A couple of weeks ago I shared a bit about a book I had recently read called Hockey Night in Dixie and on being a southern hockey fan. I wrote that blog in kind of a hurry and didn't really share much, IMHO and frankly don't have any stellar ideas for this week's post so I figured I'd throw a few more thoughts on being a hockey fan in the south and maybe help clarify a couple of things about the game. Granted, I'm no expert; I've only been a hockey fan since around 2005 but I have taken the time to try to understand the game and not just go to see the fights like so many other redneck hockey fans.
“Did you hit somebody yet?!” I hear that one at almost every FireAntz game I go to; it drives me nuts! Yes, there is hitting in hockey. In fact, it's amazing how these guys can take a hit while on ice skates and still manage to not fall and bust their ass. But the game isn't about going out and hitting someone. It's not football you dumb redneck! You don't go after the guy with the puck and try to tackle him. As violent as hockey seems to some people, it really is a game of great skill and finesse. Think about it; if you've ever seen Wayne Gretzky, he's not that big (especially compared to other hockey players). Yet, he holds the all time records for goals, assists and total points. Why? Because he had skill, not because he went out and “hit somebody.” Plowing your opponents into the boards doesn't win games, people; it gets you put in the penalty box and leaves you short handed. Get a clue!
Throughout the book, Hockey Night in Dixie, players that were interviewed spoke about how the southern fans seemed to be more interested in the fights than in the hockey game itself. It's sad, but very true. Now, I love a good hockey fight as much as the next redneck... er, I mean southerner... but that's not what hockey is about. I'm sure everyone's heard the old joke, “I went to see a fight, but a hockey game broke out.” While it's true that hockey (at least on the professional level) accepts and allows fighting (for the most part) there's a reason for it. It's not like in baseball, football, basketball, etc., where a fight is the result of a couple of guys losing their tempers. In hockey, it's usually the result of some goon laying an illegal hit on a key player that went unnoticed by the referee and so an enforcer then challenges said goon to a fight as if to say, “Hey! Asshole! You can't do that to my teammate and get away with it.” It's allowed because hockey officials know that they can't see everything, and allowing fights allows the players, in a sense, to police themselves a bit. You almost never see a hockey fight simply start; there's usually some exchange of words and an agreement between the two combatants that they are, in fact, going to drop the gloves and go toe-to-toe. Sure, they both get five minutes in the penalty box, but it's usually over after that. Fights in hockey can also be used to help spark some energy. Truth is, though, I'd rather see a well skated, tight scoring game with no fights at all, than waste my time watching a match that's gotten out of hand with multiple fights (although, that can be entertaining at times too, especially when it's a FireAnt beating the shit out of a Renegade... I hate those bastards!)
Sportscaster Al Michaels, during the 1980 Winter Olympics, made the statement that most of the people who tuned in to watch the historic game between the United States Hockey Team and the Soviet Team probably didn't “know the difference between a blue line and a clothesline.” That's a fair statement about a lot of folks that attend hockey games in the south too, I'd wager. Where I live (Fayetteville, NC) we've had a hockey team long enough that most of the season ticket holders and regular fans are up to speed on that, but I still meet people who say they love to go to FireAntz games even though they have no clue what's going on especially when the whistle blows for a stoppage of play. Now, here I could go into a long explanation of rules about offside, hooking, boarding, tripping, etc. But I won't. Instead, I'll give you some links at the end of this blog to other websites that can explain it better than I can. Keep in mind that there are some minor differences between, say the National Hockey League (NHL), some of the minor professional leagues, international amateur hockey, collegiate hockey and junior hockey. These differences are generally obvious though, such as things like touch-up icing on the professional levels versus automatic icing in amateur and international leagues. Also, fighting in international and amateur leagues results in being ejected from the game rather than just five minutes in the penalty box.
If you've never been to a hockey game, go! If you go regularly just to see fights, grow up. And if your a southerner (or a traditional market hockey fan who somehow got transplanted to the south) who loves hockey like me, help spread the word and educate.
Links to educate yourself with:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_hockey_rules (just to give you a general idea of the different governing bodies within professional and amateur hockey)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hockey_rink (a Wikipedia article on the Hockey rink itself)
Next week's blog: “Home of the Free, Because of the Brave”