I: Even hockey playoffs?
ME: OK, if you give me a front-row seat for a playoff game against a rival, with a great view of the scoreboard so I can figure out how the goal was scored on the third or fourth replay, I'm there. Hockey works only in the postseason, in person, up close, because you get swept up in the speed and collisions and the skates spraying ice. A 1-0 game goes from deadly dull to excruciatingly exciting.
I: But you'd like the regular season more if hockey were in your blood — if, say, you had grown up in an Original Six city with your dad taking you to games.
ME: Hey, I went to quite a few minor-league hockey games as a kid — but only to watch the fights. Now the fights disgust me. They obviously fight during the regular season because it's the only way they can sell their lousy game. Then they rarely fight in the playoffs. That's sick.
I: Lousy game?
ME: Hockey is unwatchable because it's too hard to score. It's too hard to score because it's too darn hard to skate and control a puck with a stick while defenders are allowed to run into you. Imagine basketball without fouls. It would be pretty hard just to get the ball up the court. You might have some 8-7 games. You would have widespread yawns.
I: So you're saying hockey should make it a penalty to foul the player with the puck? Hell will freeze before that happens.
ME: Then hell will freeze before I start watching hockey. Yes! Make it a minor penalty if you bump the guy with the puck. Open up the game. Let the speed skaters skate. Let guys who can handle a stick like a wand make their magic. Do away with all the lines — blue, red, chartreuse, all of them. Widen the goal. Restrict goalies to wearing tight-fitting body armor instead of letting them wrap themselves in enough padding to be bigger than the Michelin Man. Give the stars a chance to star — to score goals the way Kobe or Iverson do.
I: You could be burned at the stake in Canada for proposing such heresy.
ME: Canada originally fell head-over-Molson in love with hockey because it didn't have any other sports alternatives. Somebody gave me a book once as a joke — "Hockey for Dummies." I said: "That's all hockey is for."
Ever tried to listen to hockey on the radio? It's sounds like one continuous mistake: "So-and-so passes to so-and-so, but the pass is stolen by so-and-so, who loses the puck to so-and-so, who can't control the puck, which is taken the other way by so-and-so, who is blasted by so-and-so, who now fires the puck up ice to so-and-so, which obviously will be icing."
Ever tried to comprehend hockey strategy? Over the years, I've sought X-and-O wisdom from several NHL coaches and GMs — and from hockey experts such as E.J. — and it still pretty much looks like organized chaos to me. It often takes a third or fourth replay for the announcers to figure out that the puck ricocheted off a defenseman's thigh pad, then glanced off an offensive player's skate, before whizzing top shelf over the goalie's right shoulder. Just like they drew it up on the chalkboard.