10 Things only players understand
By William Stephen Cross
Ever get tired of explaining hockey to your mom, your friends, your girlfriend, boyfriend, your wife? (Husbands may just understand a little better because they probably played a team sport or two.) There are things in life that no one else is ever going to get. And some things are simply better left unexplained. Because explaining them only makes them sound even goofier. But here’s my feeble attempt.
10. GETTING UP TO PLAY AT 6 AM
Parents who hear about my waking up my son for 6 a.m. games look at me like I’ve just announced my intentions of running for emperor of Siam. Why is it I’ll get up before dawn on Sunday, but I can’t seem to answer the alarm clock Monday through Friday? Why is it I can’t get my son out of bed for school, but he’s instantly awake when I whisper in his ear “it’s time to play hockey,” grinning like a two-time lottery winner. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that “whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Of course, Nietzsche ended up as crazy as a goalie who has taken too many shots to the melon, tied up in a straight jacket inside an insane asylum.
9. PLAYING AFTER MIDNIGHT
Friday nights are date night, yet the rink’s always full for the “Friday Night Classic:” 90 minutes of open hockey for $15. Who in their right mind would do such a thing? Did you hear there’s some ice Tuesdays at 11 p.m.? And what about Thursdays after the high school practices? And Sunday at 5:30 a.m.?
8. $100 FOR TAPE
“I know, it sounds like a lot of money, but the clear tape for wrapping shin pads is $3 a roll in the store, and World Athletic Tapes Limited in New Hampshire has the same tape for $1.67 if you order a half case. Then there’s the white cloth tape that’s $3 a roll for taping my skates. And the red tape I wrap around the stick handle, that was only $1.45, or the black friction tape for $1.80 ($1.69 if you order a whole case). So it would’ve been crazy not to buy the tape in bulk, right? Honey?”
7. $450 FOR NIKE SKATES
Didn’t you just buy those Bauer 5000s? Didn’t you say they fit like a glove? The Bauers are almost $100 cheaper. Who in their right mind would pay that much for skates? Why would anyone want the same equipment Sergei Federov uses? Nobody. The same nobodies who don’t wear the identical brand of goalie pads as Patrick Roy or use the same stick as Brett Hull. It won’t sell, so you wonder why the sporting goods companies would even try it?
6. NEVER WASHING YOUR GEAR
Guys who spend freely to buy aftershave and cologne will leave their hockey gear in the bag between games, and never, ever wash it. The odor can be detected by flies at 10,000 yards, and usually not even the barbs of teammates will persuade the offender to clean up his act (one really nice guy on one of my teams got tagged “Stinky”). What’s the deal here? Is this there some protective quality to the odor, as if pucks would bounce off the smell? Does it distract goalies the way having a 250 pound winger in front of them does? If it will distract him enough to miss that fluttering shot from the blue line, then I’ll never wash my gear again.
5. TAPE — AGAIN!
I was coming back from a trip to Canada and the customs agent asked if I had anything to declare. “Just some tape,” I replied nonchalantly. “Tape?” he asked. “Would you please open your bag.” So I did, and there were 25 rolls of clear hockey tape. The pro shop in Guelph had ordered too much and they were less than $2 a roll, so I stocked up. “Why so much tape?” the customs agent asked. “I play hockey, I use it to tape my socks.” He just looked at me, then waved for me to pack up and go without saying a word.
4. HOCKEY CAMP
It’s summer, the weather’s warm, the beach full of pretty bodies in brief attire. So where are the hockey players? In damp rinks reeking of mildew, enduring butterfly drills that have nothing to do with that most exquisite creature, doubling over in pain and oxygen-deprivation, and in general, unable to get enough. Of course, some fathers can go too far. There was one who smiled approvingly when he asked his son what was fun at camp that day and the exhausted, dejected boy answered “nothing.” And then, there are the other fathers who’re at hockey camp, too, skating ‘til they puke.
A friend’s kid is playing in two house leagues and for his private school’s junior varsity. When his mom worried that was too much hockey, the boy smiled and told her “I LOVE hockey. 24-7, Mom.” Most people who hear “24-7” think it’s a score (“Ron Hextall must’ve been in goal for the losing team”). Hockey people know what the boy means (OK, “24 hours a day, seven days a week” for you civilians reading this article). Of course, he’s a teenager. For kids under 12, any parent who lets them play organized hockey more than four days a week ought to have their license taken away. Pond hockey’s another matter, or backyard pick-up games . . . .
2. NOT WEARING FACE PROTECTION
Kind of like not wearing a seat belt so you can be “thrown clear” from the accident (thrown clear, all right— clear into intensive care). Only a hockey player would value seeing the puck better over keeping his teeth. Dentures aren’t the only danger; two years ago a puck hit me in the orbit, the bone that surrounds the eye. No permanent damage done, thanks to $5,000 paid to that plastic surgeon. Paid on the installment plan, just like a car (I call the scar my Porsche).
1. A GREAT GAME
I’m talking the kind of game where you don’t see the puck until it’s already in the net, where a the game ends 2-1, where the off-sides rule is too complicated, where the color commentators (because they’re Canadian) speak with an accent only dogs and NASA deep space listening devices can understand, and where the players fight.
Give me a break from the knocks civilians hand our sport: Who reading this doesn’t understand the off-sides rule (you want complicated? Try soccer’s off-side rule), is turned off by the fighting (you want to see fighting? Things are positively peaceful nowdays. I remember the Broad Street Bullies when Bob Clarke was Bobby Clarke, one of the dirtiest players in the game— as well as one of the most successful), or likes games with scores borrowed from baseball (“the Red Wings won last night’s game with the Dallas Stars when winger Sergei Federov launched an Ed Belfour 0-2 fastball over the fence with two men on in the bottom of the ninth for a final score of 8-7”)? Now, if we could just get rid of some of those Canadian color men. . . .
This first appeared in the 02/1998 issue of Hockey Player Magazine®