I Am A Hockey Dope

Spurned by the NBA, Tom Scharpling Tries a Rebound Relationship
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Photo by lazylikewally, used under a Creative Commons 2.0 license.

With the NBA lockout completely unresolved as summer turned to fall, I started doing the same dance that plenty of others were doing: the act of finding something to take the place of my beloved basketball. It was a move of pure self-preservation, trying to reciprocate some of the hurt that the league was sending my way. “You don’t love me? Fine! I never loved you anyway!” Like so many others, I entertained the idea of the NHL as a potential replacement.

I know next to nothing about the NHL. It’s not from any active dislike for the game. I’m not opposed to it the way I am opposed to college basketball—any sport that allows a prime douche like Steve Wojciechowski to impact one minute of one game is not a sport for me—but hockey is a mystery that I have never honestly tried to unravel. Any stab at cracking its code has been half-hearted and inevitably fizzles out after a few games. Yes, I have watched some playoff hockey but I can watch playoff anything<. Seriously. If there was a Tiddlywinks league and I knew that one ‘winker would be sent packing after a loss, I Am All In.

But there’s an undeniable allure to hockey that I understand the skeleton of. The traditions. The rituals. The belief and dedication to ceremony. (It sounds like I’m talking about church. Maybe I need to go back to church.) Those elements speak to me. But I cannot connect with the game’s heart—the part that makes me read book after book about a sport and think about it the first thing in the morning and makes me feel wounded by its potential absence. It’s not unlike my relationship with jazz. There’s plenty of stuff I like and lots of things I really like, but there’s a Plexiglass pane that separates me from the LOVE. I want to love jazz and have a set like John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard do more than make me admire it. I want it to devastate me. And it’s the same with hockey. I want the connection.

With my beloved pro basketball gone, I decided I would learn to love the NHL, not unlike a protagonist in a Victorian novel or a Stephen Stills song. It would be good for me. I would learn new things. My already sizable love for Canada would only grow. And I might have something to write about for this sports website I was legally bound to write for. It all made perfect sense. But then the NBA came back and the notion of dedicating myself to pro hockey faded in an instant. “Thank you for coming back to me, basketball. I’m sorry I doubted for a second that you loved me!”

But then I got a sign the day after news that a deal had been reached. I am not embellishing this one iota, I swear. I was driving around listening to sports radio, hearing Actual Discussions about what the 2012 Knicks might look like. I stopped at a red light and looked at the car in front of me. There was a New York Rangers sticker on the lip of the trunk. Not the bumper. But it was the license plate that did me in. One word stared back at me: HOCKIE. Look, I know that ‘hockie’ isn’t a word, but cut me some slack on this one, alright? Do you really think that the dude who owns the New Jersey ‘Hockey’ license plate is still on the road? He’s gotta be reeeeeeeally old at this point.

So where were we before I started yelling at myself? That’s right: hockey. After seeing that license plate I knew what I had to do. I had to draw a line on myself. While others would run away, I would go the other way. Like a fireman. Like a hero. With God as my witness I would learn to love the National Hockey League.

But I cannot do this by myself. I have tried before and I have failed every time. I need you to help me with this. I beseech all hockey fans to teach me. I will willingly hand myself over to you and accept your wisdom and guidance throughout this process. Tell me which games to watch and who I should root for. Who are the old players whose past heroics will thrill me? (Some guidance: John Starks is my favorite NBA player of the last 20-plus years. I like overachievers who can actually play, unlike Wojo, whose skill set ended with ‘having a nose for the ball’) Do I need to have a team or can I root for players like I do in the NBA? Should I go to the Hockey Hall Of Fame? Will one of you goofballs take me to a game and show me what’s what? Can someone teach me how to appreciate hockey on TV?

Here is what I bring to the table:

  1. A flat-screen TV (jealous much?).
  2. Enough loose change to subscribe to NHL Center Ice and buy some tickets to games in the tri-state area
  3. The following books: The Game by Ken Dryden and Thin Ice: A Season in Hell with the New York Rangers by Larry Sloman, both unread.
  4. The desire to learn something new in my goddamn life.

Again, I really don’t know much about hockey at all—at this point Tim Horton might actually qualify as my favorite NHL player. So write me at ScharplingHockeyProject@yahoo.com and I will do your bidding. Or pour your heart out in the comments section. Either one is fine with me.

But no matter how well this experiment goes, I will never refer to hockey as “puck.” And I am equally open to someone teaching me how to love jazz. Which I will also refrain from referring to as “jass.”

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