Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Things I'm Still Learning

There have been some good lessons I have learned.  Some about myself, some about life in general.  Some have not been so good, and some I am still trying to sort out and see where the lessons will take me.  But, at the beginning of the NHL playoffs, I figured I should explain about one of the things I'm still learning about, which is that...

...I Like Hockey

I mean really, really like it.  For one thing, no one who laces up skates for Pittsburgh was being threatened with criminal charges in the last month, or had to hold a press conference to offer a tepid, ineffective and insulting apology to their fans.  But, more than that, I really just enjoy watching the game.  I'm watching the Red Wings and the Coyotes now - not a thing in black and gold in sight.  Granted, I'm not hanging on every move in this particular match up, and I can't tell you the first thing about any of the Phoenix players (the Red Wings I am more familiar with), but it's still a lot of fun.  For one thing, it is an extremely fast paced game when something exciting might break out at any second (a goal or a fight), so you take your eye off of it at your own peril.  The action is rapid and fluid, with the puck changing control from player to player and team to team within literal seconds.  To really follow it I have to pour my entire concentration into the action - it's all about keeping your eye on the black disc being batted around in furious, dizzying fashion.  Since I am still learning the game, I am all the more absorbed in every move made, trying to figure out the difference between slamming someone against the glass as strategy versus "boarding" which I've seen players ejected for.  And, I for the life of me can't figure out icing - when is it icing versus just sending puck down out of contention to allow your team time to regroup?  And, I'm still ferreting out what is acceptable, simple aggressive play versus something that will draw a "major" penalty, which brings me to the other draw to the sport.  Violence.  Controlled to a degree, but definitely a game where a mean streak is a plus.  Earlier in the regular season, I listened to an ex-player providing color commentary as he tried to explain why it's not only okay, but preferrable for a group of men to get into a momentary punching match.   As he said it, the entire Penguin team was locked in a bunch with the entire opponent roster, all trying to scuffle in heavy pads while balancing on tiny steel blades on a sheet of frozen water.  No real damage is done, and the officials broke it up without much trouble, but I've seen fewer games without a fight than I have with at least one.  Of course, he didn't have to justify it to me, I am amused by it.

The level of skill and athleticism these guys possess is amazing.  I admire the skill of the players at this highest level.  To fly across the ice at the speed they do and maintain control of a small, slippery object that five other guys are trying to get away from you in unfriendly fashion is actually pretty awe inspiring.  My main complaints are that a) it's not more generally popular and b) I wish I hadn't wasted all this time figuring out what a great game it is.

I will fully admit I began my journey riding firmly on the band wagon.  As the Penguins, with their baby phenom Sidney Crosby, began their ascent, I would pay luke warm attention in the abyss known as the football offseason.  Then, two years ago, when the Penguins made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final, I took a little more notice.  Last year, of course, Sid the Kid hoisted the Stanley Cup after seven hard fought games against the defending champs, and I was almost hooked.  This season, with my entire life upside down and shaken up, it's been like a Godsend.  Because the best attribute of a hockey game is the fact that for a solid two and half to three hours, it's all completely about the action on the ice.  There is no time to ponder how hard real life is, it's about the fluid flow up and down the ice, back and forth, dodge and pass, thrust and parry with a punch thrown in there now and again.  The most stress you have time to consider is when it's your goalie under attack.  Everything else is white noise against the magnetic draw of the white ice.  How could I have missed the beauty of this all these years?  I have no idea, but I thank God and the Canadians for it now.

And...Go Pens!

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