You Can't Puck with Hockey

As a hockey fanatic, I feel it necessary to defend the sport that I follow with such a passion. From the time I started following hockey — when the Minnesota North Stars packed their sticks and pucks and migrated down south to Dallas — to now, I have noticed that hockey, as a sport, and the players that play it, do not receive the respect they so dearly deserve.

Perhaps I find this lack of respect as a personal insult because I too play hockey. OK, OK, so rollerhockey isn’t “”real”” hockey and intramural floor hockey is far from the ice as possible. And I’m not Canadian, Swedish, Russian, Finnish or Czech. I’m Chinese and Vietnamese. Hell, I don’t think there’s even ice in Vietnam.

Despite these setbacks, I still carry the mentality of a hockey player: The team comes first, pain is secondary. Sacrifice. Passion. All for the sport.

To the untrained eye, the game of hockey is just a bunch of big guys with weird accents skating on ice and bashing each other all over the boards. The critics are, well, correct. But hockey is much more than goons (yes, that’s a hockey term) pummeling each other with roundhouses. Hockey is a game of skill, speed, instinct, and yes, brute strength. If you are a good player, there is a reason behind every single movement, every flick of the wrists, nod of the head, and stutter-step.

Though it may not seem so on television, hockey is a game that is played at a blinding speed. And it takes immense skill to move and balance oneself while keeping an eye out for 100 mph pucks and the forearm of a 6’4″” defenseman, let alone finely tuning a wrist shop or a one-time slapper while under all this pressure. Balance is the key.

Hockey is a game of juxtaposing concepts. All players, from a power-forward the size of Keith Tkachuk to the sniper Peter Bondra, need soft hands to score goals or to make the floating pass over defending sticks. At the same time, fists of granite like those of Darren McCarty’s or Chris Simon’s are needed to defend your team’s stars. Pure skill, like that of Jaromir Jagr and amazing puck control skills are also crucial. All the while, brute strength is required to barrel through a crushing check or two defenders.

Compared to professional players from other sports, hockey players stand in a league of their own. From their mentality to their willingness to sacrifice everything for the team while on ice, hockey players’ devotion to the sport is unparalleled.

Hockey players play injured. Mike Modano played with a broken wrist in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999. Brent Gilchrist took a puck in the mouth, breaking most of his teeth. He was shot up with pain killers and was out on the ice the next period. Superstars like Steve Yzerman and Keith Primeau lay their bodies on the ice to block 90 to 100 mph slap shots.

Though most people would say these players are crazy for laying their bodies on the line, it just shows how much these players love their sport. More importantly, it shows they’re not playing for the money; they’re playing for the love of the game.

I cannot find this devotion in any other sport. Football players complain about sprained wrists. Basketball players complain about sprained ankles. And, on the average, these players get paid much, much more than a hockey player.

The size of the contract is also testament to how much hockey players are underappreciated. The highest paid hockey player right now is the Dominator, Dominik Hasek. He clocks in $10 million a year, and rightfully so. Yes, $10 million a year is absurd to pay for a person that plays a child’s game but compared to other sports, $10 million is mere change. Look at Alex Rodriguez.

Trust me, playing goalie is, without doubt, the most difficult position to play, in any sport. A tiny, frozen, rubber puck flies off the stick of Al McInnis at 110 mph and is aimed straight at you. It’s not a pleasant situation to be in.

Despite what most people say, watching hockey is far from being a bore. As mentioned before, it’s a fast-paced game, and following the puck becomes easier. But the epitome of human achievement in sports is winning the Stanley Cup. The Holy Grail of hockey is considered by many, even hockey enthusiasts, as the most difficult championship to win.

Think about it. After 82 bone crushing, regular season games, NHL players still have to play up to another 28 playoff games. Playoff hockey is different. It’s more intense. It’s more electric. You can smell the tension in the air. The Cup is in sight and nothing, not a broken arm or a concussion will stop the players from getting to it. Non-enthusiasts do not realize this, but there is no ending a playoff game if there is a tie after overtime. The game continues, literally, into the wee hours of the morning until the final goal is scored.

That’s why finally being able to drink from the Cup is so revered. Despite all that hockey players, both the professional and recreational, are willing to put on the line, they do not get the respect the game warrants. The history of the game is rich with long traditions. It is a travesty that the sport is not recognized for what it is: the epitome of human sacrifice.