Category Archives: Sports

Goodbye Boys

I was fully expecting to post here in celebration of a Rangers’ win in Game 6 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but such was not to be.  It was very clear from the outset that they were missing some key ingredient, the focus and energy they needed to win a game they had to win to stave off a miserable end to a moderately successful regular season and build on a quality performance in the first round in dispatching the Montreal Canadiens.

They frankly did not deserve to win, in spite of a couple of spurts of excitement for fans desperate for a bit of heart and effort, on home ice, in a must-win game.  But whatever they needed wasn’t there.  They just didn’t have the will.  Ottawa, on the other hand, rose to the occasion, following their game plan to a T, making the blocks and scoring the goals required to win.  The Rangers, alas, did not.

All day – actually, ever since they lost game 5 on Saturday afternoon, a contest they should have won, that they actually earned but could not nail shut – I’ve had a feeling of what could only be described as ambivalence.  I’ve wanted to feel excited but there was something not quite right in my gut.  And then I watched them come out in the first period without a lick of urgency and give up two goals without an answer despite three power plays, failing miserably to get through the neutral zone while playing defense like shredded linen.  It frankly made me felt a little sick to my stomach.

Second period, I waited for the spark.  It was sorely missing until more than halfway through the period, when finally it came, in the form of the team’s living sparkplug, Mats Zuccarello (who had earlier gotten bloodied by a high stick from his very best friend who now plays for the other team, earning four minutes of power play time that the Rangers summarily wasted), made a beautiful pass to Mika Zibanejad and the boys were on the board.  But it didn’t take long for that happy balloon to burst when the best defenseman in the NHL – and in this series – Erik Karlsson made an all-world play to score the eventual winning goal after breaking up the Rangers’ two-on-one in his own zone.

There was a brief moment early in the third period when it looked like they might tie things up.  Darian and I, watching side by side on the coach, in unison, screamed “YEAH!” when Chris Krieder did what we always want Chris Krieder to do (but which he doesn’t do often enough) and scored a gorgeous runaway-freight-train breakaway goal.  But another failed power play and a tightening up by the Senators – who, it must be said, played exactly the kind of game they needed to play to win and were the better team all night – and time ran out on the Blueshirts.  I was hoping that there would be some sort of karmic justice, where the Rangers would come back to tie the game in the last minute and then win in overtime, just like the Sens had done to them in Games 2 and 5, even though the Rangers were the better team in those games and deserved to win them.  But the hockey gods had other plans for the Rangers, and the Rangers themselves couldn’t rise to the challenge.  THE END.

I don’t like to watch the post-mortems when the Rangers lose, so I don’t know what any of them had to say for themselves.  There was no explanation, no justification for an entire team to just completely choke, to be unable to match a stellar effort by the opponent with one of their own to put together a playoff game for the fans at MSG to remember.  I’m sure I’ve written before in one of my many blog posts about the Rangers how mystifying I find it when an entire team kind of sucks simultaneously.  Could no one – not one of the 18 skaters and one goaltender on the ice at any one time – put the team on his back and carry them forward in this most crucial of games?

I’ve noticed recently that I’m just not as enthusiastic about the Rangers or professional hockey in general as I used to be, even during this 2016-17 season when the boys had some good stretches of exciting hockey.  But during the last couple of months, the Rangers were complacent, content to sit in the playoff position that would enable them to cross over into the “weaker” division.  They started well in the first round; although they threw up a real stinker of a Game 3 in the Garden, they were able to find their collective heart and spine and string together three convincing, mature victories over Montreal.  This second series against the underdog Ottawa Senators has been a different story, however, with the late-game defeats on the road (after having been such a strong road team all season long) even though they outplayed their opponents for at least 55 minutes out of 60.  Problem was, it was those last five minutes that cost them.

I’ve begun to question the value of sports in general.  I mean, I know it’s an entertainment alternative, just like movies, Broadway theater, opera and ballet, rock concerts and stand-up comedy jams – just another way for humans to enjoyably spend their time, attention and lots and lots of money.  But somehow people get really invested in sports, identifying with the individual athletes and teams to the point of obsession.  I’ve often described myself as a “die-hard Ranger fan” (what does that MEAN, actually, “die-hard fan”?  That I’m willing to die for my team, like a soldier for her country?)  When I was working full time and had more disposable income, I actually invested in a partial season ticket plan for a couple of years, ten games a year at the Garden.  The seats weren’t great but it was a fun thing to do with my kid, who I had always wanted to inculcate as a fellow Ranger fan, and we got invited to events like a “Bowling with the Blueshirts” night and meet-and-greets with Rangers alumni.

I can’t really explain my diminished enthusiasm.  There are quite a few players I like on the current team, and for the most part they had a good season.  But there is some piece missing, some spark, that has made hockey not as much fun for me to watch anymore.  Perhaps it’s because other aspects of my life have moved to the forefront and have left less room for things like listening to Marek v. Wyshynski podcasts or ravenously reading every article after a win.  Maybe I fear they are destined to be an also-ran for the foreseeable future and their proverbial “window” has closed.  I’ve loved Henrik Lundqvist for a long time and he is unquestionably the best goalie the Rangers have ever had, but for the past couple of seasons, there’s been something almost bratty and petulant about him.  You can see it in his body language on the ice, the way he yells at his teammates or throws up his arms in frustration.  I know it’s valued as intensity, and everyone says he’s the most competitive guy they know, but it’s beginning to bug me a little.  And lots of other Rangers have failed to live up to their advertised potential (Rick Nash and Derek Stepan come to mind), or have outlived their usefulness (Dan Girardi and Mark Staal on the blue line, for example).

Ultimately, I am left disappointed, like I have been every year since 1994 and like I probably will be for years to come.  So now I’ll pulling for the Washington Capitals, a perennial also-ran team themselves, although they have to get through the injury-plagued Pittsburgh Penguins first.  But maybe the answer is to invest a lot less of my limited time in the New York Rangers.  Hockey can be fun once in awhile, but I don’t have to live and breathe it anymore.  (But check this space in October – you never know.  I say basically the same thing every year.)

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Why I Hate Hockey

Hockey is a supremely stupid game.  Things don’t happen the way they’re supposed to. The Hockey Gods reward and punish on a whim.  Case in point:  Tonight’s Game 3 in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Rangers-Pens, first of two at MSG.  Joint is jumping, Rangers come out flying and in fact play two pretty solid periods of defensive hockey, forechecking in earnest, clogging up the neutral zone and not letting the Penguins through.  Pens are on the power play in the first period when they take a double minor for high-sticking.  The teams play four-on-four for a while, then, not long after the Rangers’ power play starts, Krieder scores a beautiful second-effort goal.  The Garden erupts in ecstasy.

