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This May will mark the second anniversary of my having lived in New York: the city that never sleeps, the Big Apple, the Center of the Universe, whatever you want to call it. I moved up to Manhattan shortly after I graduated from college in the south, wary of pickpockets on every corner and rats in every subway. Luckily, my fears have yet to materialize (knock on wood), and I have been able to get on with my life much the same as I did before I moved up north.
During my first year here, I watched the Yankees and the Mets putter along during the summer, and then enjoyed cheering on Peyton Manning until his horrible loss in the Super Bowl. Shortly after the Super Bowl, I met my girlfriend one lovely evening in traditional New York fashion – no, not Tinder – at a bar. A native New Yorker, my girlfriend introduced me to many secrets of the city: best bagels, best pizza, best Italian restaurant, etc. But what I never expected is that after a couple months in her company, I would become a hockey fan.
Before I moved to the wild, liberal north, hockey tended to be more of a punchline and less of a legitimate sport, at least in my mind. Growing up a couple hundred miles from the nearest NHL team, my only exposure to the sport was the Miracle on Ice, The Mighty Ducks, and watching USA Men’s Hockey every four years in the Winter Olympics. It was the low-hanging fruit when making fun of Canada: “The only things Canada has to offer are moose, maple syrup, and hockey.” (I still stand by this.) But many evenings on which I had planned on taking my new love interest out for a romantic candle-lit dinner (yeah, right), she insisted we stay in and watch her favorite sports team: the New York Rangers. Who am I to turn down watching pro sports in favor of an expensive dinner? After watching several regular season games throughout March and April, I was hooked, and began avidly following the Rangers during their deep playoff run and ultimate loss in the Stanley Cup Finals.
During the first few games, I was still getting the hang of the rules. While in undergrad, I tried dating a foreign girl and became utterly exasperated when trying to explain to her the rules of football and baseball. Never again, I told myself. While I pick up on rules quickly myself, I can still imagine how annoying I must have been pestering my girlfriend with questions about the game: “What does icing mean? When are they going to fight again? Can you explain offsides to me one more time? Why is Sidney Crosby such a little bitch?” The list goes on. But after a few games, I was hooked – kind of like my first time on the craps table, just with slightly more fighting.
If you ask me why I love the sport so much now, I could go on for a good ten or fifteen minutes. Granted, that’s much shorter than the average Canadian could go on about why they love hockey, but I digress.
Now, I’m not one of those guys that think hockey players are the only real athletes and everyone else is a bunch of pussies. NBA players make a rational choice to rest their bodies during certain games because of the fact there are so many games in the season, so I won’t knock them for that, even though I do think the NBA has too many divas. What I will say, though, is that hockey is an incredibly physical game and no sport I’ve watched can consistently match the sheer intensity of your average regular season matchup, let alone the third period of a do-or-die playoff game.
In addition to the toughness required to play the sport, there is the issue of sheer technical skill required to play high-level hockey. This winter, I took my girlfriend to Bryant Park for a night on the skating rink. As you would expect, I absolutely ate my shit when I ventured out beyond the safety of the railing, right in front of a large group of spectators that all yelled “OHHHH” in unison. Yeah, it hurt.
I’m in awe of the minimum level of skill required to skate proficiently on the ice, let alone while trying to hit a rubber disk with a long wooden stick when 230-pound behemoths are trying to flatten you against the glass. To top it all off, I really appreciate the fact that most NHL players seem to be genuinely good guys and go out of their way to make sure they show their appreciation for their fans (Sidney “Mumps” Crosby excluded). This fact has been well-documented elsewhere, so feel free to browse YouTube for videos of hockey players being nice and stuff.
Tonight is the first game of the playoff matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers, and I will be joining the ranks of the Rangers Faithful in cheering on the Blueshirts against Sidney “Flops” Crosby and the mediocre Penguins. I’m thankful that I came to New York at the right time to see the Rangers during a couple excellent years, and can’t wait until I’m rich enough to buy season tickets, because nothing compares to live hockey games. If you’ve never given hockey a shot before, I highly recommend it. You won’t be disappointed. .