The Art of Sports: It’s hockey


 

Bobby Hall, NHL Hall of Fame forward

Bobby Hull, NHL Hall of Fame forward

It’s hockey

By Mark Lewis

I can’t skate. Let alone backward.

I would cower in the corner if a big man with a stick and razor-sharp attachments on his feet barreled down a slick surface toward me. And I would attempt to melt before the same man fired a 3-inch hard disk made of vulcanized rubber in my vicinity.

But watching other people play the game of hockey makes the pulse race, emotions erupt and rational thoughts disappear in thin air. Some of us begin speaking in tongues, or, at the very least, Canadian.

And then tensions elevate: the National Hockey League playoffs begin. The goal is to be the last one standing as the winning team hoists Lord Stanley’s Cup, the most majestic sports trophy ever. Every team (that’s organ-i-zation in Canadian) will do whatever it takes to earn the hardest piece of sports hardware to win.

The first-round series concluded this week with three of the eight using the full complement of seven games. Some of the games didn’t finish in a tidy 60-minute package. In playoff hockey, you play overtime until somebody scores. Thirteen games used extra time, including 41 bonus minutes in a 4-3 St. Louis victory over Chicago.

Overtime playoff hockey may be the most nerve-wracking experience in all of sports. It’s a roller coaster of emotion as any random bounce of the puck can end the game. The referees often use silencers on their whistles, reluctant to let a penalty decide the outcome. And time goes quickly without television timeouts.

When a team scores (putting the biscuit in the basket as it were), preferably when the shooter (who grows a playoff beard until his team loses) fires it through the five-hole (between the goalie’s legs), the winners mob the goal-scorer whose name has been amended with an “er” or an “s” or an “ie” (Kaner, Seabs, Sharpie) and the losers hustle off the ice as soon as possible.

If the win clinches the series, the teams form long lines and shake hands at center ice.

So the guy you’ve been holding, slashing, cross-checking, face-washing, elbowing for the last four, five, six or seven games, become a long-lost friend worthy of a handshake and maybe even a hug.

That’s hockey.