Ah, but no – our joy is short-lived:  The newly instituted coach’s offside challenge is employed and it turns out that the Ranger’s skate was inches over the blue line before the puck came over. Goal is waved off and we can feel the negative energy lurking.

Rick Nash scored a beauty of a short-handed goal to give the Rangers the lead but, truth be told, the Rangers spent much of the first two periods wasting offensive chances, including the rest of that first 4-minute penalty and then two more power plays in the second period during which they got barely a sniff.  Begrudging credit to Penguins, but Rangers need to work through that shit.  That’s the whole POINT.  You need to play BETTER than the other team.

Tonight, even though the game-winning goal was flukey – two Rangers collided at the blue line and the puck miraculously popped on to the stick of the on-rushing Penguin, who was almost shocked to receive it – he was just in the right place at the right time (for HIM). Now the Rangers are trailing with ten minutes left in the third period, at which point the Penguins rallied around their rookie goalie even more stoutly, and the Rangers failed to find the will within themselves to break through.   Any of them could have risen to the occasion and bulled his way to scoring a goal – anyone! – but instead no one did.

There’s this “advanced analytic” measure that the hockey stats nerds cite which is literally a calculation of LUCK.  It ultimately regresses to the mean, but some teams seem to consistently have better luck than others.  Yes, to quote an ancient hockey truism, “You make your own breaks” – by working harder, by putting in that extra effort.  But hockey is a freaky competitive experience.  Sometimes things happen that SHOULD NOT HAPPEN.  The puck pinballs in off three sets of skates, or conversely stays out of the net despite going from post to post along the goal line without ever crossing it.  A stick comes up into a guy’s face and it’s a penalty, but every once in a while – whoopsie!  Human error!!  – no one sees it.  There’s dozens of happenstances in a typical game that make the  diehard fan scratch his or her head in perplexity:  “How was that even REAL??”

And there’s another phenomenon that always baffles me:  how an ENTIRE TEAM can suck at the same time.  It must be bad mojo or something supernatural.  Even though a team has four separate lines and three sets of d‑men, and only five skaters are on the ice at one time, when something goes wrong for one of those lines or D pairs, suddenly it infects ALL the lines and/or ALL the defensemen.  How is that even possible?  I guess it is the case that confidence and positive energy can be contagious among teammates; why not a crisis of confidence and negative juju?

Well, the Rangers need to re-group.  That’s all there is to it.  There were a lot of positive signs tonight, but they have a very big problem (and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it in one or another of my hockey posts):  They don’t have the killer instinct.  They seem unable (or unwilling) to capitalize when they force the other team into mistakes.  Their power play is a prime example of consistently wasted opportunities to make the other team pay.  And they also don’t shoot enough.  How many times have we heard the fans at MSG screaming at the boys to “SHOOOOT!!”, especially with the man advantage?  They’re always looking for the perfect pass, the highlight reel play, when all they really need to do is get the puck on net and send some bodies that way as well.

Simple, right?  But they don’t listen to me shouting through the TV or sending telepathic messages.  Ah, how I wish they would!  It’s like I’m an “eye in the sky” and can see what ails them, but I just can’t get my message through!

Boys!  Rangers!!  I love ya, but you’ve got to SHOOT THE PUCK.  Please.

Sleepwalking into the Playoffs

I am mystified by the New York Rangers.

They had multiple opportunities to put what Coach Alain Vigneault calls the “checkmark” by their name as permanently in possession of a playoff spot, against non-playoff teams Carolina and Buffalo last week, but somehow fell into deep holes in both games from which they were not able to recover, despite turning on the boosters in the latter stages of  each contest.  If this is an indication of the Rangers’ thinking that they can just generate offense at will and score goals in bunches when they let inferior teams (let alone equal or superior teams) get ahead of them, well, I suppose these games have been “wake up” calls (although you wouldn’t have thought they’d need TWO “wake up” calls, but I guess we’re all guilty of pressing the snooze button occasionally).

Fortunately, they finally had some success against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets and the limping Tampa Bay Lightning last night and tonight in back-to-back games, getting the checkmark and solidifying third place, but having blown home ice advantage despite being in second place for much of the season.  In fact, the Tampa game tonight started off perilously like the two games against Carolina and Buffalo, with the Rangers going down by two goals and being thoroughly outplayed and outshot in the first period.  But the boys found their legs, and Henrik kept them in it (as he often does), Derek Stepan has stepped up his game for sure, and Chris Krieder has emerged from the fog he’s been in all season to show some signs of the brilliance his physical gifts allow him, and they managed to put the Lightning to bed.

Unlike their closest competitors, the Penguins and Islanders, the Rangers had been reasonably healthy.  Well, at least to our knowledge – teams have a tendency to hide the bumps and bruises at this time of year; but as long as the boys can still lace up the boots and know which direction to skate in, they’ll be out on the ice for every game – and at least until last night, when our captain and arguably our best defenseman suffered some sort of “upper body injury” (i.e., RIGHT HAND) and is unlikely to be 100% by the time the playoffs begin next week.  And then tonight, in the waning minutes of a 3-2 game, former Ranger and current Bolt Brian Boyle used his behemoth body to shove Dan Girardi into the boards, which resulted in a groggy “G” having to be helped off the ice, looking much the worse for his collision with the boards.  But in general, missing key players due to injuries can’t be the Rangers’ excuse.

My mother used to recite a nursery rhyme to me when I was being a naughty kid:  “There was a little girl who had a little curl/Right in the middle of her forehead/And when she was good, she was very, very good/But when she was bad, she was horrid.”  The 2015-16 New York Rangers are the little girl with the curl.  They’ve put up masterful efforts (beating the Blues and the Stars, two of the Western Conference’s strongest teams, “in their own barns”, as Derek Stepan likes to say), assembling an impressive 26-9-4 home record through 80 games and sending the fans home happy most nights (except, of course, for the one night Darian and I were there and also one game that Darian went to with a friend; in both of those games, as if to spite those of us low-rent fans who can only afford to attend a couple of in-person games a season, the Rangers stunk up the place).

