Typically, we reserve this space for our thoughts on the Ottawa Senators, the NHL, and sometimes hockey at large. There’s usually more than enough going on in the wide world of the sport for us to ring out five thoughts to share. But when I sat down to start writing this week’s piece, and I combed through the dribs and drabs of news, I couldn’t quite find the motivation to write about any of it. The Sens played in the NHL’s last game over two months ago; today, maybe more so than any other day since that time, it really hit me that there just isn’t anything going on at all. I was also really struck by how much I missed hockey. I don’t just mean watching the Sens or hockey in general, I mean the actual game of hockey. I’m a regular participant in adult leagues: before the shutdown, I was playing three nights a week. I miss that. I miss my friends, I miss the camaraderie. I miss a lot of it.
There’s the big, obvious things like I just mentioned above, but in today’s piece I wanted to give a bit of space to the “little things” that I love about hockey. Here are five of them, in no particular order:
The Smell of an Arena:
The obvious joke here is that a hockey arena smells bad — mostly like sweat. But there’s also a more subtle smell that hits you when you first walk through the doors from the lobby into the pad itself, before you get into the dressing room and the stench of your least-hygienically inclined teammate overwhelms your senses. I’ve never heard a good answer for what exactly the smell is, maybe some sort of mix of zamboni fumes, but I get the same rush every time I inhale it as I did when I was 10.
The First Few Strides on a Clean Sheet of Ice:
If you’re lucky enough to be skating on a clean sheet of ice, the first few strides as you step on are always the best. I’ve been playing hockey for over twenty-five years now, and I still get a special feeling in my stomach when I do my first few cross-overs on an immaculate surface. I imagine it’s similar to the feeling that artists experience when they are staring at a blank canvas. I wouldn’t know because I have exactly zero artistic talent, but I think the analogy still holds.
The Friendly Banter with Referees:
You might say that I’ve mellowed with age, but in recent years I’ve come to derive great pleasure from some friendly back-and-forth with the referees. You play in the same leagues for long enough, you start to get to know the folks in the striped shirts. Sure they’re getting paid to be there, and I’m definitely not, but they’re just regular folks who also love hockey. It’s like seeing an old friend — who might send you to the penalty box because they didn’t like the way you got your stick in on your opponent’s hands back there.
The Sounds of the Game:
I’ve already talked about the smells of the game, but there’s also something distinctly pleasing about the sounds of the game of hockey. There’s a visceral thrill when a hard stride really digs into the ice, and there’s no other sound like a slap shot that rings off the crossbar. I also have a deep appreciation for the sound, or lack thereof if you cradle the puck right, when a player receives a hard pass in stride. Close your eyes and I bet you can recall the soundtrack that’s distinct to the game.
A Nice Saucer Pass:
Nothing makes me happier when I’m playing than squeezing a pass into a tight window by saucering it over a defender’s stick, or “saucing it” as the youths of today might say. There’s something uniquely pleasing about the saucer pass, a change-up of sorts. Right when you release the puck, there’s always a split-second where you’re not sure if it’ll work out; maybe the trajectory will take the puck right over a defender’s stick and you have to hope you’ve caught them unprepared; the doubt is part of what makes the success so worthwhile.
I’ll turn it over to you then, readers. What are some of the little things that you miss about hockey?