Indifference Isn’t An Option: Why Hockey Might be More Awesome Than You Think
“Let’s go CAPS!” The refrain pervaded the air while a vuvuzela kept the tempo. The crowd cried out in unison, pumped up to watch their team play. Grown, bearded men in hockey sweaters with stern faces filled the arena. The common folk of the greater Washington, DC area had come out of the woodwork (and perhaps the actual woods) for hockey, a sport that is adored by a select contingent in the US 1.
Hockey culture may be cloaked in obscurity to some unfortunate sports souls, but that won’t last. For those of you who watched LOST, you know that the island gets what the island wants. The island represents a means for finding oneself. Hockey is the island.
As the game began, I realized something about live hockey that makes it more significant than a lot of other live sports. The fans there weren’t just going to watch their team play. In the arena, indifference isn’t an option. The fans were there to come along side their team, to go to battle and get a victory. I wasn’t just at a game between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers, I was in it. The energy that pervaded the air for the last hour grew to a fevered pitch as the referee dropped the puck for the first time, breaking the proverbial seal of anticipation. The puck whizzed back and forth, deflecting off the ice, walls and players like flubber. 2
But I’m not writing to give a play-by-play account of the game. That would be boring. I’m writing to make a case for why I think hockey is more awesome than you think.
Take power plays. When one team commits a standard penalty in hockey, the offended team gets a one man advantage for two minutes in what is called a power play. This is a wildly exciting moment in the game for both teams. If you’re on offense, it is exciting because you have an extra player on the ice and get to take a lot of shots. However, I actually found being on defense more fun. It’s a chance at immunity. While your team may have been penalized, they have a chance to erase that penalty and even gain momentum. Being short handed on a power play is an unlikely second chance, and each time they stop a shot with the clock ticking down they are closer to regaining full strength. It is an engaging event for the fans. It literally had me on the edge of my seat each time.
I think power plays capture why I like hockey so much. It’s hockey at its most communal. The arena is your castle and you are a townsperson. The enemy is trying to storm the gates and your knights are defending the castle walls. You cheer with each success. You are distressed with each goal the enemy scores, but never is hope lost. Your team fights on, even if it is too little to change the outcome Hockey players never give up until the end. They would rather play for their teammates than for a paycheck. Effort is never in question.
That’s why it isn’t completely disheartening to lose a game. You’ve still had this unlikely communal experience. To use an analogy, a hockey game is like asking a girl on a date. There are typically two outcomes: 1) She says yes, you tell your friends, they hand you a Miller High Life 3, and you strategize. 2) She says no, you tell your friends, they hand you a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, and you move on with your life. Nothing is lost. You wish she would have said yes but that wasn’t the point in the first place. The point was the pursuit of a greater purpose. And you still have your boys—that’s all still in place. That is what keeps fans, and hopeless romantics, coming back.
Hockey represents a greater pursuit and a moment of community. You might think I’m a complete idiot and that’s okay. But hockey just might teach you more about yourself and the world around you than you think.