But when they should be revving up to head into the playoffs – the REAL season – as strong as they can be, with confidence, clicking on all cylinders after a season of getting their timing down and familiarizing themselves with one another, they suddenly got LAZY, careless, unwilling to show the killer instinct that teams need at this time of year.  Even King Henrik, usually a dependable stalwart, has looked somewhat disinterested and pissy.

Maybe it’s all a ruse.  After all, these same Rangers, with very few new pieces, have gone deep into the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.  They must have learned some lessons.  They MUST know what they need to do.  So maybe they’re playing a rope-a-dope game with their opponents, pretending to be less-than-stellar so they can surprise the Pens and the Caps, like “Where were THESE Rangers all season long?”  Well, clearly they were saving themselves for the playoffs.  That’s what I’m hoping, anyway, even if it might be a bit delusional.

Check back with me in a couple of weeks to see what kind of mood I’m in where Rangers and playoff hockey is concerned.  It’s so embarrassing to me that the Rangers’ performance has an actual effect on my demeanor and state of mind for the entire day after.  As I’ve said previously [“Hockey:  An Obsession”, 4/21/15 – note that it was around this same time LAST season, when the boys were well on their way to making me suffer on their way to being eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Conference Finals), being so invested in something over which I have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL borders on insanity.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way, and I’ve even infected my child with the same affliction (although she fortunately only has a mild form).

And I must admit, they have looked much better the last two games (or at least for 5 of the 6 periods).  Their special teams are sharper than they’ve been all season, which is a real boon, especially in the playoffs when the teams are more on par with one another and the coaches often engage in chess matches.  An opportunity on the power play – or, alternatively, a huge penalty kill – can make a huge difference in the outcome of a game.

As always, I’m looking forward to the “second season.”  Rangers beat writer Steve Zipay of Newsday quoted Van Morrison lyrics to describe the upcoming playoff season:  “You make it to spring / And there’s no bed of roses / Just more hard work and bad company . . . “ (Steve Zipay, “As always, expectations high for Rangers come playoff time”, Newsday, 4/2/16, http://www.newsday.com/sports/columnists/steve-zipay/as-always-expectations-high-for-rangers-come-playoff-time-1.11646333).  There are sudden death moments and epic one-on-one battles over the course of up to seven straight games against the same opponent.  The NHL playoffs provide some of the most exciting sports action of ANY kind, no matter how the Rangers fare, although of course I’m a believer!  If not now, when?

Hockey Days Are Here Again

The New York Rangers are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL:  They don’t get no respect.  Quick to be torn down when they fall short a few games in a row, their wins are discredited as “lucky” and solely the result of the brilliance of Henrik Lundqvist.  They’re anathema to the analytics community.

Coach Alain Vigneault also doesn’t get his due.  True, the Rangers haven’t won the big prize (yet), but they’ve been about as good as a team could be during the two years of AV’s tenure (and even before) short of earning the Stanley Cup.  Who else has been so consistently close?  Chicago and L.A., pretty much, and we know how their respective campaigns have ended.

But like all teams, despite one of the best starts in team history, they sometimes go through dips.  For the Rangers, their dips can sink to the level of divots due to one simple reason:  THEIR GOAL SCORING DRIES UP.  As well as they play defensively, as well as King Henrik guards his crease, if they’re not scoring, even one goal against will defeat them, and two down is a huge mountain to climb.

I have my theories (and advice, if there were anyone I could actually GIVE it to!!).  For starters, there’s no real sniper on the team; whether slappers, wristers or tips, I swear we must lead the league in shots going wide.  And while Rick Nash and Chris Krieder and J.T. Miller and even Kevin Hayes (although Hayes is more of a playmaker) probably fall into the category of “power forward” and often take up residence in front of the opponent’s net, they don’t do it often enough (fully realizing that it’s not a pleasant place to be and requires a high pain threshold, especially in the cross-check-to-the-ribs area).  The most infuriating thing for me is to see scary-fast, 6’3”, 225-pound Chris Krieder barreling down the wing, with a defenseman helplessly on his heels, and instead of going straight to the net he does this back-pedaling buttonhook thing.  NO, KRIEDS, NO!!  USE YOUR BIG BARRELLING BODY TO GO FORWARD, SON!!

Bottom line:  When you’re collectively, as a team, having a bad game (which is something I’ll never understand – how can all 12 forwards and 6 d-men suck AT THE SAME TIME?), the key is to keep it simple.  Get the puck out of your zone ASAP; get it deep into the other team’s end and make them come 200 feet, through you, to score; and when you manage to get into the offensive zone with numbers, throw everything – pucks and bodies – at the net whenever you get the chance.  It seems really simple, doesn’t it?  Why can’t these guys figure that out?  It’s obvious to ME, and I’m just a dumb girl who never played the game.

It’s taken 20 years, but my daughter Darian is finally a true Ranger – nay, a HOCKEY – fan.  She never misses a home game of the West Virginia University American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division I Mountaineers.  (Admittedly, she has a small crush on one of the back-up goalies but she really does go for the hockey, especially as the crush is going nowhere – stupid hockey boy!)  She’s even taken advantage of bargain student tickets to go to Penguins’ games, strictly to root against them in her Ranger jersey, of course.

I’ve come to relish our back-and-forth texting commentary during Ranger games.  It doesn’t work as well when I’ve DVR’d the game (although that does have the benefit of allowing me to fast-forward through the despised car commercials), and even when we watch in real time she’s always about 40 seconds behind because I watch the games on MSG Network and she gets them via a shared NHL GameCenter package.  As a result, I’ll type my reaction to a great goal, or a save, or a “can you believe that?” moment immediately but I have to wait until I get the icon that she’s typing before I send it.  By now we’ve got it all figured out, but sometimes I get excited and forget and she writes back, “Too soon!”

Very rarely, the Rangers will play a ho-hum contest or, rarer still, a “please let this end” type of game.  I’ve gotten accustomed to those aberrations over the decades of my Ranger fanhood, but after the thoroughly uninspiring 2-1 loss to the lowly Colorado Avalanche last Thursday, Darian experienced one of her first such sentiments.  “I think I need a break from watching,” she texted.  “But you can’t stay away!” I replied.  I know how it is.  Sure enough, we were tuned in and ready to text for the match-up with the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night.  We were rewarded by one of the Rangers’ best efforts of the season, especially in the third period, taking advantage of an Ottawa team that had played something like 6 games in 9 nights, including some overtimers, to give up only three shots on goal.  Power play – two goals.  Penalty kill – 2 for 2.  Henrik only had to make 23 saves, and really none of the breathtaking variety that have been on display so far this season.

