Thursday, June 11, 2009

On Friday Night, Watch

As much as I love college football, I can not deny that hockey is the world’s greatest spectator sport. And when it comes to professional sports on this continent, no championship trophy is as difficult to win – or as hallowed to hold aloft – as Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Win the Super Bowl and hoist the Lombardi Trophy? Yes, that’s a great and significant accomplishment…but really, all it takes is a three-game winning streak.

Win the World Series and hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy? Yes, that’s a handsome trophy…but the sport is dull and those who get excited about it tend to fall into one of these categories: 1) statistics geek, or 2) sentimental journalist with low testosterone count.

Win the NBA Championship? Um, that meant something 15+ years ago, but today’s NBA is populated by a bunch of prima donna weaklings who can’t pass, can’t dribble, can’t avoid traveling or double-dribbling or carrying…and are more interested in getting mentioned on ESPN than they are in winning the games they are paid to play.

Hockey, on the other hand, is everything sports are supposed to be.

On one shift, a player may sustain bruises and a bloody nose from getting crushed into the glass, or he may lose teeth from taking a puck to the mouth…yet he will return to the ice for his very next shift, mere minutes later, without missing a second of playing time.

When they end up on the losing end of a game, players point their fingers at themselves rather than at the refs, coaches, league officials, media, fans, wives, mistresses, etc.

Winning the Stanley Cup requires a team to survive a grueling march through two months of playoffs – four best-of-seven series – during which it is an absolute guarantee there will be multiple injuries and wild swings of momentum.

And, there is but one Stanley Cup. It has existed since the 1890’s, and when a team wins it, it does not get a replica to put in its trophy case. Hockey players live by a code which says they will not touch the Cup unless they have earned the right by winning it. Some go even further in their reverence: Dave Andreychuk did not play for a championship team until his 22nd year in the league, and even though he was in the same room as the Cup on multiple occasions, he refused to even look at it until he won it with my beloved Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

Friday night will bring an event to our television screens that is unlike anything else in professional sports: Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Detroit Red Wings could solidify their position as the biggest sports dynasty of the past quarter-century, or the much younger Pittsburgh Penguins could avenge their loss in last year’s finals and steal Detroit’s crown. Expect the players to expend more energy that night than most of us will expend over the course of the next decade. Expect the forwards to flood the nets with shots, the goalies to make mind-boggling saves, and the defensemen to sacrifice their bodies in order to block pucks traveling 90 miles per hour.

Canadians know to watch hockey. Unfortunately, the majority of Americans don’t. That might be because in most parts of the U.S., people don’t grow up with it as part of their culture, or it might be because it is easier to pick up if you go to a game in person than if you only see it on television. But you know hustle when you see it, and you know passion when you see it, and you know skill when you see it…so as an American, I am here to tell my countrymen who love sports that you must watch Game Seven on Friday night. Otherwise you are cheating yourself. Our friends to the north have it right on this one.


Scott said...

Who do you like Stanton? I think Sid wins his first of many!!


JDS said...

I don't want to invite any jinxes by making a prediction...but I will be wearing black tonight.

Anonymous said...

Scuderi. The 'guins have got to be feeling it for 7 after his rescue in 6.