Watching Hockey from Afar

Those who follow the HHHS twitter will likely know that I, Jonesy, the maintainer of our twitter account, have somewhat drifted away from actively watching hockey over the last couple of years. There are a few reasons for this: the cost of subscribing to streaming services; a decrease in available free time; a growing disillusionment with the culture surrounding the sport. But every year, no matter how little attention I’ve paid to the season, I end up paying attention to the playoffs and the Cup final in particular.

There are a few other events that will catch me: the Olympics, the Winter Classic, Hall of Fame announcements (though perhaps with Paul Kariya in and my soul at rest, that one will change). It isn’t that I no longer like the sport. There are two sports I watch with actual active interest and they are figure skating and hockey. If a hockey game is on, I’ll watch it. It just no longer builds a cornerstone of my life as it once did.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, trying to decide if it’s an issue of flighty interests or something else. Hockey came into my life at a pretty crucial moment of change; I had just graduated college, I was unemployed and aimless, with no real sense of what I wanted to do with my life. It also happened to be the lockout year, which was unfortunate, but did give me something to focus my energy on. And when the NHL came back, I was there, ready to fill my empty hours.

Since then, I’ve gotten another degree, moved cities twice, and now have a job that I enjoy. I don’t need hockey the way I did. But it’s comforting to know it’s there to go back to, even when I’m filled with disappointment and disillusionment at the way the league, the community, and the players handle issues of racial inequality, violence against women, and queer pride.

Last night, I turned on the TV just before the Cup was handed to Alex Ovechkin (having been occupied during the actual game). It was the excitement in his face, the joyful screams, the overjoyed embraces, that reminded me what I found so fulfilling about watching hockey. Sports in general can give a great catharsis, and it turns out that I am still invested in these players and their stories, that I still wanted to see Ovechkin hold the Cup in his hands after so many years of disappointment.

I don’t know what the future holds for me and hockey. I do actually own a television now (the first time in my adulthood this has been true) and I have been thinking I’ll get a NHL subscription for the new season. The fact is that, for every disappointment the larger culture can give me, there is still a magic to the sport for me. I will still tune in every Final to see that moment when they spill over the boards and onto the ice, tears of joy in their eyes. To hear the crowd boo Gary Bettman (good job Vegas). To see the first scream of excitement at lifting the Cup, the many confused babies plopped inside it, and the moment when Pierre McGuire asks a first-time winner, “How did it feel?” and hear them say, “It was heavy.” It’s still magical. I hope that never changes.

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