It’s especially aggravating to fans actually at the game when they throw up a stinker like that Colorado game, and believe me, I know.  Walking down the internal staircase at MSG after a bad or boring loss, you hear a litany of curse-words or, depending on just how bad a loss it was, sometimes just angry, dejected silence.  It’s particularly tough on young kids just learning to become fans, but it offers an important lesson:  Life is full of disappointed expectations, even when mom or dad has paid upwards of $300 for the privilege.  On any given night there’s a 50/50 chance you’re going to be grumbling down the stairs at MSG.

As part of Darian’s Xmas present this year (and, yes, I confess, an Xmas present for myself as well), I purchased a couple of high balcony seats at Madison Square Garden for the Rangers-Caps game on December 20.  All I have to say is, they had better win!!

* * *

There was a great little Yahoo! Puck Daddy “panel discussion” (on paper) this week about the NHL players of whom the various Puck Daddy pundits were secret, begrudging fans [Greg Wyshynski, “Which NHL player do you begrudgingly admire? (Puck Daddy Roundtable)”, Puck Daddy, 12/3/15, http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/which-nhl-player-do-you-begrudgingly-admire—puck-daddy-roundtable-080239232.html?soc_src=mediacontentstory&soc_trk=ma], which reminded me that I have another “Top Ten” list to share:  My Top Ten Favorite Non-Rangers (in no particular order):

P.K. Subban, Montreal Canadiens:  a jokester and formidable defenseman who sincerely cares for his fans, especially the young ones.

Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators:  graceful and handsome, with a sick flow and a knack for just APPEARING where you least expect him; also a friend of Henrik and Carl Hagelin (see “Former Rangers” category).

Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins:  an impressive talent on offense and defense, a face-off savant and an all-around classy guy.

Joe Thornton, San Jose Sharks:  Jumbo, with his sidekick Slappy (and/or Tomas Hertl), quick with a quip and the master of the tape-to-tape pass.

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals:  how could you NOT love that gap-toothed, bent-nosed, grinning man-beast who enjoys hitting people and has a shot like a rocket?

Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins:  does things normal humans shouldn’t be able to do.  Too bad he plays for the Penguins.  (Not for much longer???)

Tyler Seguin, Dallas Stars:  love his sense of humor and offensive skills; he and his buddy Jamie Benn are making hockey sexy in the Big D.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks:  A leader in the Mark Messier mold, but my absolute favorite thing about Captain Serious is a photo of him on a bus with the Stanley Cup.  (Look it up.)

Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks:  A literal Bigfoot-on-ice, a rare player who can play both offense and defense equally well, with a bomb for a shot.  He also loves animals of all kinds and has a cool personal reptile zoo at his house.

Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames:  The latest in a long line of little men who make people stand up and take notice every time they’ve got the puck.  (We’ve got one of those in Mats “ZOOOOOOK!” Zuccarello.)  He also looks like he’s about 12 years old.

Honorable Mention, Former Rangers Category:

Brandon Prust (now with the Vancouver Canucks and recently fined for poking Bruin Brad Marchand in the pouch, to the delight of so many anti-fans that they’ve started an online fund-raising campaign to help Prust pay the fine); Carl Hagelin (now gracing the Anaheim Ducks with his flowing locks and blazing speed); Ryan Callahan (always “Captain Cally” to me); and, of course, the ageless one, Jaromir Jagr (now grandfathering the kids in tax-free Florida).

Am I Ready for Some Football?

I used to love football as much as I love hockey. It was another “dad” thing, watching the New York Giants with him in the late ‘60s and 1970s, when the Giants weren’t very good. I’d always need a back up team to root for when the playoffs started.  At different times, it was the Chiefs, the Vikings, even the Cowboys, I reluctantly admit. I mean, they WERE “America’s Team” for a reason, after all. They were a largely likeable lot, with Coach Tom Landry in his fedora and classy ex-Navy QB Roger Staubach and the smooth Tony Dorsett – even Bob Hayes, at one time the fastest man on earth. It was tough not to root for those guys even though they were the Giants’ direct rivals. They only became obnoxious when Jerry Jones became the owner and Jimmy Johnson, with his lacquered helmet of hair, became the coach, and don’t get me started on Tony Romo, one of the few professional athletes whose misfortunes (of which there are many, often self-inflicted) I relish.

In college I graduated from keeping stats for the JV football team – a role which I lobbied for with my freshman advisor, Trinity College’s beloved swimming and JV football coach, Chet McPhee – to working with the “big club”, although the largely clueless head coach Don Miller never quite understood what I was doing hanging around. On the other hand, lovable curmudgeon and unanimously feared equipment manager (and my dear mentor) Frank Marchese fully understood that the only reason I was there was because I wanted to be part of the team. He respected my motives and took me under his wing, which led to my being his proxy equipment caretaker for all the away games. I thoroughly enjoyed two-a-days in August, just me and the players on campus, tooling around in the golf cart, positioning the tackling dummies, filling up and delivering the water bucket and then gathering the discarded paper cups that inevitably missed the trash can, focusing my attention on a different group – the DBs and their tip drills, the linemen pounding the sleds – every day. During the season, down in the trenches, I thrived on getting filthy, spat and bled on, although I knew enough to get out of the way when a large tangle of bodies would come my way. I also kept statistics and was the guardian of the kicking tees (which I had to run on the field to retrieve) and the footballs – both game balls and practice balls, the latter of which were far more vulnerable. The guys always thought they could get one over on me and walk off with a souvenir, but I was as aggressive about reclaiming those footballs as I’ve been about anything in my life, before or since. They were Frank’s footballs, and they had to be protected!

In the years after college, though, there was something about football that changed for me, lessened my enjoyment of it, that didn’t have a parallel with hockey. For a while, I blamed my ex-husband’s violent scissor-throwing fanaticism for turning me off to a game I had previously loved so passionately. But there were clearly other factors at play.

