Tonight is the first night NHL Hockey will be played since June 7, 2004, when the Tampa Bay Lightning won game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals over the Calgary Flames. In case you're wondering, that was 486 days ago. 486 days without hockey. How I survived it, I'll never know.
As all hockey fans will tell you, the NHL season is quite long, to say the least. With the regular season beginning in October and continuing through the winter and spring seasons, by the time the Stanley Cup Finals arrive in June, most teams are preparing for next year's training camp. So it is no wonder that during the fall, winter, spring and early summer seasons, hockey is always on – at least in my apartment.
Needless to say, last year's lockout was terrible for hockey fans worldwide. In fact, since hockey is on just about every day during the NHL season, it made last year almost unbearable during the lockout. Hockey was replaced with far more mundane, uninteresting television spectacles such as poker, particularly on ESPN. Instead of watching hockey at night (with that cool ESPN Hockey background music), we had to endure the brutally boring (yet oddly entertaining) Texas Hold' em Poker. Instead of watching any good hockey rivalry, like Toronto versus Montreal or Colorado versus Detroit, we had to settle for watching a table of gamblers slow playing their pocket pairs. Instead of being enthralled by hip checks, we had to settle for a poker check (which is when a player decides not to bet). Wow. Not quite the fast-paced end-to-end skill, athleticism and entertainment you get out of hockey. Thankfully, hockey returns tonight.
I think we can all agree it is great hockey is back. And although I love the traditional old time hockey, I believe the new rule changes will help win back fans. For those of you who are unaware, the NHL is implementing a series of new rule changes that they believe will increase scoring in the game. Some of these rules include reducing the size of the goaltender pads and moving the nets back two feet so that there is more ice in front of the net.
But perhaps the most exciting new rule is the addition of a shootout at the end of overtime, so that each game will have a winner. No more ties, exactly how it should be. Anyone who has seen Olympic Hockey knows how exciting shootouts can be, and they are a great way to show off the athletic prowess of the NHL players as well. And plus, after you watch guys lose their teeth and bleed all over each other for three hours while giving every ounce of effort and energy they have, you expect one of their teams to emerge victorious.
For many people in America, tonight's face-offs will signal the start of another great and long-anticipated season of hockey. However, many others are remarkably unimpressed with hockey and are even more turned off by the lockout. The irony is that out of all professional sports, hockey is the one where players work the hardest and for the least amount of money. How often do you see an NHL player holding out for more money? Virtually never, especially compared to the other big professional sports. The reason for this is the love of the game. Hockey is a passionate sport, and the players demonstrate this and their love for the game on a nightly basis. There is more passion and emotion in one game of hockey than there is in an entire baseball season, and this is coming from a huge baseball fan. Hockey is the sport played by true athletes who are always modest about their accomplishments and who respect the game and its history. There is a reason there are no Terrell Owens in hockey, just as there is a reason the players shake hands after each playoff series in the NHL. Hockey is a blue-collar, hard-working man's game which rewards determination and grit.
So, after 486 days of the tumultuous, non-NHL world, hockey is back at last. Tonight every NHL team will be playing, so get yourself to a sports bar and watch the drops of the pucks.
Tim Waddingham is a senior political science and speech communication double major. His column runs on Wednesdays.