney Crosby alone on a breakaway. Just as with the perfect execution of a double play, there are times in hockey, such as watching a talented goal scorer execute a deke to perfection and gently slip the puck past the goaltender that the game of hockey is one of pure beauty, so much so that you are at a loss for words.
Basketball is a sport which requires a great deal of athleticism and hand-eye coordination. It is certainly no easy task to execute an alley-oop or a wide array of spinning dunks and no-look passes, let alone with the continuity and accuracy displayed by professional players. Hockey is no different in this sense, either. Everything from tape-to-tape passes and shot accuracy to performing drop passes and dekes, to the goalies being able to stop pucks traveling at 90-100 mph coming from all angles all requires and incredible amount of skill and hand-eye coordination.
It is a shame that more people can't look at hockey for what it is, rather than regarding it with the same impression they get from watching cricket. If they would look a little closer, they'd be able to see that hockey contains everything they already love about sports. Hockey is contact, teamwork, strategy, tradition, grace, skill, and athleticism all rolled into one beautiful game.