Even before the stomach-turning video of Ray Rice punching and dragging his wife (for which there is NO excuse) and Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charges (for which there may have been an excuse, but the episode was still a harsh reminder of the violence that always underlies the game, even for a charming and seemingly stand-up guy like Adrian Peterson), I think the incident that made me re-think what football is doing to the young men who play it for a living was the 2012 murder-suicide of Jovan Belcher. It was not lost on me that the shooting took place in the parking lot of the team facility, in the figurative shadows of the goalposts. There’s seemingly only the wrong kind of support for football players from their teams and the league, from the time they’re in the pee wee leagues until they’re multi-millionaires, with ready women and drugs and, worst of all, guns. Plaxico Burress, a local hero after winning the Super Bowl with the Giants, shot himself in the leg with a gun in a nightclub. What a completely idiotic move, the death knell of what promised to be an amazing career. But who was there to tell this man that bringing a gun into a club is NEVER a smart move, let alone to carry it in such a way that you could risk shooting your own damn self by accident?

The other thing I have come to hate about football are the injuries. It seems like every play ends with a player limping or being helped off the field. The Giants in particular have lost an insane number of man-games to injury over the past few years and, probably not coincidentally, they haven’t made the playoffs, either. But those visible injuries – even those involving the dreaded cart coming on to the field – pale in comparison to the ongoing tragedy of chronic traumatic encepholapathy (CTE).

Not surprisingly, CTE was originally detected in boxers. There was a short time in my life when I enjoyed boxing, probably climaxing with the 1984 Olympics, when the U.S. boxing team won gold in nine weight classes (plus a silver and a bronze), but extending to the early careers of people like Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar de la Hoya, who somehow retained their gorgeous faces despite the barbarity of their profession. But I can’t bring myself to watch boxing now, or even the more edgy MMA (despite the impressive pulchritude of Ronda Rousey), because I find myself cringing with every landed punch.

A few years ago, a writer named Jeanne Marie Laskas wrote a powerful piece in GQ [“Game Brain” GQ (Sept. 14, 2009), http://www.gq.com/story/nfl-players-brain-dementia-study-memory-concussions%5D describing the work of a Pittsburgh doctor named Bennet Omalu to solve the mystery of why ex-footballers like popular Steeler Mike Webster and others (and later many more, including household names Dave Duerson and Junior Seau) literally lost their minds, often ending their lives in some form of suicide (whether it was officially called that or not). What he found in all of their brains was CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by multiple concussions. (CTE has likewise been discovered in the brains of hockey players who had also died horribly young, whether at their own hands or otherwise, like Bob Probert and Derek Boogard, who also happened to be fighters who had a tendency to get frequently punched in the head.) So fascinating is Dr. Omalu’s story – as well as the utter rejection and denial he and his findings have suffered at the hands of the NFL – that it has been made into a movie called “Concussion”, due out in December, starring Will Smith. (The trailer looks fantastic.)

As far as I’m concerned, the only conclusion to be drawn is this: The constant head battering of football players – both in spite of and because of their state-of-the-art protective gear (and perhaps, it has been surmised, in combination with performance-enhancing steroids) – from the time they’re ten years old till the sport has taken its final toll on their still-young but preternaturally aged bodies, is giving them all irreparable brain damage.

Author Steve Almond has eloquently captured the reasons for my failing love affair with football in his recent interview with Ramon Ramirez [“Why You Should Quit Watching Football,” THE KERNEL (Aug. 30, 2015), http://kernelmag.dailydot.com/issue-sections/features-issue-sections/14165/case-against-football-steve-almond%5D: “It is insanely beautiful. It is balladic. It is the miracle of the body at play. It is Barry Sanders absolutely making a shatteringly beautiful move and breaking free in the open. It is your team rising up and wining against great odds. It’s the strategic density of the game. It’s the primal oomph of seeing a really good hit laid on the other team’s quarterback. . . . But if you’re gonna have that, then you also have to realize it is this other thing, too – this insanely greedy, cynical industry. It is absolutely sanitizing and normalizing violence and misogyny. It’s making you see the world through a really distorted racial lens. And it’s valuing people under very limited conditions and causing you to suppress your empathy all the time.” Almond has also written a book called Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto [Melville House, 2014]. Full disclosure – I have not read it yet but I definitely plan to, because it promises to address a lot of my concerns.

Almond actually gave up watching his beloved Oakland Raiders cold turkey. I don’t know that I am ready to completely stop watching football (although I may be after reading his book). Whereas just a few years ago, I would immerse myself in football every Sunday, from ESPN’s Chris Berman-led panel show Sunday NFL Countdown, to the early game on CBS and the late game (usually involving the Giants) on FOX, then of course (especially if the Giants won) the 11 p.m. local news highlights, followed by the Sports Extra – it was pigskin, pigskin, pigskin, all day long – now I can barely sit and watch an entire Giant game, kickoff to 0:00, especially if the running game is going nowhere and then Eli throws a bunch of needless interceptions. I’m almost tempted to scream at the TV, “BORING!!”

Much like with my mixed feelings for hockey (see my blog post “Hockey: An Obsession”, April 21, 2015), there are still things I enjoy about football, although I certainly have no interest in the fantasy aspect, which I believe has become a bigger driver in football viewership these days than any pure love of the game. But I may be able to content myself with having it on in the background on autumn Sunday afternoons and just watching the four or five big plays from each game on a continuous replay loop and be satisfied with that.

Fandom

The highlight of my week (as you might imagine if you’ve been reading this blog) was the Rangers’ comeback from being down three games to one in the NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals to tie it up and force a Game 7 at MSG. More on that in a moment, and also a few words about my favorite TV show, Game of Thrones (spoiler alert!).

But first, I want to express my gratitude to all the fantastic folks from my past and my present who have said nice things about my blog posts, here on the WordPress site and also on Facebook. The kind words encourage me to continue and build my confidence, so beware! More posts will be forthcoming! I may never stop!

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It was a roller coaster of a week for Ranger fans. On Wednesday, I was devastated when they lost Game 4.  The Rangers were doing everything they needed to do to win – if they could have just managed to score a goal. But that, of course, is the only thing that matters.

I also didn’t think what the Caps were doing was sustainable. A team can’t withstand an assault like that indefinitely. I wanted to feel excited and optimistic, but I didn’t enjoy Game 4, not one bit. The Blueshirts blew too many opportunities, including a Carl Hagelin penalty shot. I wrote in my journal: “They’re done. I hate when this happens, and it happens every year. You would have to mark this down as a major disappointment. A year with such promise goes down with a whimper because the Rangers are goal-challenged.” (Geez, Nan, lighten up!)

