A True Sports Fan’s Guide to Playoff Hockey

So, your hometown team didn’t make the playoffs.  In fact, they went from being an absolute lock for a playoff spot and a contender for the Western Conference title to pathetically stumbling to the finish line with a team being held together by some scotch tape, glue and probably a lot of cortisone shots.

Now what? Pack up and go home for the summer? No, not this girl. I may not watch nearly as avidly or intently as I would during the regular season, but if it’s a good match up, and the potential for a knock-down drag-out series, I’m all over it. (See: Chicago v. St. Louis, Boston v. Montreal). I will get my butt out of bed for the crazily scheduled 10AM game on a Saturday morning. Hockey is hockey, and I for one think you should take what you can get, while you can still get it. (I’m looking at you, Gary-ye-of-the-lockout-happy-Bettman).

Sure, I could watch the Memorial, or World Championships, but the calibre of hockey would still not be as high as in the NHL. And, arguably, the guys playing for the Memorial or the World Championship title would MUCH rather be fighting for Lord Stanley’s Cup. I’m serious.  There’s a reason the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. There are no first-round byes in hockey, 16 teams are in contention from the go,  MLB has 8 by comparison. You have to win 16 games to come out on top, or play up to 28. That is a LOT of hockey, if you factor in overtime, where 2 and 3OT is not a rare sight. That’s 2 60-minute games, in one night.

It takes a team to win this championship, a clutch 3-pointer, 70 yard end zone run, or home run isn’t going to seal the deal. The entire team, physically and mentally needs to persevere with each round, facing tougher opponents and ever-ailing bodies. 82 games a year, and another 28 in the playoffs at full throttle will wear on the best, and it certainly does. I mean seriously, who plays for a championship with a broken rib, separated right shoulder and a punctured lung? Hockey players, that’s who.

Stories like these of the injured players fighting as hard as they can, and their superstitions are the reason I still watch hockey this late in the year. I like to see who is arrogant enough to lift or touch the conference trophy on the way to the Stanley Cup Final, how their personalities change in locker-room interviews the closer they get to the holy grail. Call me a nerd, a geek, a silly fan (if you call me a puck bunny, you have another thing coming), but THIS is what hockey is all about. And this is why I don’t pack up and hang out by pool all summer, like Junior over there.

Playoffs

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How to Deal When You Love Hockey, But Your Team Majorly Sucked This Season

Obviously, if you’ve read any of this blog in the past two years, you can safely determine that I am a tiny bit of a hockey fan. So, recently, faced with a new “my-Canucks-sucked-so-bad-they-didn’t-make-the-NHL-playoffs-and-oh-my-God-the-team-is-going-to-blow-up” world, a thought occurred to me. What’s it like to be a hockey fan in the depths of summer, when you have no one to cheer for? I posed this question to a friend of mine, we’ll call him Junior, and asked him to write his take of life deep into the most exciting time of the year, with nothing at all to be excited about. Is it really about the world’s best and most beautiful sport? Or do allegiances taint the love?

Junior:

It’s Wednesday, May 14th and the eyes of the hockey fans around world (really, mostly North America) are focused on the TD Boston Garden where the Bruins are set to face the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their war of attrition 2nd round playoff series. As a Vancouver Canucks fan, you would think that I would be greatly anticipating the prospect of the Bruins’ season ending at home – to a Canadian hockey team no less.

The sad fact is: I just don’t really care either way. I guess it’s a symptom of watching your favourite team’s season end before the playoffs even begin. Without a vested interest in the NHL playoffs, you find yourself saying things like “that Marchand is a talented two way forward” and “Milan Lucic sure seems like a classy fellow.”  Yes – you can become a bandwagon fan for a few weeks and cheer for a feel good story – there’s nothing wrong with that. (Editor’s Note- There is, 100% absolutely something wrong with BOTH of these former statements, and I have supporting evidence to both, but I digress.) But if you have not spent an entire season following a team through its highs and lows (and being a Canucks fan, there have been plenty of crippling, deeply dark, lows lately), that emotional component that makes the road to the Stanley Cup so exhilarating is noticeably absent. In other words, I could give a duck. It’s impossible to feel good about hockey in general when you realize that in the span of about eight months, your team went from being a high-calibre, playoff ready squad, to having two rookies in net, lowest scoring totals in half a decade, and an injury list that could reach Los Angeles.

Playoff Hopes

 And this is how I have come to feel strangely indifferent about the NHL playoffs this spring without the Vancouver Canucks’ involvement. There were never any potential second or third round match ups to worry about. Never any lineup controversies to get into a heated argument discuss with co-workers. Never any ridiculous time pumping quotes to analyze. No, being a hockey fan come playoff time when your team does not even qualify for postseason play is an altogether dreary experience. It’s like knowing someone’s going to win the lottery, someone you know, maybe even like a little, and you’re not even getting a penny of it. Maybe admitting this fact makes me a sad excuse for a hockey fan, but it also makes me an honest hockey fan. I’m a one-team, and one-team only kind of guy.

 The rest of you can enjoy watching hockey well into June. I’ll be sitting by a swimming pool somewhere eagerly awaiting (and maybe dreading) October.

