For a continent that claims to have four major sports, it is blatantly obvious that the average American knows and cares significantly less about hockey than the other three. Tiger Woods epitomized this ambivalence in 2008 when he was asked who he thought would win the Stanley Cup that year between the Penguins and Red Wings. Tiger replied in an arrogant tone, “I don’t really care. … I don’t think anyone really watches hockey anymore.” Tiger’s comment, of course, was factually incorrect, as hockey’s popularity in the United States has been on the rise for the past decade. But there are still too many people who don’t know the first thing about the sport. The following is a guide for those who may be more familiar with “popular” sports like golf. Hopefully Tiger learns a thing or two.
“How many quarters are there?”
It’s amazing how one can put a simple concept like fractions in a sports context and suddenly make it seem like multivariable calculus. Hockey — or “ice hockey” for all you roller skaters out there — is comprised of three 20-minute periods, separated by 17-minute intermissions. It’s interesting to note that in the NHL, in contrast to the NFL, half of that time is not spent standing around, deciding what to do on the next play. This speed means that decision-making and intelligence are crucial.
“Which team is which?”
This is a familiar question to any sports fan with a significant other who claims to follow sports but has never watched a game of hockey. Unlike in basketball or baseball, hockey games feature the home team in darker jerseys — football can’t seem to decide which side to choose — which is lucky, because the “sea of white” gets old when it’s featured in every single arena.
“Did I miss a fight?”
There is nothing that irks a hockey fan as much as the notion of fighting as the only exciting aspect of the game. It is true that players are allowed to fight in hockey — each player receives a five-minute penalty as a result — but it is seen as a tool used to swing momentum in a game, much like a big hit in football or a stolen base in baseball. Asking why players aren’t fighting with three minutes left in a tied hockey game is like asking why there are no alley-oop attempts in the final minutes of an NBA contest: The game is about winning, not about satisfying a caveman-like urge for violence.
“Where did all the players go?”
Here’s one you don’t often hear in football, unless it’s in reference to the Patriots’ defense. Hockey is a sport of constant maximum effort; there is no huddle or two-minute warning, no jogging up the court following a basket and no … who are we kidding? Baseball players stand in one place the whole game. In hockey, a sport played with three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie on the ice at a time, players change — often in the middle of a play — every 30-40 seconds, on average. As a result, teams will often dump the puck (that cylindrical rubber thing that you can barely see on TV) deep into the other team’s defensive zone to switch players “on the fly.”
This particular question can be applied to any situation, but considering that it’s often asked when nothing particularly special is happening, it makes me wonder how anybody can be so confused when hockey has so many similarities to other sports. For example, like in most sports, the object of hockey is to score goals, Boston is far too good, Donald Fehr is attempting to destroy the league and teams from Minnesota and Carolina are involved only to give the big market teams surefire wins. Hockey is, however, unique in many other respects. In the NHL, rampant steroid use has yet to be uncovered, and the highlights don’t involve the interchangeable SportsCenter commentators’ choosing eight random jumpers and a dunk or two from a game before telling us who won. I’m sure Colts fans would be consoled to know that hockey also happens to be missing one of its biggest stars, although nobody is speculating that Sidney Crosby might end up with the Winnipeg Jets. Finally, hockey is historically a very physical sport, and even skilled players have a hard time succeeding without a certain amount of toughness. Players ride the bench for shying away from contact, and flinching like Mark Sanchez would be grounds for the waiver wire.
Arik Parnass is a freshman in the College. CANDID CANADIAN appears every Tuesday.