Thanksgiving truly is my favorite holiday. We spend time with friends and loved ones, eat a little too much good food and take stock of all the things we often take for granted. With that in mind, here’s my list of some things hockey fans have to be thankful for this year. Please feel free to comment and add your own items to the list:
I am thankful for the great tradition of the Montreal Canadiens who are now celebrating 100 years of hockey. Great names like Richard, Dryden, Lafleur, Roy, Lemaire, Harvey, Savard, Blake and Morenz are in indelible part of the history of our game and the Habs have always been a classy organization. No team has won more Stanley Cups and you can’t even come close to completing a history of the National Hockey League without constantly mentioning the Canadiens.
It’s also great to see a revival among two other Original Six teams that have been struggling in recent years, the Blackhawks and the Bruins. There is a buzz in both of these cities again after years of losing and indifference. The Bruins and the Hawks are two of the league’s signature franchises and it’s great to see them back in the spotlight.
I am thankful for the skills of veterans who continue to entertain us and play at a high level like Teemu Selanne, Mike Modano, Doug Weight, Niklas Lidstrom and Keith Tkachuk. They remind us that experience still counts for something and that good things can sometimes last.
I also love to see players who seem to come out of nowhere to shine in unexpected ways. This year, we’ve seen Joey MacDonald, Alex Auld, Devin Setoguchi and Kris Versteeg do things that few people thought they were capable of doing. They remind us that as much as we analyze the game and make predictions, the human element makes the sport of hockey impossible to predict and exciting to watch.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’m grateful for the work of NHL referees and linesmen. These guys don’t take a 45 second shift and come off the ice for two minutes, they skate for the entire game without time on the bench. They also never have the crowd behind them. While mistakes are inevitable, the officials get 98 percent of the calls right and they make this game possible.
I am thankful for all the young talent in the NHL right now, perhaps the highest number of talented young players in the game’s history. When was the last time the NHL had so many gifted players under 25? There’s Crosby, Malkin, Ovechkin, Getzlaf, Kane, Perry, Sharp, Brassard, and the list goes on and on. This is an exciting time for hockey fans and these players haven’t even reached their full potential yet.
I love to see rivalries continue because they bring out the best in the game. Look at Bruins-Canadiens, Oilers-Flames, Rangers-Islanders and Kings-Ducks. These are just a few of the rivalries that showcase the passion that the game of hockey can produce. When rivals meet in the playoffs, it’s even better and the intensity goes up yet another notch. You just can’t beat it.
Speaking of the postseason, I am thrilled that the NHL plays for the most famous, recognizable and meaningful trophy in professional sports: the Stanley Cup. Nobody ever sees the World Series Trophy. The Vince Lombardi Trophy makes a brief appearance and is awarded to the owner and coach of the winning team. But the Stanley Cup has unique rituals and is passed from winning player to winning player on the ice as part of the post-game victory celebration. Each player also gets a day with the Cup over the offseason and that makes for magical moments for players, their families and friends and many fans.
I am also thankful that the NHL is truly the most international of North American professional sports leagues. The most talented hockey players from all over the world come here and work together and play together in an attempt to be the best by competing against the best. Just picking a team at random, the Carolina Hurricanes have players on their roster born in Canada, the United States, Finland, Russia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Germany.
It’s also great to see second generation hockey players because the hockey community is truly a tight knit family. Players like Zach Parise, Brandon Sutter, Eric Nystrom and Viktor Tikhonov create a future for this game while gently reminding us of its past.
I also love the NHL Network, the NHL Center Ice Package and the Internet. I can watch any game at any time and see highlights of every game before going to sleep at night. It’s amazing to realize that just 10 years ago, most of us out East couldn’t even get the box scores of games on the West Coast in our daily newspapers and maybe we were able to watch one or two out of market games a week if we were lucky. Gary Bettman and the league have also embraced blogs, YouTube and other new media, and so far, they’ve done a good job. The game has never been so accessible to fans and this is a positive development.
I am thankful for the chance to cover the NHL. Hockey players really are the most available professional athletes of any sport and 99 percent of them are great to deal with. I am also grateful to all of my readers and I want to wish everybody and happy and joyous Thanksgiving.