With the NHL playoffs in full swing it’s hard not to think about Blues, Blackhawks and Blueshirts, oh my!
But sometimes it feels like Canada’s favorite pastime should be ours as well. I know I wrote about it before and devoted an entire blog to it but I just can’t help but keep thinking about it. Skating around on the ice and feeling the thrill of a vulcanized rubber puck going back and forth on a fiberglass stick (or carbon fiber – although purists still use wood) is still such a thrill. I find it so hard to believe that anyone who feels that thrill wouldn’t want to get out there and do it again. Even after they fall again and again like I do.
It’s so different and so hard to describe. The feeling of skating and playing hockey while learning the different skills that you must acquire is tough too. Knowing how to play the puck against the boards has to be one of the most challenging plays in any sport. You watch the guys in the NHL battle against the side of the rink and it might be one of the most natural plays in a hockey game because they make it look so easy.
Attacking team dumps the puck into the zone, chases it, the defense gathers it and the attacker pins their counterpart against the board trying to kick, dislodge, steal, poke or outright skate away with the puck for a pass or shot.
That little scrum against the board between two guys can happen so quick. The attacker can pin the defender then poke it free. Or the defender can stick his body in the way and wheel himself away and pass the puck out of danger.
Sometimes you can see the puck get “frozen” by a couple of skates. Then the cavalry comes along. Another defender comes to try to poke it along. Or another attacker will join the fray. Someone will swing a stick. A player’s elbow may come up to try to create some space. These are the places where a. penalties can occur and b. you start to see players get frustrated and tired.
You don’t realize how tiring it is for those guys (and women) who try to dig that puck out of the corners.
It’s so blue collar and it’s a worker mentality. It reminds me of the Steam and Whistle brewery in Toronto. Taking the tour this past October they said they were trying to come up with a name that made you think of something good. Something that was rewarding. For me, something like the Steam and Whistle is a blue collar brewery. It’s all about the worker from inside the plant to the name of the beer giving you the impression that you are getting off shift, toot!
As you know, we love football – but for the touchdowns. The wide receivers. The primadonnas. We focus on the quarterbacks. The running backs. We never look at the linemen. The dirty work. Cameras follow the “skill” guys. Guys in the trenches that do the tough stuff and break themselves see little reward. The skill guys get the glory.
The celebration of hockey in America is the goals, the saves and the speed. It’s not the work of the muckers. The third line centers who spend their days icing themselves down so they can go out that night to dig the puck out that night and make a back hand give-and-go pass to a speedy winger. The guys who don’t show up on the scoresheet but contribute in ways that the video guy and coach sees.
These are the guys that many people see and stop watching because say the game is boring. But to me, these are the “heart and soul” guys. These are the tough guys. The intensity guys. The guys that have to bring everything every night. With the talent level, pace, skill and strength of players you have to have players who can jump in and give something extra on one, two or three shifts. Winning that “extra puck” on that shift may be the difference between a win or a loss. The puck is a fickle creature.
Jeremy Rupke, Coach Jeremy to most, runs his own site about hockey, Howtohockey.com. He provides really useful tips for those of us who want to know more about the sport. He just put up a set of videos from Bobby Ryan, the Ottawa Senators forward, that shows him battling it out with a couple of beer league players in different drills for a $100. One of those is a board drill where Ryan has the puck and “dares” the guy to get the puck off of Ryan’s stick. Ryan initiates a hip check to set the tone and down goes the beer league guy. For the next minute or so, Ryan can do nothing wrong. Ryan dances with the puck and beer league guy wears himself out. It takes a lot to try to go back and forth while moving your stick. You just don’t realize it until you get out there and try to do it. It’s amazing to see someone like Bobby Ryan against a normal human being, I imagine he’d only crush a guy like me.
We like to think we can get out there and play with top notch athletes but seeing things like this and going through skills training is reinforcement of the fact that they are elite athletes for a reason. NHL players are top athletes for many reasons, not just because they can skate but because they are strong. Think about the fact that at 6 foot 2 207 pounds Bobby Ryan might be quite the man but going against a guy like Zdeno Chara who is 6 foot 9 250 pounds, he’s going to get run over. Then think about you or I going on the ice against Chara. We’re going to pay a price ourselves. It’s an interesting question, how do you hit something that’s 6 foot 9 when you are 5 foot 10? How do you pin that guy against the boards? With a bulldozer?