True, they came up against a hot goalie, but this is not an isolated problem. Blown opportunities have been their curse all year – yes, even in this charmed and wonderful regular season, when they were literally better than every other team in the league and were actually third in the league in goals-per-game, averaging 3.02.  (I often wondered during the season if pizza magnate Papa John was regretting his promotion of 50% off a pizza the day after the Rangers scored three goals, having probably reasoned, based on past performance, “The Rangers NEVER score more than three goals! It’s a safe bet!”) I’m no expert, but there seems to be a certain logic that they miss, and I can’t explain why, despite my years of watching and appreciating and analyzing hockey games. Isn’t it a foregone conclusion that moving forward with the puck (whether carrying it or passing it), and getting pucks and bodies to the net, while simplistic, is the best strategy for scoring goals, especially when you’re having major difficulty doing just that?  I can understand occasionally taking that extra second to change the angle of a shot or make a drop pass for a misdirection play, which actually paid off for them – twice – in Game 5 but which normally makes me NUTS. But it just seems like simple physics: You push the puck in the direction you want it to go. Back passes at the offensive blue line can only lead to trouble – the opposition is already a third of the way down the ice in the opposite direction and you’re all facing the wrong way!

“I’m not ready for them to be finished,” I wrote in my journal after Game 4, “but there’s nothing I can do about it.” I was dreading having to say something on this week’s blog post about how they had dashed my dreams yet again. Only once, in all the years I’ve been a fan, had they not broken my heart, and some years it’s more painful than others. This would be a particularly painful year because the expectations were so high – perhaps too high. We expected them to win every game during the season, and they didn’t disappoint, especially down the stretch. So it made sense to expect them to win every series and end up with the Cup and a parade up the Canyon of Heroes. After the Game 4 loss, I was so sure that we would have to wait till next year, and that it was more likely than not that they won’t be as good as they are this season. Very doom and gloom.  I had practically resigned myself to rooting for Tampa Bay and all the ex-Rangers as my “back-up” favorite team for the remainder of the playoffs.

Fast forward to today (officially, Tuesday, 5/12, as I write this), and my perspective has shifted 180 degrees. I’m writing this blog post before Wednesday’s Game 7 but at this point I’m ecstatic that there is a Game 7. First it was the miraculous ending to Game 5, with Krieder and McDonagh scoring on similar shots on pinpoint set-ups by Derek Stepan to first tie the game and then win in OT. In Sunday’s Game 6, I was reminded of Mother’s Day last year, right after the unexpected death of Martin St. Louis’ mother France. St. Louis actually played in Game 5 of that series, which the Rangers momentously won, reversing their fortunes in a difficult match-up with the Pittsburgh Penguins, ultimately coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series. But his most special moment happened in the sixth game, which took place on Mother’s Day. Marty got an important goal that day – it wasn’t the winner, but it was vital to keeping the Rangers alive – and I believe the spirit of France St. Louis was bestowing blessings on her boy this past Sunday, because he had a beautiful assist on Rick Nash’s goal to put the Rangers up 3-1.  Again, it wasn’t the game winner, but it was impactful and necessary all the same, just as Marty’s goal had been in last year’s Mother’s Day game. And so here we are, with two days to recuperate for an epic Game 7. The anticipation is killing me!

(A word, if I might, about Pierre Maguire: I would love there to be just one game on the NBC Network where I didn’t have to listen to his whiny voice and the endless superlatives and biographical minutiae. He says such ridiculous things! He’s become such a joke in the industry that I don’t even think his broadcast partners listen to him anymore. The other day, he called Kevin Hayes a “man-child” when I am sure he did not mean to call him that, seeing as how Hayes was demonstrating some decidedly manly prowess on a series of shifts in the third period of Game 5. And Mike “Doc” Emrick is nearly as irritating. He’s so impressed with himself and his vocabulary and his ability to make up his own words. Can one “shillelagh” a puck? I didn’t even realize “shillelagh” could be used as a verb. Last night, he said the Rangers were leading going into the second period on “two Kriederian goals”. In this instance, he used a noun (a proper name, actually) as an adjective. Oh-ho-ho, isn’t Doc Emrick clever? No, he’s merely annoying.)

Fans have no clue how disappointing it must feel to be a player on the losing side of a difficult series, especially when there are high expectations. There’s a certain absurdity to the way fans get so invested in the fates of their favorite teams. I confess I am one of those fans. But it’s not something I do consciously; my responses are instinctive and visceral. My physical and emotional reactions to what happens in Ranger games are almost entirely involuntary. Last night I noticed my heart beating harder and faster in that last nine minutes. And it’s not just me. My daughter said she couldn’t sit down for the entire third period, and there was a great post today by Greg Wyshynski on Yahoo!’s Puck Daddy blog about a guy who used his Apple Watch to monitor his heart rate during Game 6. (See “Fan tracks heart rate during Rangers/Capitals Game 6 via Apple Watch”). Al Trautwig from MSG said, in the intro to the Game 6 post-game show, “If you’re still alive, tweet me.” And did I notice a little more gray in AV’s hair on the bench last night?

Despite the “guarantee” from Ovechkin (what was he supposed to say? That they WEREN’T going to win?), I am feeling more confident than I’ve felt since Game 2 of this series. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. It’s a happy time in Rangerstown – well, a relieved and happy time – and hopefully we’ll get to stay here a few weeks longer.

But enough about hockey. This week I want to say a few things about Game of Thrones.

While It is a cultural phenomenon of colossal proportions, I don’t know how many of my friends love it as much as I do (just like I’m not sure who of my friends likes British comedian/artist/surrealist Noel Fielding – I have tickets for his June 9 performance in NYC, by the way, if there’s a fellow fan out there interested in joining me!). My ex-husband is a devotee of the show, but he doesn’t always fully appreciate the nuance – he prefers action, which is usually in plentiful supply on GOT, but some episodes are more devoted to development. (Generally speaking, the man has little or no patience.)  There are also myriad blogs and articles written about it, which I know because I spend a great deal of time reading the recaps and analyses in the days after the week’s episode has ended far too soon.  (I’ve previously lauded Andy Greenwald’s weekly column on the Grantland website as a prime example.) Adding my two cents to the mix is certainly pissing in the river; I am sure nothing I have to say is contributing anything unique to the discourse. But hey! I have a blog now! And I’ve permitted myself to write about whatever I want. So this week I’ll share my thoughts about this season’s GOT, now that we’re halfway through season number 5. At the risk of alienating non-GOT fans, I just wanted to express my appreciation for the genius writing, pacing and staging the show features week after week.

