I grew up in a family where this phrase could really only refer to 8 hours spent in frigid temperatures on a bucket or chair (if you were lucky) where the only ‘ting’ you could do to pass the time between subtle movements of your fishing pole, was drink. This is to say I did not grow up in a hockey family. Therefore I must fully admit that of the major sports in the US, I know the least about the NHL. In fact in preparation for writing this I had to look up how many games are in an NHL season (it’s 82 by the way). But I still feel compelled to write about some of the random observations I have given the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals last night where the down-the-road Chicago Blackhawks won their third title in six years. Not being a longtime fan I do not feel as though I could intelligently analyze the game play or officiating as I normally do, but there are plenty of things to observe. In no particular order:
The Stanley Cup is probably the coolest trophy in all of sports. No matter what sport or activity you grew up participating in, you likely wanted to be good at it. And if you wanted to be good at it, you want to be recognized for how good you were. Accomplishing things is fun, fulfilling and a foundational drive of what makes this country great. As such, I think there is a general affinity and even reverence to the major sporting trophies. You have the Lombardi in the NFL, the Green Jacket of the Masters and O’Brien Trophy of the NBA to name a few. For me, the design or look of the actual trophy is a big part of the cool factor but even more for me is the prestige with which it is treated. Of all of those named and not named, ‘The Cup’ gets more rock start treatment than any. It has its own guards (with ear pieces no less so you KNOW they’re for real) that carry it with white gloves and on red carpet. They track and promote its progress in its journey to the wining stadium. They play heroic or opulent theme music when it is brought out to its new winners. They etch the name of every member of the wining team on the trophy and it is there forever. Well, at least until they remove that ring to make room for more future winners. It is the original trophy that the winner receives. They don’t build one ever year, they just pick the old one up from the previous year’s winner and hand it off to this year’s winner. But the coolest thing of all about Lord Stanley’s Cup is its design and physical size allows a beaten, sweaty victorious warrior to grab it at the top and bottom and hoist it on its side above his head. None of the other trophies have that exact proportion. And none of the others should.
Wisconsinites fall into three categories: Those that love the Blackhawks because they are the closest NHL team, those that don’t really care about the NHL at all but will watch the playoffs showing a casual interest in the team geographically closest and those that don’t care about hockey at all since we don’t have a team of our own. There are exceptions to every rule, but those are the three types of people I have run into the most. For me I really don’t stop the channel on an NHL game until the playoffs and then, I don’t really care who wins because I haven’t been following them for months. As mentioned before, there are 82 games in an NHL season that lasts from October until May. When you add in the preseason and playoffs, that is almost 10 months of hockey! People always give the NBA a tough time for spacing out their playoff’s to extend the amount of time they are in front of us, but the NHL is just as bad in that sense.
We probably could support an NHL franchise. Though I believe there are a lot of people like me that currently do not follow the NHL close enough to have ‘a team’, I do think the Wisconsin/Milwaukee market could probably support one. Many people will point to the lack-luster adoration for our current AHL team, the Admirals. But I think that is explained away pretty easily. It’s not the ‘big boy’ team. Feeder-league teams are usually embraced by their local communities and that is about it. Only when it is the top tear league franchise does it draw in an entire state to fandom. When is the last time you checked in on the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Single A affiliate of our own Milwaukee Brewers)? Probably not recently and they are in our own state. This could also be another check mark in the ‘Pro’ column for a new downtown stadium as another large tenant could help pay for it, occupy it and stimulate the downtown area with more people. And lastly, if it could be competitive right away, an I-90 rivalry with an ‘Original Six’ dynasty would be a very cool thing to be a part of.
There are a lot of traditions in hockey, and they are all pretty cool. I am learning the traditions as we go, but the ones I saw last night after the Blackhawks win were all genuine, heartfelt and caring. The captain of the team accepting the trophy on behalf of his teammates is a great thing. Then the captain passes it off to an honored teammate. Last night Jonathan Toews passed the cup off to Kimmo Timonen, a 40 year old defenseman who had never won a cup and had announced that this would be his last season. There is an honor among the men who spend so much time working on the individual skills for the betterment of a unit that seems to be a notch or two higher in hockey than in other sports. This can also be seen in the way the teams interacted after the game. The entire Blackhawks bench cleared as they celebrated the win on the ice. The Thunder team waited quietly, patiently and without outburst until Toews moved toward center ice where each man shock hands with every member of the opposition. How many hand-shake story-lines have you heard from other sports from how they happened or didn’t happen at all? For a sport most think of the violence spurred by a general dislike for the person on the other team to show such respect for one another after the competition is over is something every sport should strive for.