It’s getting late and I have a paper to write, but I’m taking an important break. I’ll be up very late tonight writing, but I don’t care, I’m still elated after what I just witnessed. That’s right, my beloved Colorado Avalanche beating the Dallas Stars 5-4 in overtime to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Quarter Finals back to Denver as a seven seed.
With just under five minutes gone by in the first overtime period, Bill Guerin of the Stars ripped a slap shot past Avs goalie Jose Theodore that rang off the goalpost. The Avs turned around and charged the other end with the puck. Milan Hejduk ended up behind the net and passed it up to Jean-Michael Liles who threw a shot on net that was tipped in by Joe Sakic for the win in sudden death. It was pure beauty.
This kind of end-to-end action has characterized the new NHL all year. And you most likely haven’t been watching. As some know, the NHL didn’t play last year, they were in a lockout. I won’t get into that period of time because it is a painful reminder of hockeyless times, and it will take a really, really long time to explain what happened and I’m sure most of you don’t care. After the financial dispute between the league and the players union was FINALLY resolved, the NHL changed several rules to make the game more fast-paced, goal heavy, and more action-packed.
The red line, or the center line of the ice was eliminated from ruling thus allowing the rule of the two-line pass. Before the puck could not be passed over two lines, that resulted in a stoppage of play. Now, the puck can be passed almost the length of the ice without stoppage, resulting in more breakaways and scoring. Another important change was the reduction in size of goalie pads, which were mammoth before the lockout. Goalies now have a harder time stopping shots which allows for higher scoring games and a lot more action. Goalies also can no longer handle the puck behind the net, which will allow the opposing team to create more scoring opportunities. Penalties were assessed more strictly, making the game fairer throughout it’s duration. Also, fighting is more strictly penalized and fined, which may not be good news for some, but it makes the game more family friendly. But by far the most important rule change was…
The shootout. The NHL decided to scrap the idea of games ending in a tie and installed the regulation that after a game ends in a tie after an overtime period, the game goes to a shootout where each team gets five chances to have their best skaters go one-on-one with the other team’s goalie. It is a new level of excitement. Here’s a little taste of what you’ve probably not been watching.
I know, hockey was very easy to ignore this past season. It was never that highly rated on ESPN, and now guess where it’s regularly broadcast? The Outdoor Life Network, or OLN, channel 68 on your local basic cable. Also, I’m pretty sure not that many people knew hockey was even going on, I would often try to talk about hockey and people would say, “Oh I thought the league folded.” No, it didn’t.
Hockey has become America’s forgotten sport, but it doesn’t mean it can’t come back. No matter how popular it is, I will always love hockey. It is a combination of sports in a way. It has the hitting of football, the precision it takes to play baseball, and the athleticism of hockey players rivals basketball players. I really think it’s worth tuning into just for a few minutes even if you don’t know anything about hockey.
Sure, Milwaukee doesn’t have a team, but maybe just try watching these playoffs for entertainment. Or pick a team, how about the semi-nearby Detroit Red Wings, also the best team in the NHL. The nearby Wisconsin Badger hockey team just won a national championship, maybe you should root for them.
The playoffs are miles above the regular season with drama and excitement that is unmatched. Tune into a game and you’ll see what I mean. The fans really do a good job of taking intensity to another level. Just wait for the Stanley Cup Finals. You can catch games basically all evening on OLN, and on the weekends, they’re on NBC.
I know sports fans have given up on hockey, but maybe you should give it another try. After all, you could really like it, and then maybe everyone would see hockey the way I and many other fans see it.