Hockey: Soccer with Sticks?

I attended my very first hockey game last night – at the San Jose Shark Tank amid of sea of teal. I have never seen a hockey game before. Mostly, because it is not baseball.

For one of our very first dates, Jon and I got good seats to a baseball game. We sat through it in an almost reverent silence – there was no chatting/get to know you banter. Game was on!

Conversation was about the pitch count and whether or not the set-up reliever was going to throw a changeup on a 2-1 count. Sitting in front of us was another couple in the early phases of a dating relationship. She was clearly uninterested and asked a continuing stream of silly questions while fidgeting about for nine innings straight.

I had no intention of being “that fan.” I mean, I may not know anything about hockey, but I like to think myself capable of being a well-behaved sports enthusiast. Give me some credit. Also I work with some very devoted hockey fans who took it upon themselves to lecture me on proper fandom etiquette and game details – complete with diagramed graphical representations.

So, I entered the arena in neutral colors, sat back, and took in the athletic energy surrounding the frozen playing field.

Digital displays of rainbow and teal Christmas lights blinked on the LED screens surrounding the crowd. Teal Santa hats dotted the crowd as they bopped along to the Christmas carols echoing across the rink.

Suddenly the lights dimmed, the crowd quieted and a score from the TransSiberian Orchestra began booming. A giant grey and teal shark head with demonic red glowing eyes lowered onto the ice.

The arena exploded. To thunderous applause (no pun intended in relation to the opposing Tampa Bay Lightening team) the San Jose Sharks burst onto the ice, circling and skating in a ritualistic warm-up. After a moment, I noticed the Lightening players had slunk onto the scene virtually unnoticed.

We all stood for the national anthem, but just as the songstress raised the mic, the entire crowd shouted, “Hey Tampa! You suck!” Noted. Then the puck dropped.

I blinked and a player was down – skidding across ice on his backside, taking out a couple opponents along the way. I heard a smack, the buzzer – and the crowd goes wild! GOAL!

Five minutes into the game and the score was 2-0. Strike that. Six minutes in and it was 3-0.

You know, hockey uses a puck – not a ball – well, a flattened sphere if you will. But given the amount of time the golden snitch puck spent spinning on its side, a ball may actually make the game easier in terms of dribbling (is that what you call it when you manipulate the puck down the playing field?) and passing. Who knew?

This is not a leisurely game. It was lightening fast (haha). Ten men on the ice flying back and forth, crashing into one another (a lot). Hip checks. Body checks. And quite a few head checks. But nobody seemed to care.

There was no flopping and wailing for the magic spray bottle (which I’m still not convinced isn’t water – MLS, I’m looking at you). I’m pretty sure a player could have broken his nose, required 13 stitches and still rushed back out onto the ice with the next shift change.

Every now and then the soundtrack from Jaws would sound and the crowd would make odd arm movements eerily reminiscent to a seated Thriller rendition. By the third period I’d figured out they were mimicking a chomping motion when someone got sent to the penalty box. (See Search, don’t bite – or draw blood from high sticking.)

At 13:49 in the first period I thought there was a brief fight after the fourth goal. A shark crashed up against the glass and appeared to break his fall by snapping his head and neck against the wall. In baseball, this would have been a fight, as there was shoving and dirty looks.

But I have since been informed that in hockey, they take their fights seriously. Gloves off. Square off. Punches thrown. Blood spilled. So, no. I did not witness a fight.

With five minutes left in the first period, Destroy Couture scored his second goal of the game to make it 5-0. The newsman told me this was the fastest the Sharks ever scored so many goals. Lookitme witnessing history (there is a record for everything in sports). Clearly I am good luck.

Also, Destroy is a great name for a superstar.

The fast pace draws you in. By the second period I could see a Lightening player get slammed – and without knowing the intricacies of what play just went down, I was pretty sure he deserved it. The vibe of the crowd told me so.

Every now and then I could feel the cool breeze sending a chill off the ice. (But don’t worry, I remembered not to lean forward in my seat. Hockey fans get VERY cranky about this.) Then a particularly powerful shot on goal shattered the glass just off center behind the goal (directly in line with my seat) and we all stood up anyway.

With six minutes left in the game, the Sharks scored their seventh point. TOUCHDOWN!

My friend quickly reminded me this wasn’t football. And soccer doesn’t use sticks. Turns out, it’s hard not to appreciate a good game – in any sport – when you’ve got the thrill of the crowd around you.

Final score: 7-2. I’d watch another game.

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3 Responses to Hockey: Soccer with Sticks?

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