I've been pondering this topic since it was announced as a fun contest that someone else will win. I thought as I rarely chime with much more than the odd semi-coherent mostly inane comment in the CC or GDT, I better at least attempt one of these to say I've made one fan post in my time here.
So, as I'm baking in my non-air-conditioned condo (they switch from heat only to cool in May) on above average warm Good Friday, here is a quick snapshot into the reasons I love the great sport of hockey and why I leave the blogging to the professionals:
My dad came to Canada from Germany in the mid late 50s and after a year of bouncing around settled in Collingwood, Ontario. As one could guess, Germans as a whole were still not the most popular bunch of people, so integrating into the local community (and learning English) quickly was important. For my dad, it was hockey was the gateway. And in the 1950s in english Canada, hockey meant the Toronto Maple Leafs. My dad loved hockey, it blew him away. So much different then his beloved fussball, it was fast, hard hitting; heck it even let them fight it out. Fast forward a couple of decades, and little old me comes along, and suddenly my dad has someone new to share his passion. He tells me stories of all the Cups in the 1960s, old Maple Leaf Gardens, Davey Keon (easily his favourite player of all). Hockey was our connection, I remember being nine years old during the spectacularly terrible 1984-85 season, my Dad, little brother and I all secretly upstairs at my uncle's place watching the Leafs battle the Blackhawks, living and dying with each play. They lost (they did it often that year, more than this one for sure), but our love for Buds and hockey never waned. One day, I hope to pass my passion for the Leafs and hockey to a new generation.
Saturday nights in my house were not for going out, they were reserved for Hockey Night in Canada. As a kid, it was the only game I'd get to watch until the end, even for overtime! My dad and I (later my little brother too) would go into the basement den, a bowl of ice cream in hand, sit down and watch the beloved Leafs. At 8pm (games started later then) my dad would flick on the TV, turn it to CBC and the HNIC music would start (don't get me going on the song changing hands to TSN, it pisses me off to no end) and away we'd go. From ugly baby blue matching suits, to Bob Cole, to Coach's Corner, there is nothing more Canadian and more Hockey than growing up with HNIC. In a world when not all Leaf games were on TV, you knew that no matter what, Saturday night you could count on seeing them play (until the playoffs, damn that has to change, am I right? One day!)
3. Road Hockey:
Most of my childhood, I grew up in a Cul-de-Sac, in humble cookie cutter suburbia. Having an optimal road surface and limited car flow, meant one thing, if we weren't in school, we were playing road hockey outside. I was never a decent ice skater, still to this day, so road hockey was my thing. Some days we'd play as long as the sun was out, barely stopping for meals, making crazy end to end plays, doing our own play by play as we went. When someone scored a nice goal or made a big save, we'd talk about it for days! Describing it with every detail. Heck, I think we even kept stats for a few months. It's probably where my love of numerical manipulation comes from.
Competition with your opponent makes every sport somewhat decent, but when it goes beyond that, it moves into Rivalry territory. Rivalries are what makes hockey great. Whether real or imagined, nothing feels better than watching your favourite team beat it's rival. Growing up in the 80s, the Leafs biggest rivals were the other 4 teams of the Norris Division, or as most of us remember them, Wendel's victims. Every game against the Red Wings, Blues, Stars or Blackhawks was huge! You didn't make the playoffs in this division, you survived the season. Everyone knew the divisional champ was waiting for the subsequent ass whipping from the Oilers or the Flames in the conference finals. The lingering memory of Leafs-Habs battle were fading into history. I honestly think one of the hardest parts of 1993 for Leaf fans to swallow wasn't Kerry Fraser, or the Kings, it was a fact the Maple Leafs lost a chance to crush the Canadiens. The Northeast division rivalries while good, have a back seat to the days of the mighty, uber violent Norris.
Rivalries move beyond the realm of the NHL. International rivalries, especially in the last 15-20 years have really grown. With the annual Canadian celebration called the World Juniors, and the advent of NHLers participating at the Olympics, the international game has taken a bigger place in the hockey world's psyche. My love of international hockey stems back to 1987, when Canada battled the USSR (those damn dirty pinkos) in the Canada Cup. Gretzky to Lemieux still gives me goosebumps.
5. Sudden Death Overtime:
After 60 minutes there is a singular mantra: Next Goal Wins. There is few moments in hockey or sport anywhere that is as wonderful and as dreaded as the overtime goal. Your team gets it, Euphoria reigns; your opponent scores, Absolute disappointment. It's a black and white moment. Good for one side, bad for the other. And in the playoffs its even more tense, your heart races each time your team streaks into the zone or gives up a 3 on 2 break coming back. As each minute passes, you are a mess of emotions. Can they score, are they getting tired, can they really keep short shifting the same 6 forwards? When your team scores, you leap out of your seat, cheer and celebrate, mock your opponents, cherish your team's success. Nothing is as sweet as Sudden Death, Instant Victory!
I imagine I could probably think of several more things I love about this great sport (live hockey, NHL 94, etc etc), but I promised only five. Or is it's threatened. So, with that GO LEAFS GO, enjoy your weekend and keep dreaming for a better days ahead.
P.S. Also, a quick shout out for this website. It's been a great discovery and I truly enjoyed shooting the sh!t with each and every one of you all. Having a great community of Leaf fans (and beyond) is adding a great new level of interest and love for the great game of Hockey!