A caveat: If you are not a GOT viewer, much of the following will have no meaning for you. But my hope is that my unbridled enthusiasm for what I believe to be a viewing experience unlike any I have ever seen in my lifetime will inspire at least someone to watch it.

Man, what a good show this is. I read an interview with Adam Horovitz (ex of the Beastie Boys) in last month’s Interview Magazine (“Q&Andy”, April 2015) where he said it makes him nervous when his favorite show (in his case, The Walking Dead) “is about to be over and I know that I won’t be able to see it again for an entire week.” That’s how I feel about GOT. (It’s exponentially worse at the end of the season!)  The characterizations are so rich and deep and disturbing; its scenarios run the gamut from the breathtakingly gorgeous to the stomach turningly hideous; and it all fits together into this amazingly complex puzzle. You’re so anxious to see how it ends, and yet you want it to take its time getting there so you can savor every moment.

At least one time during nearly every weekly broadcast, I must cry, and then I must be awed by some otherworldly landscape or CGI or special effects expertise, and finally, the hair on my arms has to stand up, whether due to something creepy, shocking or perfect. In the April 26 episode [Ep. 43, “High Sparrow”], the scene where Brienne of Tarth is describing to her squire Pod why she was so loyal to dear, departed Renly Baratheon literally brought tears to my eyes. (The actor who played Renly, Gethin Anthony, is now going to be Charlie Manson in a new mini-series, “Aquarius”, which I may watch just to see him, although it also features David Duchovny, who I actively dislike as an actor, although I’m sure he is a pleasant enough man in real life.) And then, like a bloody, dripping cherry on top, Brienne ends her moving speech by coolly stating that she’s going to kill the King. In the same episode, I marveled at the special effect that made it looks as if Jon Snow was really cutting off Janos Slynt’s head (I could swear I saw the head twitch just before the sword came down), and how do they actually know what it would look like if a head was forcibly and swiftly detached from a person’s body courtesy of a blade of cold Valyrian steel? Then there were Arya’s scenes with the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar, whose gaze alone sometimes gives me chills.

(An aside: I was glad to see on one of the many GOT blog posts – I wish I could remember which one so I could give it a shout-out – that there are others who find the Faceless Man attractive. In fact, when I read 50 Shades of Gray [which I am sort of embarrassed to admit and which I am in no way promoting because it was a horribly written load of crap, but props to E.L. James, who is now a clue on Jeopardy, if not a household name, and a millionaire because she had the cojones to get her stuff out there, which I admire and envy, so good on ya, E.L.], I was actually picturing Jaqen H’ghar as Christian Gray — the GOT character, not the actor, Tom Wlaschiha, who was somehow less Christian Gray-like when I found some photos of him out of his Jaqen gear.)

Episode 44 (“Sons of the Harpy”) had a similar set of scenes that stuck with me. The weepy moment? Stannis telling his deformed daughter Shereen that she is “Princess Shereen of the House Baratheon, and my daughter”, inspiring a big two-handed hug from her and a begrudging but heartfelt one from him in return. The special effects scene? Jaime Lannister literally catching a sword in his metal hand with a “clank”. And the moment that gave me chills? Melisandre telling Jon Snow, after he’s rejected her sexual advances, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” How did she know to say that?? Creepy, seeing as it was what his dead Wildling lover Ygritte would say to Jon on a regular basis.

This week (Ep. 45, “Kill the Boy”), there wasn’t an actual crying moment (although Grey Worm’s profession of love for Missandei came close), but the attack of the stonemen while Tyrion and Ser Jorah were boating through the haunting ruins of Valyria was pretty intense and had me holding my breath, and Ser Jorah’s reveal in the show’s final shot may have been predictable but it was still disturbing.  Another great thing about GOT is that, not only do they kill off the heroes and favorites (RIP, Renly Baratheon and Oberyn Martell, not to mention the elder Starks), they also kill off the bad guys (burn in Hell, King Joffrey and Tywin Lannister). Boy, do I hope they kill off Ramsay Bolton in the most horrific way possible. It’s fascinating when actors become so associated with their characters that you can’t imagine them playing anyone else. I hope Ramsay doesn’t ruin Iwan Rheon, because he’s very good at playing very bad!

Thank you all for indulging my fandom this week. Next week, whether the Rangers advance or not, I expect my post will be a little less “hockey-centric”. But after all, it is that magical time of year, when the boys of winter play on the edge of summer.

Hockey: An Obsession

I have quite a few obsessions. In recent years (probably since I started working as a lawyer), I’ve become borderline obsessive-compulsive about many things in my life. My journals, for instance: I cannot explain why I am so picky when it comes to (a) my handwriting and (b) my writing implement vis-à-vis my handwriting. No one will ever see my journals! No one (with the possible exception of my daughter) will be reading my quirky longhand with calligraphic flair (depending on how juicy my pen was) except as a curio, and that’s certainly putting the cart before the horse! (“Someday, when I’m famous . . . “)

But that’s just one of my minor and more personal obsessions. In honor of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs getting underway last week, I’d like to say a few words about the very public obsession I have with professional ice hockey generally and New York Rangers hockey specifically. It’s been this way for years but has gotten especially intense in the past decade, when the team has actually been consistently good (not coincidentally dove-tailing with King Henrik Lundqvist’s tenure). Throughout my 40-plus years of fandom, there have been many fallow years as well, and certainly there will be again in my lifetime. Such is the cyclical nature of professional sports teams, by design. Every city needs to have its turn at vicarious glory.

But the fact that I love hockey as much as I do is a bit incongruous. There are a lot of deep flaws in the game of hockey, things that trouble me as a liberal-minded woman.

(As an aside: I confess, despite years of denying it, that I am a feminist. My argument was always that I am a humanist: All people, regardless of gender, should be treated with equal respect, at least until they prove themselves to be unworthy. Females shouldn’t be favored so as to compensate for patriarchal relegation of women to the second-tier of humanity for millennia, much like affirmative action for minorities. [As an aside to this aside: I happen to be reading Volume 1 of Marilyn French’s From Eve to Dawn: A History of Women in the World (2002), which I picked up at the public library because the cover looked cool. It’s actually a fascinating read.]  But now I’m in firm agreement with comedian Aziz Ansari, who recently said on Late Night with David Letterman that “I feel like if you do believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re a feminist, you have to say yes, because that is how words work.”

