God, i hate it when hockey season ends.
Used to be, I was a football guy. BAseball I didn’t care about either way; I’d watch it, I liked a good game live, but it didn’t matter. Basketball bored me to tears, and soccer more so.
Hockey was one of those games I wanted to like, very much. Back in Gretzky’s day, when my brother was glued to the games, I’d try, and try, and never get it.
in 1991 when Hockey came back to the bay area (thanks to George Gund) ,I started thinking I should go to a game. And I said that off and on for years afterwards. I tried, again, to get into in on TV, but it’s not an accessible game on a small screen.
It wasn’t until my first game, somewhere in the early ’00s, that I finally got it. From the first play of that first game live in person, I was a dedicated San Jose Sharks fan.
The Sharks have had some good, great, and not great seasons, but I didn’t care; I was hooked.
The first year, I went to several games before I was able to easily track the action on tv. But once I got what was going on, I found i was getting almost as much as I did live.
Football is a game made for TV. Deliberate pacing, setup, play, stop, setup. It’s geometric, strategic, reasonably predictable. Live, the game is thrilling, but often difficult to track at stadium distances. On TV, you can see everything you need to see to understand the game completely. Truly, you get far more out of a football game on TV than you do in the stands (aside from the sheer energy of being there).
Hockey is the opposite. A TV screen – no matter how big and how clear – cannot catch all the action on every part of the ice. Hockey’s too fast, too frantic, too unpredictable. Also, obviously, a three inch puck becomes about a pixel wide on a TV screen, so it’s rarely visible for more than seconds at a time.
Live, though, the incredibly complex interplay, the constant change of strategy, the timing with who’s where on the ice at any time. More, you get the changing on and off the ice – an absolutely crucial detail of coaching – that on tv is never visible.
Hockey is an absurdly fast game. The skaters are fast, the puck is fast, the changes in pace and direction are fast. Scoring can happen any time by any member of either team. In football, you know a touchdown is coming – or may come – for a long time as teams march down the field. You know when you go get a beer, when things won’t be happening for a while. In hockey, you don’t, ever, know when the game changing moment is going to happen. Live, there are moments when one can’t even catch breath, when the tension tightens and tightens and tightens until you’re ready to explode. You can’t get this when you’re not there, hearing skate hit skate, stick crack off puck, players crashing into each other or the boards. The SOUND of hockey is an integral part of the experience.
More than any sport I’ve seen, Hockey is made to see live.
Yet, I’ve seen enough now that I can assemble what’s happening from TV; I can make up the difference now. We’re lucky to have one of the best broadcasting teams in any pro sport I can think of in San Jose; Drew Remenda and Randy Hahn, on Comcast SportsNet California. I can’t over-state the difference it makes to have top broadcasters calling the game; particularly with Hockey. It makes watching games immensely entertaining. When the games are on other networks (usually Versus), my enjoyment is radically less (though I’ll still, always watch).
I’m a committed fan; I’ve reached that point where I plan around Hockey. I plan my weekday evenings, I plan when I’ll leave work early and when I’ll leave late, I plan my drinking. I try to catch every game. A hockey season is long. 82 games, plus playoffs. That means 41 home games. This is one of the reasons I don’t have season tickets; I simply can’t make the commitment of time and money. And of course, I can’t realistically even watch that many on TV. But I try. Knowing a hockey game will be on when I get home on weeknights makes me happier.
From the beginning of October ’til the season ends (In April if you’re not lucky, or into May or even June, depending on how long one’s team survives the playoffs), it’s a constant in a hockey fan’s life; something that has a significant impact on mood.
The letdown when the season ends is significant. Even when we’re having a bad year, when we’re not in the playoffs, or when we exit them early and ugly, I look at the calendar and think, how many months until I can buy tickets for another game.
A year like this one – wow.
The last three years, the sharks have played incredibly well all season. They’ve set records – points, games won. Franchise records, player records, league records. They’ve been on a major roll; playing absolutely amazing hockey all year. But the previous two, they went out hard and early in the playoffs (in 08, in the most brutal overtime marathon I’ve ever seen, and in ’09, they were smacked down with ridiculous ease in the first round by the hated Anaheim Ducks).
