Hi…My name is Matt…
And I am a hockey fan.
Take a deep breath…I didn’t say I was a Communist, a member of ISIS, or even Canadian.
I am a hockey fan.
How did I become one? I’m not exactly the target audience. Growing up in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, I don’t really have any personal experience with hockey. My time in Texas predated the Dallas Stars’ move from Minnesota. But I do have this memory: I was watching ESPN when I was 11 or 12 and the Pittsburgh Penguins were on, playing the above mentioned Minnesota North Stars in the Finals. Those were the days of Le Magnifique (Mario Lemieux) Ron Francis, Tom Barasso, and a gloriously muletted Jaromir Jagr (who is still in the league!). I fell in love with this team (mostly because of the logo, the hitting, and fighting) and started to follow the league. I fell out of love for the sport for a little while during the lockout years of 2004-2005, but was brought back mostly by the return of hockey to national television and Scott Niedermayer’s playoff beard.
So If I love hockey so much, how did I get to write here? One was keeping my love of hockey deep in the closet. And two, I have an appropriate level of hockey love. My favorite sports/teams include:
1) Grizzlies Basketball
3) The NBA
4) Texas Longhorns Football #hookem
5) College Football
6) College Basketball
19) Getting Hit by a Zamboni
20) The NFL
21) Golf on TV
We all know that basketball season is right around the corner. But if you are looking for something to take up your time until basketball season starts or on nights the Grizzlies are off, why not spend your time with sport of our neighbor to the north?
Instead of rubbing your face in it or cajoling you into liking hockey by saying that you don’t understand this game that is popular in other parts of the world (ahem…soccer fans?), I wanted to find some common ground. Let’s find a common place between these two sports and expand our horizons a little. So if you love basketball, maybe you can get to know some hockey as well.
The National Hockey League is the highest level of professional hockey in the world. The league is made up of thirty teams, twenty three in the United States and seven in Canada. Here are some quick notes that will ease your hockey transition
The Original Six
The Stanley Cup
Best trophy in all of sports. Last year's champion was the Los Angeles Kings.
Here are some other awards:
Hart Trophy: League MVP (Last year's winner- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins)
Conn Smythe Award: MVP of the playoffs (Justin Williams, Los Angeles Kings)
Vezina Trophy: Best Goalie (Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins)
James Norris Trophy: Best Defender (Duncan Keith, Chicago Blackhawks).
And the most infamous of the awards:
The Lady Byng: Most gentlemanly player (Ryan O'Reilly, Colorado Avalanche).
Hockey Night In Canada
Every Saturday night, one of the major networks in Canada broadcasts two games (In the past, the games have appeared on CBC, but have shifted over to Sportsnet. These networks cover the NHL like ESPN covers the NFL, so its a pretty big freakin' deal. Because of the intense reporting, you get great coverage that might make you run through a wall...Like this:
If that didn't sell you, I don't know what will.
Anyway, the NHL Network usually carries one of the games during the double hitter. In the first intermission comes the appearance of Don Cherry, the more jingoistic version of Charles Barkley, mostly known for his big mouth, his loud suits, his love for hockey, and his hate for Europeans.
Are you a stat nerd? Then next to baseball, hockey is on the forefront of the stats revolution. One of the best hockey blogs to check out was Tyler Dellow's mc79hockey. I use the past tense because his site has been pulled down because, like John Hollinger, Dellow has been signed by a team, the Edmonton Oilers, to consult the team in the front office. However, I can give you a few helpful terms to get you familiar with hockey stats.
- Plus/Minus- like in other sports, this stat measures the goals scored for and against while a player in on the ice.
- Fenwick/Corsi- these are measurements of offensive and puck possession. Fenwick is "shots on goal" plus "missed shots," while Corsi is "shots on goal" plus "missed shots" plus "blocked shots." Better offensive players with high puck possessions will have high Fenwick/Corsi numbers.
- Luck- Even luck is accounted for in advanced stats. PDO, which doesn't stand for anything, is a teams shot percentage, or goals divided by shots, plus save percentage. This takes into account the lucky breaks that a team may get with a low shot total and a high save/shooting percentage. This stat is great for looking for teams that are not as good as their record would sow, especially in playoff time.
- And a myriad of initials such as PIDS (Pucks in Deep) , Blocks60 (blocked shots per sixty minutes played, SHITS* (or short handed ice time), and TOI (time on ice)
*Ok...I made that one up...you almost bought it though.
That's about all you need to know.
One other note:
Hitting and Fighting- Just like all the other major sports, hockey has had to look at how to legislate hitting and fighting in the game due to new information on head trauma. A lot of people are turned off by fighting just by the shear brutality and general pointlessness of it. Sometimes, those people are right.
