Thursday, June 10, 2010
Scott Strazzante / Tribune
Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks! On their Stanley Cup victory, yes, but more for their unexpected accomplishment of turning this unabashed hockey hater into something of a fan.
Yes, I admit it: I jumped on the Blackhawks' bandwagon and actually enjoyed watching hockey this year. This is more momentous than it sounds.
I hated hockey my whole life, and I had my reasons:
1) Too low-scoring
2) Too many stupid fights
3) I never took the time to understand it ("He was called for what? Hooking? Now he has to go sit in a box?"
4) I could never see the damn puck go into the net. The whole point of watching a sport is for the drama and the payoff at the end. Not being able to tell when a goal is scored is like never knowing if a home run goes over the wall.
I was happy when the NHL locked out in 2004-05 because it meant that pointless hockey highlights wouldn't take up valuable time on SportsCenter. One year and one day ago, I wrote this Humor Vault installment joking that no one cared about the Stanley Cup finals or even knew they were taking place.
And this year, I found myself frustrated that Game 6 took place on Wednesday since I had a conflict. I can probably name about 10 Blackhawks players. I got excited for power plays. I read a Sports Illustrated article about hockey instead of skipping over it like I always used to. I TiVoed Game 5 and avoided seeing the score so as not to ruin it.
What's gotten into me? Well, clearly, the fact that the Blackhawks were a dominant team and won the Stanley Cup was a huge part of it. They had the third-best record in the NHL this year, so they've been making headlines for months. I (try to) read the Tribune sports section every day, and it's harder to avoid all the stories about the Hawks on broadsheet than it is on the Web. After picking up bits and pieces of knowledge about the team as the season went on, I actually took the step of flipping the channel to their games every now and then. And you know what? Hockey is pretty fun to watch.
The best thing about it is that the action is constant. It seems like there's always someone getting banged into the boards, a 100-mph shot zooming toward the net, or a power play that sets the team up for a great scoring opportunity. Once you get a handle on the basics of the game, it's pretty exhilarating to watch.
I still get frustrated by a real low-scoring hockey game, but five of the six finals games saw seven or more goals scored. Oh, and speaking of goals, here's a very important reason I've come to enjoy hockey more: HD.
Perhaps it's petty, but my fancy HD television enables me to see the puck much more clearly. True hockey fans hated when Fox toyed with the "puck tracker" which illuminated the puck at all times. I appreciated it, though, and now I appreciate the HD technology that allows me to celebrate a goal at the same time the players do.
I still have little-to-no interest in watching a game that doesn't involve my local team. And in the future, I see myself getting into the Hawks only for about two months per year during the playoffs. As my readers know, I'm already a close follower of MLB, NFL, NCAA football and basketball, and I dabble in the NBA and PGA. There just isn't enough time for another acronym.
But I've come a long, long way in a pretty short time, and I anticipate remaining a fair weather postseason Blackhawks fan (by the way, there are very few fights in the playoffs, another positive). That might not sound like much to a true hockey fan, but it's a pretty dramatic change for me. One year ago, I would have put the chances of me ever writing that sentence at about one percent.
So congratulations again, Blackhawks, on your Stanley Cup championship and on making me more of a hockey fan than I ever thought possible.