At Trinity College I was fully immersed in sports, both as the co-editor of the Trinity Tripod sports section (with my good friend, Worcester (Mass.) Pulse Magazine’s Best Radio DJ of the Year, Nick Noble) and as the manager of the men’s football, hockey and lacrosse teams. There was no women’s hockey team at Trinity at the time (there certainly is now, and the men’s team won its first NCAA Championship this year – Go Bants!) but it wouldn’t have mattered because I deemed women’s sports to be an inferior product despite having played field hockey and volleyball in high school. I realize now that Title IX funding for girls to play scholastic sports is vitally important, but at the time I didn’t see the need: Women’s sports just weren’t worthy of special consideration, especially when men’s sports were the big-money (relatively speaking) draw. Times have changed and I have certainly evolved in my thinking, including my feelings about women’s sports. I’ve been reading every article I can get my hands on about the nascent National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), and if I can figure out how, who knows? It might actually be the opportunity I’ve been waiting for all my life to get in on the ground floor of hockey as a profession so I can finally live my hockey dream.)

Hockey celebrates so many things about men that are considered stereotypically – and negatively – male. (Really, all that’s missing are the firearms.) Homophobia and misogyny are rampant in the filthy on-ice chirping as players exchange emasculating insults likening the opponent to women and gay men. While there have been recent admirable efforts to make the lads more aware of what they’re actually saying when they throw those terms around, decades of “boys will be boys” and only being conscious of “watching your language” in “mixed company” will be difficult to overcome, especially because that type of talk is an effective bullying tool. Then there’s the near-constant physical violence, with big sticks as weapons and literal hand-to-hand combat, especially in front of the goaltender and along the boards. Then, when two (or more) of those combatants have had their fill of pushing and shoving and getting hit with big sticks, they just flat out start punching each other in the head. By all accounts, the culture of fighting is being phased out of the game. Perhaps it is a tad barbaric, and a lot of people (myself included) think the fisticuffs – especially of the “staged” variety among players whose sole role on the team is to intimidate and punch people, ostensibly in the name of “protection” of their more skilled teammates and self-policing against the punks – ultimately detract from the pure beauty of the game, but as the broad appeal of boxing and MMA and even professional wrestling demonstrate, there’s definitely a market for watching men (and women) pummel one another.

It’s insane! Why should I like hockey so much? Not to mention that it’s uniformly disgusting: The retch-inducing stink of a hockey locker room, the rancid cheese of game-worn jerseys and cesspool pads and gloves and helmets, all the snot and loogies and blood are seriously gross.

And yet – and yet – I love hockey. I can’t get enough of it. It is poetry on ice. The speed and grace, the sheer athleticism of the players – the way they glide forward and backward and stickhandle and shoot with pinpoint accuracy, all at literally breakneck speeds – is unparalleled in professional sports.

Hockey has drama and unpredictability – every night there’s a new story. Who will be the hero? Will it be the grizzled veteran or the young buck turning the corner on his learning curve? Can a team make up a huge deficit? Will it be a back-and-forth affair? And the speed of it makes it so much more immediate. Uniquely among professional sports, there’s non-stop action in 20-minute chunks with only an occasional whistle and commercial break. Contrast that to football, with 30-second rest periods interspersed between 5-second plays, or basketball, with its time outs and out-of-bounds, sometimes making the last minute of a close game seem to go on for half hour, and the less said about slow-ass baseball, the better, where an entire day-long game can potentially have no action whatsoever!  Soccer’s too spread out, and while some people are constantly running, others just stand around until the ball comes near them.

And when a goal is scored in hockey, there’s no peacocking end-zone dances, just hugs and unadulterated joy, shared with your teammates! As a fan, there’s no way to stay quiet in your seat when your team scores a goal. It’s physically impossible. Watching games, I often feeling my heart racing, and I even find myself holding my breath during tense moments. Hockey affects me viscerally.

The toughness of hockey players is undeniable, and it appeals to the opposite sex while also being the source of envy and admiration to their fellow males. But frequent injuries also leave horrifying scars – seen and unseen, when you take into consideration the recent focus on head injuries, even reaching the litigation stage to try to force the league to do something about protecting the noggins of men who’d rather not think about such things. If a hockey player has no visible battle wounds, he’s not really a hockey player. It used to be missing teeth, but while dental procedures and protection have improved over the years, you can’t avoid the scars, even with the best plastic surgeons. When you wear razors on your feet and wave spears around, big ugly Frankenstein-type stitches are inevitable.

Off the ice, though, the players come off like real people, just the “boys next door” they clearly are.  Members of the championship team typically bring the Stanley Cup to their home town when they have it for their “Day with the Cup”.  There’s actually a kid who lives two doors down from me who played hockey at UNH and is currently in the Philadelphia Flyers farm system.  While I understand that he’s got some skills, I think he’s too small for hockey at the NHL level so this may be the end of the road for his pro career and he’ll be forced to get a “real job”, which raises another thing about hockey that bothers me, although, again, there are those in positions of influence who are trying to address it. I watched a video the other day called “It’s Not Just About Hockey”, an effort inspired by the suicide of a junior hockey player in Canada to address the situation where kids get so wrapped up in their pro hockey dreams that it destroys them when, as it must, the dream inevitably ends. Hockey players get extremely emotional on the ice, but most of them display a remarkable stoicism off it – almost to a fault, because it means they don’t talk about things like depression and what happens when the only thing that has given their young lives meaning is taken away from them. This has had tragic consequences in recent years.

To the point of parody, hockey players give almost rote responses to reporters’ questions after games, so as to never be rude or criticize the coach or your teammates or even your opponent, although it is kind of fun when they break that mold and say or do something unexpected. (Hockey players are unabashed jokesters, although, as you might imagine, their senses of humor are usually tinged with meanness to test how thick your skin is.)  Hockey players seem not to develop the big heads of other professional athletes (although there are few creatures on this earth as cocky as a college hockey player). Words like “lunch bucket” and “blue collar” get tossed around when describing hockey players, even though they make six- and seven-figure salaries for as long as they can stay bodily intact enough to remain in the league (which is only in rare instances more than ten years). And of course there’s the ubiquitous charity work that they all do, in most instances without fanfare.

For all its dichotomy, my hockey obsession has been the one constant in my life, from the time I was seven, watching Ranger games with my father (of course). And like any long-term committed relationship, I have loved the game of hockey despite its flaws, because it satisfies something deep inside me that can’t be explained.  It’s just the way it is.