“We live amid surfaces, and the true art of life is to skate well on them.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the days before HDTV, hockey was remarkably hard to watch on television. One of my earliest childhood memories came from the over-saturated fuzz of an ancient, bubble-screened Panasonic television set circa 1995. My father yelled vehemently at the screen, while my mother cowered at the end of the couch, partly at his enthusiasm, partly in regards to the violent five-a-side pinball-ballet on ice. In the days before HDTV, hockey was remarkably hard to watch on television. Add a five-year old’s attention span into the mix and you have a recipe for instant disinterest. However, the fact that men would willfully throw their bodies into one another at greater than twenty five miles per hour was fascinating to me, and thus began my infatuation with the sport, namely its late May spectacle: Stanley Cup Playoff Hockey®.
The game of ice hockey is like any other game on planet earth.The game of ice hockey is like any other game on planet earth: there are two teams, the objective includes scoring more goals than the opposition, etc. The game of ice hockey is unlike any other game on planet earth. If you’ve ever taken a few laps around your local ice rink, you realize how difficult it can be to stand on two blades no more than a centimeter in width. Add moving, turning, stopping and you’re in the act of motion known as skating. Now add a stick and a puck, and try to keep said puck close to you, pass it, shoot it, all while keeping your balance on that centimeter of steel. To top it off, lets add a 200 pound man trying with everything in his power to knock you into a wall of unforgiving plexiglass (if you’re lucky) and hard plastic (if you’re not). Welcome to the National Hockey League. Although the 2013 season was shortened due to an unfortunate lockout, the typical season consists of 82 hour long games, where all of the above are included. It is a merciless and grueling way to make a living. If you’re successful? Play at least four more games. Really successful? Repeat the cycle for another month.
If you weren’t able to catch the entirety of the nearly four-hour affair, tough luck.Flash forward to last Wednesday and Game Three of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Championship series between the local Boston team (bears or something?) and this writer’s childhood idols, the Pittsburgh Penguins. If you weren’t able to catch the entirety of the nearly four-hour affair, tough luck. You missed something that made a grown man weep steadily as he stared at the keyboard in an attempt to begin writing this article. I’m implored to ask where the root cause of these emotions resides. The answer, I believe, lies somewhere between Tukka Rask’s 53 save outing and Gregory Campbell’s self-sacrifice of a shot block late in the third period. In superhuman acts driven purely by the desire to hoist a piece of metal for one’s teammates, who at the end of the day, are for all intents and purposes, a legitimate family. It hides itself somewhere in the wills of the players on the ice, each stretched to the point of near-fatal exhaustion. And we, the spectators, are allowed the privilege to watch these feats. The fact that a game can conjure up such strong emotions, (strong enough to convince one particular Bruins’ fan that punching a Maple Leafs’ fan in the back of the head was the right way to vent frustration after a loss at the Garden) even in the years where we realize sports are, for most of us, a welcome distraction from the toils and troubles we face after a long day of doing whatever we can to continue living on this planet. This reflection is possibly a tad hyperbolic, but surely you’ve felt that inexplicable leaping in your gut, that childish flutter of pure happiness when you realize: “Game’s on tonight.”