Pretty Long winded. I apologize.
In no other sport are the players more respectful and human off the ice than in hockey. First of all, hockey players look like regular people off the ice. If you ran into Stephen Weiss on the street would you know that he's a professional athlete? Ok how about Vince Carter? That's what I thought. This lack of physical size impresses me about hockey players, it takes so much more natural ability to be a high level hockey player. You can't just bulk up and practice all the time (although I hear that helps). Players have to have a great natural hockey skills to be great, size doesn't play nearly as big a role as in almost every other sport. As for being respectful, for every Sean Avery there is a Jarome Iginla, Joe Sakic, and Mats Sundin. When a single hockey player gets in any sort of trouble it's a huge story. In the other four major sports, it happens so often it's a footnote. But the most impressive thing about the players to me, is the handshake line. It's been beaten to death in the media, but there is no other professional league where they players spend a week and a half beating the living crap out of each other, but are man enough at the end to shake hands and offer a "good game" and a "good luck" to their opponents. It's good form in a day when we don't see enough of it from our role models.
2. Organized Chaos
Speed and Grace vs. Intelligence vs. Violence and Grit. I love hockey simply because it mashes all of those things together in the blink of an eye. Where else can you see elegant skating and the poetic dangling of a Marian Gaborik through a 2-1-2 forecheck, and two seconds later watching him get leveled by a sold open ice check? No other sport shares this contrast, yes football has the contact, basketball has the elegance, and baseball has the on-the-fly managing. However none of these juxtaposes them in such a sudden beautiful manner like hockey does. How many times have seen a game-changing moment, one that happens in an instant, free flowing, like a great deke when you though the guy was going to get hammered, or an intercepted pass that leads to a breakaway. No other sport can combine what are seemingly opposing ideas and bring them together in they way that hockey does, and when it's done right, like a Harvey's hamburger, it's a beautiful thing.
I love the smell of the rink. When you first walk into the Arena, the smell of the zamboni, the artificial ice, and crappy hot dogs. I love poking around the inner-workings of arenas, seeing the press boxes, the sound/video rooms, the dressing rooms. I've been fortunate enough to have worked in hockey for over eight years now, and in that time I've worked in CIS, OHL and NHL arena's and they all have the same effect on me as I walk around them, they take me back to being a kid in Markham, learning to skate at Centennial Arena. The smell of the ice, and the sound of the skates is like an aphrodisiac to a hockey fan like me, it borders on a religious experience.
4. The Maple Leafs
I love my Leafs. I live and die with them. I may have seen the Argos and the Blue Jays win championships, and I was at the first Raptors game at the SkyDome, but I will bleed Blue and White forever. The history of the Leafs, both the organization and my own personal history make me feel like I have some ownership of this franchise. I still remember Doug Gilmour's wraparound goal on Cujo late in that overtime, but I wasn't allowed to stay up late and watch, I had my head buried under my pillow, ear to my clock radio listening to the call over the airwaves. Many of my early leaf memories are courtesy radio broadcasts. I remember phoniing into the FAN 590 and getting through the day after the original 'holy mackinaw' call, trying to do my best Joe Bowen impression. I vividly remember the lame leafs song the FAN used to run everyday during the playoffs "Maple Leafs, are forever. Maple Leafs, just remember...you're never gonna know the cup without em". The Leafs are why I love hockey. No other team makes me hold my breath when the game is tied late in the contest. If the Leafs were playing Team Canada I root for the leafs, even with Vesa Toskala in goal. To me there is no hockey without the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I grew up in a fairly poor family. We weren't destitute by any means, but my parents were both immigrants and well lets just say there weren't always Christmas presents under the tree when I was young. Both of my parents worked a lot and spending time with the kids was a bit of a luxury most days. The one thing that always brought me and my dad together though was hockey, but not in the normal way. My dad didn't enjoy hockey much, he was a cricket man. I was in the midst of getting picked on at school and watching hockey was one of the few times I was happy. My dad saw this, and despite his lack of interest, he made sure to watch whenever he could with me. One memory in particular stands out - in 1994 the olympic shootout, when Paul Kariya missed that shootout attempt, I started crying (yes I know I was 12, but I'm a wuss). Two days later my dad comes home with two tickets watch the Leafs play at the Gardens, he had to take on someone else's project to get them, but he realized how much the sport meant to me and wanted to cheer me up. We had a great time at the game, and I'm happy to say that now my dad watches leaf games on his own every saturday night on CBC.