Thirteen months ago, I set a timer on my phone. It wasn’t reminding me to move my laundry over to the dryer and it wasn’t telling me that my time was up for that CS 107 practice final. It was a countdown to the start of the next NHL season, one that I started just minutes after the Sharks were eliminated from the playoffs.
San Jose Sharks
Teammates and referees simply sat back and watched, letting the players fight it out, bare-knuckle style without helmets or gloves, for what felt like several minutes. And meanwhile, the 17,000 strong crowd bayed for their blood. Was I the only person who felt deeply uncomfortable about this?
The NHL has consistently been the odd black sheep of the “big” American sports leagues. The NFL owns Sundays, the MLB is the official league of “America’s pastime” and the NBA is where amazing happens. The NHL? Truthfully speaking, hockey has lacked a catchphrase in the modern Internet era.
Eleven players were ejected over the course of first week of the NHL postseason—to six during the entire playoffs a year ago—and several have been suspended by league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan in an attempt to keep hockey from fully turning into “Fight Club on Ice.” But the Stanley Cup Playoffs have resembled just that in the early going, and a sport that has been deeply questioning the role of fighting ever since the death of former enforcer Derek Boogaard at the age of 28 last summer now finds itself mired in one of the roughest postseasons in recent memory.
Even though hockey may be less appreciated than football, basketball and baseball by the national media, the Stanley Cup playoffs are a spectacle unlike any other in American professional sports: so grueling, so exciting, so stressful that there’s really no good excuse to not tune in.