As I head out to my weekly shinny game with my pals I realize that I am as or more excited about playing than I was more than twenty years ago when we all started playing together.
As a matter of fact, I don’t think I was ever this excited about playing hockey when I was a kid. Maybe it is because the Leafs are in a position to possibly make the playoffs for the first time since my kids have been aware they have blue blood. Perhaps it is because I have had a sore back this week and I felt the possibility of this great past time being taken away from me.
As I write this my kids are outside (in the rain) playing road hockey on our driveway. (yes, we purposefully bought a house in downtown Toronto with a driveway for hockey reasons and we don’t even have a car) The kids don’t wear helmets or facegaurds or anything of the sort and neither did I as a kid playing road hockey.
Is hockey dangerous? Yes. Any sport where the main instrument of use is a long stick has an element of danger to it from the get-go. (Since they were old enough to stand I have taught my kids and their friends how to respect each other while playing the game)
Soon I will car pool to the West end of Toronto to play the greatest game on earth. It is one of the rare times I can “float” in complete joy and be fully absorbed by the moment and not think about any emotional, health or financial woes that may be on my mind during the rest of the week.
We play for fun. We don’t really keep score. (some guys do, as competition is a an exciting part of hockey whether it be in the battle for the puck in the corner or the number of goals at the end of the game) Do we have injuries? Yes of course. I have taken a stick near the eye (before I started wearing a cage) and usually once a week the game stops for a minute while someone collects themselves from a bad fall or collision. We are pretty good for a bunch of old guys. At top speed we can get moving pretty fast. (relative to walking anyways)
It is important to note that professional hockey moves at almost twice the speed that we do. It doesn’t look like it on TV. I have watched a few games from up close and it is unbelievable how fast these large men can skate. Professional hockey is just that; hockey that revolves around money. There is a lot at stake. The game is the same but the potential for capital gain, more lucrative contracts and a chance to win the Stanley cup provide for a culture that most of us will never have an inside knowledge of. Even those of us who are part of the hockey world (I coach my kids hockey games too) can really only imagine what goes on behind closed doors in the NHL. I feel like I got a little and only a little more insight into this from the new HBO documentary about the NHL Winter (outdoor) Classic.
Unfortunately, of late there has been more attention drawn to head injuries and other negative parts of NHL hockey. It seems that there is a movement from the intelligentsia to criticize hockey in any way possible, especially in mainstream media. I find it hard to understand their motivation however I have noticed that few of those people are hockey players themselves.
Of course, the same topic in kid’s hockey is of utmost importance. The powers that be in Canadian amateur hockey certainly need a way to make the game as safe as possible. However, this is really only a concern in competitive youth hockey. Most house-league hockey like where our family plays is very safe and is positive environment and a great place to hang out with your friends and enjoy the game and some hot chocolate.
But, please let us not confuse the large, muscle bound, Canadian (a few Americans and Europeans too) men who entertain us each weekend on Hockey Night in Canada. This is entertainment. It is not a game for those who don’t like the sight of blood. It is a battle where the precision and beauty of ballet joins the speed and danger of stock car racing (which brings me to wonder why it is not more popular in the States)
Including pre-season and playoff games there are over three thousand games a year in the NHL. There will be fights, (much better than stick swinging incidents) injuries and the unfortunately odds would have it that someday maybe another death. (In l968 Bill Masterson was the first and only player to die from the direct result of an on-ice incident)
In the meantime, the only thing more exciting than NHL playoffs is going out myself and pretending that I am Sydney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin and enjoying and sharing the beauty of the greatest sport in the world with my friends and family.
If you are the kind of person who only watches the highlights at the end of the news (or even worse, watches the controversial hits on Youtube) or spends most of the time at your kids games on your Blackberry then I am not interested in your views on our sport. Hockey is not an exclusive club but we are only accepting new members that love the game. If you want to check it out, come by my place on a Saturday night or sign up for a beginners shinny league and you too will love the game within no time.