Anyone But Boston…Seriously:
Well another hockey season has come to a close. There is nothing like the NHL playoffs. Watching the players leave everything they have on the ice, and attempt to garner victory, by will alone, is as thrilling today as when I was kid. I don’t scream as much as when I was a kid …but only marginally so.
I still remember going to Minnesota North Star games at the Met Center when my parents had season tickets. I was still a young child then, and to this day I am still not sure I made it through a single game without falling asleep. Leaning against my dad, I would simply crash right in the midst of the game. Can you imagine what it was like to be jolted awake by the roar of a crowd after a goal?!! You sit bolt upright and try to figure out why everyone is screaming, then try to figure out where you are… completely disorienting! Never fall asleep while AT a hockey game. It can be traumatic!
The Met Center is no longer there, and the North Stars have moved to Dallas. As if the Cowboys were not a good enough reason to dislike Dallas! But I treasure those memories. When you are a kid, there is something inescapably exciting and joyful about attending a pro hockey game with your dad. It embodies all the uncomplicated promise of youth and reminds us why we pretend to be pro’s when we’re out there playing pond hockey. For me, the community rinks of Minneapolis and Toronto were places of wonder and dreams.
When the Met Center was demolished, there were many that spoke to save this old landmark. And while I completely understood the emotional attachment, and equally understood that efficiencies could be better achieved by new buildings, that’s not the strongest argument for it’s demolition. That honor goes to it’s appearance! That building was UGLY. Architecturally, it was a complete disaster. Sure it may have functioned fine …but jeez, just LOOK at it! you had to feel like you were heading into Joliet for 5 to 10 with time off for good behavior!
The Cultural Bond:
Hockey is important in Minnesota. A lot of us grow up playing that sport. Also prevalent are baseball and to a lesser extent football and basketball. Especially in the rural areas, hockey remains a prime element linking far-flung communities. It would provide a place for people to gather, socialize with their neighbors- both close and far.
When I moved to Canada, I learned just how important this cultural bond can be. Ken Dryden (Hall of Fame goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens, former team president for the Toronto Maple Leafs, lawyer, Officer of the Order of Canada, Member of Parliament, and Cabinet Minister) in his excellent book “Home Game” describes this very same role hockey plays in Canada. He pointed out how important it was to provide a social network for people, most notably in Western Canada, living in small towns separated by hundreds of miles, with nothing but vast stretches of farmland between. He described the cultural fabric of the country as akin to being a tapestry woven on the loom of hockey. Experiencing such a vital element of how people relate, hockey can’t help but get into your blood. It becomes something which means much more than just a sport.
St. Louis Blues, 2018-2019 Stanley Cup Champions:
I have to admit to a great sense of relief when St. Louis won the cup. The Blues just won their first cup since coming to the league in the late 60’s. That is a long time to go without a championship and I believe it is a great thing for the sport of hockey. Particularly for a city located in the middle of the country. Coasties have won enough cups lately…they have had their turn. So I am gratified with the Blues great effort and wish them the heartiest of congratulations!
Unless I miss my guess, no player on the St. Louis Blues has won a Stanley Cup before. That’s also great for the sport and the players! Many great players have spent their entire careers in search of a cup and never obtained it. Jerome Iginla comes to mind. I sincerely hope Big Jerome finds a cup someday as part of the management team for a contender.
There are many amazing stories of perseverance on the Blues, and some incredible personal stories from the players. All of which are widely reported on and I will leave that to the hockey media. But I will note that as of the halfway point of the season, the Blues were dead last in the league. They rallied to claw their way into the playoffs and beat some highly skilled teams to capture this championship. It is a great testament to the parity in the league and to the power of will. While not a team anyone picked to accomplish this, they clearly demonstrated they are deserving of all accolades bestowed upon a champion.
An 82 game season is followed by a playoffs that feature several rounds of best-of-seven series. By the time you reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, if you are a fan, you have watched 82 games and clung to the edge of your seat for round after round of the playoffs. The players all have long beards …the fatigue shows on their faces. Especially the grim veterans…like the aging Zdeno Chara. I actually feel for the guy. You could see the stiffness and pain when he took the ice. That first moment when he steps on the ice surface, you can see the thoughts going through his head. “Ugh …here we go again, another long night. This is gonna hurt.” The guy is playing with a broken jaw and still suited up. I tell ya what, that’s impressive.
Guys like Chara wouldn’t have it any other way. They strap on their gear and go out to play “the beautiful game”, knowing that regardless of the toll it takes, they are the fortunate few. The fatigue even reaches the fans as they fervently pour out emotion watching their chosen team contend for hockey’s biggest prize. If you’re a fan like me, you far exceed 82 games a year. I probably watch somewhere around 130 games a year. I find Toronto and Montreal is some of the most exciting hockey to watch. And as much as I have been a die-hard Montreal fan, I find Toronto has turned into an eminently likable team with people like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner providing nightly fireworks. I also have a strong loyalty to Minnesota, of course, but will be the first to note the product being put on the ice is plagued with problems.