Brutal endings, both, for a team that had ‘stanley cup’ written all over them. Truly, both years, they looked unbeatable early on.
This year was different. This year we played hard, played well, but we didn’t have the look of a team peaking too hard and too early. We had firepower from all over the team, we had discipline, we had a powerful physically game. We had top players like Marleau and Heatly playing at the top of their games and scoring at will. It looked like a cup run.
And when we came into the playoffs, it still looked like a cup run. We stumbled a bit in the first round, making it look harder than it should have been. But it wasn’t that hard. The second round, against Detroit, we made look pretty easy.
So coming into the final, against a strong but extremely beatable Chicago Black Hawks, we all sort of felt like this was just the walk up to a Stanley Cups we’d already won.
Turned out, not.
I was at game one of that series, and walked out with a couple of clear impressions. One was that this is some incredibly good hockey; possibly the best hockey I’ve ever seen live. One was that this Chicago team was fast, strong, and incredibly good. And the third was that we are just about dead even it abilities, so the series would be decided by small details and tiny increments of advantage.
We lost that game, but only just; we were in it til the ending. It was about as good a game as a loss can be.
The second game, they caught us out. They exposed a couple of weaknesses, and lined up their own strengths against them; playing spectacular defense and using speed to disrupt the sharks normal puck movement strategies.
three and four played out more like one; incredibly close games, were two teams stood head to head and measured up; one was a tiny bit better, and dominated.
The Sharks could have one that series; but they couldn’t win it right now. They don’t have the right game, and maybe they’re one or two key players off the right lines. Personally I think it was one of those ‘who’s hot this week’ cases; I think a month ago or a month from now, the series would have been different if the peaks and valleys lined up different. Because Hockey’s like that; teams go on amazing streaks where they can’t lose, and then they do lose, and have amazing streaks where everything goes wrong for them for a week, or a month, before they put it together.
The Sharks came in off pace; we knew that when they struggled against an infinitely weaker Colorado team. They came in vulnerable, with an awareness of fallibility and a history a failing hard, early. Chicago were on the opposite end of the curve, surging when they needed to surge, and playing up to peak rather than down to valley.
Yes, it was a sweep; but every game was close, and every game was within reach.
The heartbreak last year was that our team let us down. The heartbreak this year was that they didn’t; they just were not quite great enough, not as great as they needed to be this week.
The end of the season happens in that one second when a puck goes over the line, and then in that 60 seconds when the time trickles away on the clock, and you know, finally, that hope’s over and the season ends. right. here.
Stanley cup? Who cares. The real battle was here, in San Jose, and in Chicago, and it ended wrong. Who gets that big silver mug in a couple weeks time doesn’t matter at all, it’s an afterthought, for bragging rights between two teams who mean nothing but payback targets next year.
The season’s ever when my team get on a plane and fly home.
I look at the calendar – summer beginning, weather warming. I think about bbq and swim parties, about warm vacations and lazy (or busy) weekends, about hot, sweaty nights. But I also look past that to fall, because the only thing that makes it feel better is football season. And this year, for the first time in a decade, I’m seeing the 49ers look like they may be worthy of hope. It’s been a long, ugly road for them, and they’ve made a great show of wildly, obviously bad choices everywhere in the organization, from owner to coach to general manager to drafts to free-agents, all the way to where to build new stadiums. But it’s hit a point where the pieces seem to be falling into some sort of line, and where the players we have signed all look like the right players to fit what’s been wrong. We have a coach who seems to understand how to lead. MAybe, just maybe, we’re finally starting to do it right.
That doesn’t mean they’re looking to a super bowl; but it means they just might be looking at a winner of a season, and if we’re very lucky, more. And that, for a long, long time fan, is a little glow out on the horizon that makes it seem better.
That doesn’t stop me from being bummed. When I put my new, personalized “playoffs” hockey jerseys away today, I though “i need more of these, I don’t have a Nabokov one yet”. And then I remembered how long i’d be before I can wear it to a game.
But this sharks team will be back here, and past here. Of that I’m completely sure. And meanwhile, there’s that summer, and that fall of red and gold. And hopefully, there are drunken, sweaty pursuits that will get me out of the house and get sports the hell out of my head; god knows that’ll be good for me.