But think of it this way: hockey is a fast game played on ice by highly competitive fellas who carry around bunt objects and have knives on their feet. Giving the players an outlet for small scale physical violence may fend off the larger scale and much scarier incidents.
Plus, if you get rid of fighting, you might miss out on this:
Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin (Pittsburgh Penguins)- Crosby is the best player in the league. To compare him with Lebron James is an obvious choice. Both are unique physical players that you automatically notice the moment they jump in the game. But Crosby only has one Stanley Cup (2009). So just imagine that if Lebron had only won one championship and had not been back in 5 years and had some injury problems and some dud playoff performances.
That’s the level of crap Crosby takes.
Malkin is the purest scorer in the league. Crosby and Malkin together would be like the Miami Heat if Dwyane Wade was in his 20’s instead of his 30’s.
Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals)- It is debatable between Ovie and Malkin as to who is the league’s best scorer. But Ovie can light it up (51 goals last season). He is kind of like a Carmelo Anthony type, but Ovechkin has won even less than Melo.
Jonathan Toews and Patick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks)- the two best teammates in the league. These two players are absolutely dynamite, and together they are an absolute force of nature. The Blackhawks have won two Cups in the last five years, with Toews and Kane leading the way. With their third teammate, Marian Hossa, just imagine if the OKC Thunder had not traded James Harden and him and Westbrook and Durant stayed together (Toews as Durant, Kane as Westbrook, and Hossa as Harden). That’s the level of excellence for this team.
Stephen Stamkos (Tampa Bay Lightning)- A young stud with an amazing knack for scoring. I picture him having skills similar to if Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are as good as they appear to be.
Drew Doughty- Los Angeles Kings- A defensive player with offensive skills. He was the defensive leader for the LA Kings during their last two Cup runs. You could compare his game with Dwight Howard, or maybe even our very own Tony Allen, if he didn’t quite have so many blown tires on the way to layups.
As for our Grizzlies:
Mike Conely- Carl Hagelin. That dude is fast.
Tony Allen- Brad Marchand. The two leagues best pest, described together at last.
Vince Carter- Jaromir Jagr. Been in the league for a hundred years (VC is 37 and JJ is 43) and it still producing
Zach Randolph- Milan Lucic. A skilled offensive player who you would not want to meet in a dark alley
Marc Gasol- Zdeno Chara. Big guys from Europe who are skilled offensive and defensive players.
So who should I root for?
Nashville Predators- not only are these two teams close in geography, they share similar styles of defense first, offense later. A Grit-n-Grind style on the ice, if you will. However, the problem is that Nashville simply is not very good. They have some great players, namely Shea Weber, Pekka Rinne, and new comer James Neal, but they are in a knife fight of a division, where every team but them made the playoffs last season.
Dallas Stars- This team is fairly close to our area as well, with young talent that is on the rise.
Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, and Boston Bruins- one of these teams have won the Stanley Cup since 2007. So if you like jumping on a bandwagon, go right ahead.
Toronto Maple Leafs- This is the team that has gone the longest without winning a Stanley Cup (1967). Nothing but heartbreak on the horizon for this club.
Washington Capitals, San Jose Sharks, New York Rangers, or any of the other Canadian teams-These teams typically have great regular seasons, but will let you down in the playoffs.
Arizona Coyotes, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Winnepeg Jets, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, and New York Islanders- Choosing one of these teams will be tough because of a lack of exposure. NHL games in the United States are shown on three major networks: NBC, NBC Sports, and the NHL Network. The teams above all have less than five games on national television. So unless you plan on traveling a lot, buying NHL Center Ice (which is a pretty good deal), or like listening to hockey on the radio, maybe these teams aren't for you.
Philadelphia Flyers: Only if you have lost your immortal soul.
OK...You sold me...I'm ready to give it a try...What do I do now?
Easy...follow this step by step:
- Watch Slap Shot
- Start watching hockey. The best way to get into it is to start watching. Get a feel for the game and how the puck moves. The best thing you can do here is go to a game in person, even if its a minor league game. Just get a feel for it.
- Watch Slap Shot again.
- Read and listen. There are some great sites for hockey reading, including here on SBNation's NHL page, Yahoo's Puck Daddy, the Score's NHL pages, especially Justin Bourne's work, and because I am a Penguins fan, try thepensblog.com for up to date news and how to talk as much trash as possible. Also, there are podcasts galore out there, especially the Puck Daddy podcast.
So you're set. I hope you get as big of a kick out of this season as I do.
Oh..and before I go...a little more Slap Shot