Mired in Minnesota:
Let’s start with the name …The Minnesota Wild. Love that they are the home team, but still don’t get the name. I still ask “the wild …what?” …the Wild Mosquitos? The Wild Loons? The Wild Moose? No …none of that. It’s just …The Wild. It’s not an adjective in their view, but a proper noun. It’s like they hired Jack London to name the team. I still think they could have done better here. Like …the Minnesota Mosquitos, Minnesota Road Construction Workers, Minnesota Millfoils or …The Minnesota Lakers. I know, I know …”LA has taken the Lakers”. Hey I have news for you, coasties…they were The Minneapolis Lakers before they moved to LA! Does California even have a sizable number of lakes? WE have 10,000 …so get bent, California!
Beyond the name, Minnesota has a problem of picking up every Minnesota born player at the end of his career, paying him WAY too much on WAY too long of a contract and hoping they can field a quality product with these aging stars. Until they stop trading their best prospects for these low-return, short term players, the product will remain substandard and Minnesota will be relegated to the bottom of the division consistently. Even Montreal, which totally self-destructed and is rebuilding, put together a quality product that performed well for much of the season. Minnesota needs to ask some hard questions about what they are trying to accomplish and establish a positive direction if they ever intend to improve.
A Global View:
Only about 900 guys get to do this for a living at the NHL level. Of that 900, about half of them are Canadian. The old joke goes that hockey players are Canada’s number 1 export product. About 25% are from the US, and the rest are Russian, Swedes, Finns, Slovaks and the remainder trickle in from around Europe and the globe. So hockey is a true global endeavor, and while there is no doubt that the NHL is the top professional league, one can see quality hockey played in leagues around the world.
Of all there is to offer in this global melting pot, I want to single out my own heritage and tap the two Norwegian players in the league. Mats Zuccarello and Andreas Martinsen. You know, these guys have to be especially grateful. Think about it …the alternative is probably working on a fishing boat. So your choice is playing hockey, getting paid a great salary, legions of adoring fans, being a prime source of national pride …or handling cod and halibut most days. Not much of a choice, in my opinion. Granted that most people don’t ever get good enough to make it a profession, it’s still funny to think of these athletes working on a fishing boat.
As a curious side note, the vast majority of the Norwegian commercial fishing fleet are small boats owned by about 20% of the total fishermen the industry employs. The remainder serve as crew on these boats and are paid by the centuries-old tradition of being a given a share of the gross revenue of the boat. I find that completely enchanting and love that it is a continuation of the tradition of the seas. Go Norway, Go!
The Boston Bruins:
The Blues opponent in the Stanley Cup was the Boston Bruins. Let’s get this out of the way immediately. I do not like the Bruins. Never have. Never will. In fact, I despise the cretins. Knowing this, my good friend of many years, Mike Sommers reminded me of an excellent – if somewhat crude – article written by Hamilton Nolan. Mr. Nolan wrote an article so succinctly summarizing my feelings about Boston, and in particular, the Bruins, that I feel compelled to share it here with you. Thanks Mike! I provide the link to Mr. Nolan’s article below.
I loved that article as the base humor for which it was intended. Seriously, deeply, loved it. It had me snickering with child-like delight the whole way through. So many times I have seen Boston garner accolades it doesn’t deserve and benefit from an undeserved reputation as a hockey powerhouse. So I entirely identify with the barely controlled rage in this article. In fact, the article was written back when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series …and it clearly was an explosive outburst and venting for Mr. Nolan. It was just the thing to make me smile and remember that paybacks are hell.
Not What Everyone Expected:
Everyone I talked to thought Boston would win game 7. Just one more game in front of their own fans, in their own building – they felt they held all the cards! The thinking was that home ice advantage – for Boston, in particular, would guarantee them the cup. Everyone anticipated their rough and tumble style would carry the day. After losing game 6, most thought St. Louis would fold and put in a half-hearted effort. They did not. And Boston’s overconfidence was readily apparent right from the pre-game even. That overconfidence was their undoing and I have to admit it was marvelous to behold. I thought it could simply not get any sweeter …but then it did!
At a point late in the second period, Boston was putting on pressure. They were on a mission to score. Everyone on both sides was giving it everything they had. The pace was frenetic and I was on the edge of my seat. What happened is what you would expect when everyone on the ice is going full-tilt …there were a few collisions.
When large men are skating hard, at great speed and on the edge of control, occasionally they collide out of sheer happenstance. Often that is referred to as a “hockey play”. But the Boston fans were screaming bloody murder over every single one one of these …and desperate for the referees to call a penalty. No call was forthcoming which led to a stadium-wide chant of “bullshit” breaking out.
Ah, the Irony…
This delicious bit of irony tasted sweeter than even a late harvest Riesling wine. Why is it ironic, you ask? Because here is Boston …a team that recruits the majority of its talent from the nation’s penitentiary system…who, at any given time, has 3 players wearing ankle monitors, and are known for their low-brow and low class play… And their fans are howling about another team taking liberties!
I love it…dearly, sweetly, entirely love it. I know some of my friends that are Boston fans are bereft and probably angry with this article. While they are marvelous people, I take a great deal of delight in figuratively pointing to the scoreboard and grinning. One word, Boston people ….”scoreboard.”