So, I'm all in.
Hockey has aggravated a part of my subconscious soul that's rarely molested. It has tapped a vein of excitement and curiosity typically reserved for childbirth, murder trials and mixed martial arts.
I'm daydreaming about guys I didn't know existed a month ago. Vinny and Marty. Stammer and Roli. Downsie and Kuby and Heds.
Here's the thing: Until April, I don't really remember knowing that hockey was a serious sport. Maybe you're like me. Hockey was something you clicked through on your way to the Food Network, a white screen that sounded like a short guttural yell, the noise Mr. Met would make if he could speak. Hockey was a chance to grab a beer during SportsCenter.
I should say I'm not a sports doofus. I lettered in four sports in high school. Played football in college. Ran the New York City marathon. My sports appetite is reasonable, maybe a tad refined. I read Sports Illustrated for the writing. I drove to Kiln, Miss., to watch hometown boy Brett Favre and the Vikings crush the Cowboys in the 2010 NFL playoffs.
But I was born and raised in Oklahoma, where ice is frowned upon. It races from the Rockies in dark clouds and strips giant branches off pecan trees.
We had a team: the Blazers, of the Central Hockey League. I suppose you could call what they did hockey.
Fast forward a dozen years — moves through Arkansas, west Texas and New York, three kids, two dogs, no hockey — and here I am in Tampa, on a Saturday afternoon in April, flipping channels as I rock the youngest toward a nap.
Game 5. Lightning down 3 games to 1 against the Penguins from Pittsburgh.
I paused just long enough.
The grace! The nuance! The hits! Like an ice ballet with fisticuffs and bloodshed.
I haven't paid attention to as many Canadians since the Barenaked Ladies debuted.
And they haven't lost yet. Seven wins in a blink. I suddenly want to buy some gloves just so I can throw them off.
Does this sound familiar to any of you other late arriving "fans"? I'm not just interested in hockey, I'm obsessed. I'm the ultimate bandwagon jumper.
I watched the past two games in person, a hockey virgin at the St. Pete Times Forum, bugging those nearby with elementary questions.
"What the hell is 'icing?' "
"Where are the black athletes?"
"Why do I hate this guy Ovechkin so much?"
I've gathered enough to say there's a lot to like about hockey.
1.) It appeals to our collective blood-lust. It's hard not to enjoy a sport where the athletes could possibly get their throats slashed or fingers cut off. I'm not sure it happens, but it seems possible. Perhaps only NASCAR is as life-or-death.
2.) The attention hockey requires. Keep your eye on the puck, or, um, you could catch one in the teeth.
3.) Weapons. I stand in favor of sports in which all players carry sticks.
4.) High-speed human collision. It's too bad the rink is rimmed by plexiglass rather than real glass.
5.) The terminology. Hat trick! Butt-ending! Slashing! Spearing! Dump and chase! Penalty kill!
6.) Even the coach has an awesome scar. I have no idea how Guy Boucher got that V on his cheek. Hockey injury? Shark attack? Maybe he was playing hockey outdoors, fell through the ice and was attacked by a shark.
I have no idea, and that's the beauty of it. There's something enjoyable about ignorance, and I've found the fields of the Lord heavy laden and unharvested. Maybe I'll hate hockey once it's not so new, once my questions are answered.
Until then, do these guys look like pears when they're not wearing pads? Could you shave with an ice skate?
And what is a Bruin?
Contact Ben Montgomery at [email protected] or (727) 893-8650