God, I love hockey.
I haven’t been a hockey fan for a long time; i tried, back in ’91 when the San Jose Sharks played their first couple seasons in the lovely Cow Palace in Daly City. But no one I knew particularly cared about hockey, and the team sort of sucked, and it’s really hard to figure out hockey from watching it on teevee.
So while I always cared if the sharks were winning or losing, I just never got around to going to games.
That changed a couples seasons back. After years of trying to enjoy hockey games on teevee, my boss tossed me a couple tickets, given him by some sales droid from synopsys or cadence or mentor or some other CAD tools vendor. My boss has season tickets, so he didn’t need these. So I went, on a thursday night, taking Olivia, then nine or ten, with me.
I didn’t expect to last long. With a hyper-active nine-year-old who didn’t know a thing about the game sitting next to me, I figured we’d do well lasting into the second period. I was wrong though. We lasted through three regulation periods, and two overtimes; and when it was over, Olivia, almost passing out with exhaustion, still didn’t want the game to be over. She didn’t care really what the score was or even if we were winning, she just loved being there, the noise, the action, the wicked checking and fights on the ice. And I felt the same way. I loved it.
That night made hockey fans of the both of us.
I haven’t been to enough games since then – I tend to forget to buy tickets until the games I want to go to are sold out. I wish I could swing season tickets, but i don’t currently have the disposable income for it. And while I watch a few games each year, hockey on teevee is still a shadow of hockey live.
Hockey’s unique that way. I’m used to football, a game I know incredibly well. I know all the obscure rules and can often call plays from looking at formations. I’ve been a dedicated football fan since I was a kid. But no matter how much I loved going to football games back when I had my 49ers season tickets, the game is always better on teevee. It’s clearer what’s going on. The football experience is made for teevee, the pacing and structure of the game, it’s like they designed it with teevee in mind.
Even baseball works better on teevee. Unless you have great seats, you miss the core drama of baseball. The battle between pitcher and batter. The physical tension. Two men standing there not doing anything waiting, waiting, poised for a blur of frantic action, waiting. You feel the very air between them pull tight. That’s it, that’s baseball, and you can’t see it from the stands. So while baseball in a great park (like the Giants downtown-SF park, SBC park or pac bell park or whatever it’s called now) is a great experience, the game itself makes more sense in teevee.
Not hockey. Hockey is different.
Maybe it’s just the tiny puck. It’s hard enough to follow this thing from the stands. But more; hockey is a game of intense, frantic, crazed action. It’s a game where players move like fucking race cars, where the puck, the object of play, moves like a bullet, where bodies fly through the air and get pounded into the boards. The puck itself is dangerous, the audience sit behind protective glass and the players, most of them, are missing teeth.
But I think it’s the sound. You just don’t get it on teevee, no matter how good your system is. The scrape and crack and snick of blades on ice, the sticks clacking and whacking together, the sound of a two hundred pound player getting pounded into the side of the rink so hard you can feel your own ribs cracking. Hockey’s a highly sonic game. The ice itself reflects sound in a way no softer playing surface can. You can feel a check, and when a goal is scored, the room simply roars. No other sporty I’ve seen live has the sound factor hockey has.
You also get little things that teevee never shows you, and this is common to most sports; when you’re there you can see a play develop around the edges. Baseball outfielders coming in tight or backing up based on who’s at bat and some other signals I don’t know; football safeties and cornerbacks adjusting, dropping deep or crowding up to the line. The camera will pull in tight and show you pitcher or quarterback, and you miss the edges where, often a play is made.
But Hockey’s different in that the plays are set up, not in ten, or fifteen, or twenty seconds, but in two or three seconds. A player intercepts the puck and suddenly every player on the ice, on both teams, are frantically adjusting, skating at blinding speed in different directions, and you’re lost; where the fuck are they going, what’s he waiting for. And then suddenly you see, and they’re passing the puck and shooting on goal. And it’s all just a blink. It’s too fast and too subtle, by the time the cameras can catch it and the director can decide to show it, it’s over and you just see the center shooting, and the goalie in his sumo-wrestler pads doing an impossible split to save a goal. You don’t see what both teams did to set up. And they never show that stunn in re-plays, because it’s just guys whizzing around.
I’ve seen enough hockey, finally, that I can track it on teevee. I watched my San Jose Sharks disassemble the Nashville Predators last night, first round in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. The Sharks now lead the series 2-1. I watched this with Olivia, up past her bedtime, watching with me. The announcers mentioned that it’s been seven hundred and eight days since the last time San Jose hosted a Stanley Cup playoff game, and I realized that Olivia and I were at that game, watching the Sharks lose that day, but not caring, because just being there made it wonderful.
I love this sport. I want to be at the games.