You should be watching this. You really should. “This” being the NCAA hockey tournament. Basketball? Pshaw. Whatever. The real game is college hockey. This is playing with heart. This is playing for the love of the game. How many college basketball players have damn near guaranteed careers and jillions of dollars in the NBA once they decide to leave school? A bunch, that’s for damn sure. How many college hockey players have a lucrative future in the NHL waiting for them? What’s the NHL? Exactly.
College hockey is a fantastic sport. One you should be watching. Granted, it’s easier for me to get hyped up about it because I’m New Hampshire born and bred and though I didn’t attend UNH myself, my dad did and I spent the first 18 years of my life ten minutes down the road from the Durham campus. I come from a hockey family. It’s a great game. I know, I know, none of y’all care. But seriously, this rocks.
At the moment, UNH is deadlocked with the University of Denver in a 2-2 tie, five minutes into the third period. It’s been a good game. But there are a number of reasons why college hockey is so great to watch.
Penalty shots. This almost never happens in the NHL but damned if it doesn’t make for a more exciting game. Forward Daniel Winnik got tripped on a break away during the second period and the refs immediately called for a penalty shot. Ignoring for a second that a penalty shot seems somewhat unfair in that the goalie has to defend the sins of his players who created the penalty in the first place, there’s so much drama inherent in a penalty shot. Goalie vs. shooter. Offense vs. defense. Two players alone. No distractions. It is excellentness. Also, UNH scored a goal. Which was great.
Barry Melrose’s mullet. This is hockey hair at its best. Seriously, Melrose, a mainstay of NHL announcing but, as it goes, most assuredly out of work this season, has taken to announcing some college games. He’s got the quintessential Canadian/hockey fan accent and the entire effect is compounded to an infinite degree when the camera cuts to the booth during a lull in the action and we, the fortunate viewer, get to gaze on the wonder that is Barry Melrose’s hockey hair and his penchant for flashy, brightly colored suits. It’s as if Deion Sanders bred with a family of Nascar fans. It’s awesome.
The Golden Gophers. The Golden Frickin’ Gophers. Of Minnesota, natch. Tell me that is not the coolest mascot name ever to grace the ice rinks of this great land of ours. Assuming your team – if you have one – has either already been eliminated or never made the tournament in the first place (or you’re all, “Hockey? Isn’t that the sport in that movie with the Jamaicans in the Olympics?”), how can you not root for a team called the Golden Gophers? It’s so delightfully absurd. Truth be told, whenever I hear someone mention this team, I am always bombarded with images of that golden idol that Indiana Jones tried to steal in Raiders. Except on skates. And with sticks. That, my friends, is the coolest image ever. And if you can’t root for a team called the Golden Gophers, clearly you are a Communist.
Ghetto cable feed. Pro hockey is obviously not the most popular game around and college hockey is like its bastard little brother that everyone tolerates but no one pays a particular lot of attention to. Well, no one but my family apparently, but still. Nevertheless, we get the feed on CN8 and its, well, “poor” would be being kind. Every few minutes, a line of text appears in the middle of the screen, reading something like “C? andfrh aen? $$$ aedn #####@@!! Dafg dcaCA!” This can usually be removed by changing the channel for a split second and then flipping back. But what the hell is going on? I’ve come to the conclusion that either the closed captioning people have thrown their hands up in frustration at some of this impossible to spell hockey names and have just given up completely and decided to generate text by banging their heads against the keyboards, the same closed captioning people are afflicted with some sort of bizarre Tourettes that manifests itself through their typing or they’ve decided that a grand total of four people are watching this damn game anyway so no one will notice if they do some routine maintenance and it fucks with the feed. Although, as I type that, Denver scores a goal to go up 3-2 late in the third and the screen went fluky again. So maybe the closed captioning people are actually Wildcat fans. Hmmmm…
Heart. As established, these players don’t have piles of money and hookers waiting for them once they make it to the pros. If they make it to the pros. If there even are pros. They play for the love of the game. They play for pride and for heart. For their teammates and their schools. They play for themselves and to make their families proud. In the case of North Dakota or New Hampshire, they probably play because there isn’t a whole lot else for them to do. And hockey players are fantastic athletes. They have to be. They move constantly, on offense and defense. “But what about the goalies? They don’t even move.” No, wrong. Goalies may well be the best athletes on the ice. Have you ever seen some of those slinky-for-a-spine positions some of those goalies contort themselves into while trying to make a butterfly save? Amazing. There are quite a few hockey goalies who could give yoga instructors a run for their money.
My brother. My little bro, in his position as Bauer/Nike intern was put in charge of making sure all the appropriately silk-screened pucks made it to the NCAA tournament. He had to jump through hoops and fix lots of other people’s mistakes but he’s a super star and all the pucks got where they needed to be. Good thing too. Otherwise, presumably this tournament would be played with a sweat sock wrapped in black electrical tape.
Bah! Denver has just scored an empty net goal to put them up 4-2 with 22.2 seconds left in the game and effectively squashed UNH’s dreams of continuing on to the Frozen Four. Soooo…GO GOLDEN GOPHERS!