The trying task of liking hockey


“Hey,” my friend asked me the other day, “do you wanna come over and watch some football tonight?”

The idea was laughable. A mixture of college football and an NFL preseason game? Didn’t he realize what tonight was? Didn’t he realize to whom he was talking?

“No,” I said, trying to hide my incredulity at being asked this question, “I don’t think I can.”

I didn’t want to tell him why.

“You got something going on instead?” he prodded. “A hot date for the kid?”

“Yeah something like that.”


“Well,” I said with a sigh, knowing exactly the type of response my answer would elicit, “see, the Maple Leafs are playing the Bruins in a prospects tournament game and …”

“Are you going?”

“No, the game is in Michigan.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“I was going to watch it on the internet.”

Laughter then. And I suppose I understand why. Here was perhaps America’s most popular sport (behind, sadly, NASCAR, and don’t think that doesn’t fill me with whatever the opposite of patriotism and filial love for my countrymen is), played in hundreds of stadiums every Saturday before numbers of fans that, if they don’t top a million in live attendance altogether, must come awful close. Millions more watch on television, soothed from their long winter, which stretched into spring and then summer without a single open-field tackle or run up the gut to bring out the chains, by the voices of Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso — whose names I’ve heard at some point in my life but whose jobs I wouldn’t even know if I hadn’t looked them up on Wikipedia just now — who happily explain just why it is that Ohio State pummeling the Technical College of Texas at Albilene 161-3 somehow qualifies as actual entertainment on a September night.

This isn’t, I promise, one of those “Boy, here are the changes I’d make to get hockey popular again IF I WERE IN CHARGE,” rants American columnists seem to love to churn out (most of which boil down to a simple, “Get rid of the goddamn foreigners! Oh and also the whole game is a shootout.”). I don’t know what this is, but I know it isn’t that. Hockey is perfect as it is, in all forms. That the American public doesn’t seem to understand the sport, or indeed have any desire to do so, is something over which I no longer trouble myself. They’re the same people, I suspect, that look at a Jackson Pollack and go, “Well gosh, my kid could do that.” It is also this segment of the population that will decry soccer as being “too boring” to grab their attention. What can you do but shake your head at the ignorance?

Still, didn’t these people know there was hockey on? Live hockey? I’ll never understand why people prefer football, baseball or basketball to hockey. It is, perhaps, because the typical American sports fan is fat, lazy and undesirous of pursuing anything that would in some way be new to him. Same sport, same combo meal at McDonald’s, same beer. Cradle til grave. Also they wear jean shorts and Crocs. Why try new things when old things are familiar, and thus good?

Plus, unlike hockey or, worse, soccer, football and baseball allow for a lot of downtime. In football, you stand around for 40 seconds before a guy runs for three to five and falls down, which starts the 40 seconds all over again. The same is true of baseball. I read somewhere that if you took video of an average baseball game — let’s call it three hours — and edited out everything but the time a ball is in play, it would take 15 minutes to watch every pitch, hit and catch. That’s 54 outs, about 17 hits and roughly 300 pitches in 900 seconds. What you do with the remaining 9,900 seconds, the other 91.667 percent of the time allotted to a ballgame, is your business, but I’ll go out on a crazy limb and assume that’s what the average baseball fan considers chicken-wing-n-beer time (not that either of those things is inherently bad). Not that I’ve seen any numbers, but football is, I’d think, no less culpable in contributing to America’s obesity epidemic.

Standing in stark contrast are the two least popular of the major sports in America, hockey and soccer. It takes about two and a half hours to play a one-hour hockey game, which stretches to the absurd limit of 70 minutes if, God forbid, it should go to a shootout. Somehow it takes just two hours to complete a soccer game that, if it’s not a playoff game with extra time, runs at 100 minutes or less. These sports are thus boring to American viewers, who find the underbrush of jargon and unpronounceable foreign names (“Ig-in-la? I don’t trust that guy.”) they don’t understand to be too thick a forest through which to even attempt to blaze a trail. And besides, the knife they’d use to do it is too busy buttering a biscuit from KFC. The common complaint I’ve heard about soccer is that it’s so boring they cut to commercial DURING matches. The horror! Of course, that hasn’t been true since the mid-1990s, when Major League Soccer was dropped into our laps in the wake of the smashing, but apparently fleeting, success of the 1994 World Cup, the best-attended in the proud history of the event. Point out that (a) this isn’t true of soccer but (b) is true of NASCAR, and you’ll find that “That’s different,” with no explanation as to why.

But back to the original point, from which I have strayed so far afield: no, I didn’t want to watch college football, a sport I find to be personally abhorrent for a number of reasons (not the least of which is that nobody ever bothers to play defense). Given the choice, I’d rather watch a rookie camp game than the Super Bowl or World Series or NBA finals. People can’t understand this, because they are not hockey fans, and I am. Imagine how foolish I’d look to these cretins if I took the same tack. “What do you MEAN you want to watch the Pats/49ers game? There’s a freaking BLUE JACKETS preseason game on and you’re MISSING it!” They’d throw a net over me so fast that I’d be in a padded cell before the puck dropped for the second period. This kind of talk isn’t just unacceptable and unwelcome. It’s sacrilege. Honestly, liking hockey more than red-blooded American sports, during which you can gorge yourself until you reach the unhealthy limits of size that reach the heights of human imagination and scrape the lowest depths of human intelligence.

Really, I just didn’t appreciate being actually laughed at over my decision to watch hockey. Between two teams I don’t support. From a rookie tournament. On the internet.

…Okay, I kind of see his point.

(It should be noted, too, that I never actually found a stream of this game online.)