Church is in Session (The NHL is upon us)

The first week of October is brings with it many great things. Pumpkins start arriving on porches throughout my neighbourhood; the few deciduous trees in my lovely province begin to turn elegant shades of yellow, orange and red;  and cooler temperatures arrive, meaning sweater weather is upon us. Best of all, this means I can dust off my superstitions and get ready for another year for heart palpitating, anger-inducing and family-tie-testing hockey.

Yes, it’s Christmas in October for us die-hard fans. This year is especially great, coming off an NHL lockout that tested loyalties last year, a new collective bargaining agreement in place and rosters set, we can finally get rolling on a real season. I mentioned superstitions before, and I was not kidding. I take hockey very seriously. Last night, the first game of the season was on deck for my team, the Vancouver Canucks. I never, ever, watch the first game of the season. The handful of season openers I have watched, we’ve lost, embarrassingly so.

It’s for this reason I did my absolute best to avoid it on TV last night. Unsurprisingly, my brother-in-law turned it on at one point. Of course, I couldn’t look away. What was the result? Up 1-0 after two periods, and lost 4-1. I told them. I explicitly said, I don’t want to watch it, I can’t. So, thanks RDK, thanks a whole damn lot. I mean, sure, the Canucks historically seriously suck in October, but we didn’t need to start off with a loss.

Now begins 8 months of agony and boundless gloating. Things on the family front will stay stagnant until about December, then with the holiday cheer will come new levels of torment from kin and friends. This is life in Canada. People actually do get together on Saturday nights to “watch the game(s)”, it is our past-time. The Americans have baseball, football and Budweiser. We have hockey, poutine and Don Cherry. It’s just how the cookie crumbled.

Buckle up, gang this blog will continue to have light hockey commentary until hopefully June 2014. Next year is the year that keeps on giving in that sense, NHL and the Sochi Games will take place, and hopefully a Canadian repeat is in store for gold.

The One Where She Ate Her Words

What I am experiencing today can most succinctly be described as disappointment. This will be a brief post. I can, without a doubt, launch into a retrospective diatribe of the Canucks play this post season, blown calls, missed glorious scoring chances, and puck luck.  But I’m not going to. No, this season will likely be summed up by pundits and amateurs as the “their-last-chance” season. I agree with this for the most part, some changes need to be made, an aging team is a hard thing to hide and pretend nothing is wrong, unless you’re the Detroit Red Wings and draft/develop players with wizard-like efficiency.

I will say one thing, with respect to last night’s game. My boys definitely laid everything on the ice. They hit hard, shot often, and were out duelled by the hungrier team. Surely plenty of changes will occur this off season, or in a shocking move, none at all. In any case, even though I know for sure that no one at the Canucks organization will read this, I say simply one thing: Thank you. The Canucks are a hell of a team to cheer for, one I am proud to say I have been behind for 20 years. From top to bottom, management to coaching staff, and in particular the players, they give back to the community in a lot of anonymous ways. This is not unnoticed by those of us who know where to look. To those of you who stick around for next season, I hope you have a rested summer, come back healthier, stronger, and fully recuperated from whatever the hell ailed you this year. To the departing, thanks for the memories, (well, maybe not you, Derek Roy, we never really got to know you, or like you).

Until training camp, boys.

thankyoufromvan

And Then, There Was Hockey.

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It is a very well known fact that I love hockey.  I make no effort to hide my passion, nor do I apologize for feigning paying attention to people when they are poorly positioned in front of a screen showing a game.  Nothing about this side of me improves between April and June of every year (barring a lock out).  I hermit away with friends, mostly male, and follow the NHL playoffs as though our lives depend on the outcome (they do).  The race for Lord Stanley officially gets underway this evening, and I for one, could not be happier.

The female contingent of friends in my life do not understand this “craziness”, as they call it.  Most of them could care less about the carnage that will be left in the wake of the Los Angeles Kings- St. Louis Blues series.  They won’t have a vested interest in the outcomes of  Boston and Toronto or Montreal and Ottawa.  The sideline stories will have no consequence, either.  Who cares if Number 87 battled back from a concussion. You probably remember he was out for over a year. Then he had his jaw broken by a puck. Crosby’s head has been through a lot.

No, to the ladies in my life, it does not matter that the Maple Leafs will be facing every terrible trade they’ve made in the last decade stare them in the face at puck drop against the Bruins.  This is all OK.  They (for the most part) understand that for about 3 and a half months every year, my priorities change around.  I am not interested in martini night, shopping or lady gossip.  I would much rather toss on a pair of jeans, my favourite Canucks T-shirt, grab a beer and sit in silence and watch a game or three in one evening.  Bless their hearts for putting up with me.

This will be the first year ever, that I will be attempting to follow my hometeam’s playoff run from a different time-zone, and I cannot say that I am looking forward to it.  Catching a Canucks game in Ottawa is hard enough during the regular season, but add in that their first round games all have a start time of 7:30PM PST, and it’s near impossible to find establishments or friends with appropriate cable packages to exploit.  It is my quest, this playoff season to rectify this injustice.  I will politely cheer for the adopted home-team’s victory over Montreal and revel in the superhero-like recovery of the Senators hot-shot defenceman, Erik Karlsson.  And at 10:30PM EST I will plead with the person in charge of TV programming for the evening to please turn on, and turn up the real hockey game.

That’s it, ladies and gentleman, hockey’s second season has officially arrived, and I take no prisoners or fault for what may be said in the coming weeks in this blog.

Adieu, and good luck, fellow NHL fans.

P.S. Go Canucks Go!