The Stanley Cup final is here, with the Pittsburgh Penguins facing the San Jose Sharks in a matchup of two highly skilled and entertaining teams. If Monday night’s opening game was any indication, this should be a fun series. And as with all Cup finals, there will be plenty of brand new fans tuning in for the very first time to see the NHL put its best foot forward.
If you’re one of those new fans, have no fear. Hockey can be a confusing sport, especially for newcomers. But if you’re willing to stick with it, you can learn a lot. And you may just find yourself becoming a fan for life.
So the Guardian asked me to put together a guide to welcome new fans to the NHL bandwagon. Read through the handy tips below and pretty soon you’ll be all ready to enjoy all the goals, saves, hits, and even the wacky beard on face of Sharks’ assistant captain Joe Thornton!
[Goes awkwardly quiet. Looks around nervously.]
Are they gone?
OK, all you new fans, huddle up with me real quick. Sorry about that paragraph about the beard. I know it was kind of weird, but I had to get rid of all the diehard hockey fans for a minute. They’ve all rushed off to the comment section to correct me for saying “assistant” captain instead of “alternate”. But they’ll be back soon, so we don’t have much time.
OK, look … are you absolutely sure you want to do this?
Don’t get me wrong. Hockey is an amazing sport. Quite possibly the best there is. But hockey fans … hockey fans can be an interesting group. We have very strong feelings about, well, everything. And we have very specific ways of expressing those feelings. You could think of us as a kind of cult, except that cults can occasionally be reasoned with.
And worst of all, we can be especially tough on newcomers. You’d think we’d be more welcoming, given how much whining we do about hockey’s place in the sports world. We spend a lot of time complaining about how there aren’t enough hockey fans out there, but as soon as some potential new fans appear, we get our backs up. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into here. If you wanted to back out now, everyone would understand.
Really? You’re sure? OK, you’ve been warned. Welcome aboard, and may Wendel have mercy on your soul.
Here are 10 steps to help you fit in as a real hockey fan.
Step 1: Complain about everything
There are two key things you need to know about being a hockey fan. First, we love the NHL. Second, we hate everything about the NHL.
We hate the rules. We hate the way the standings work. We hate the referees, and the Department of Player Safety, and (especially) the commissioner. We hate the players for being boring, and we really hate any player who stops being boring for a few seconds. We hate that nobody scores like Wayne Gretzky did in the 80s. We hated Wayne Gretzky for scoring too much in the 80s.
If you’re going to be a real hockey fan, you’ll need to love the game but believe that everything about it is broken. And that’s only the first half of the equation…
Step 2: Be against every solution
So everything is terrible. Would you like to hear a suggestion for making things better? Hell no, you would not, because you are a hockey fan now and you hate the idea of anything ever changing.
As just one example, NHL scoring rates have been plummeting for over two decades, a trend that we all agree is sucking the excitement out of the sport. In fact, to a diehard hockey fan, there’s only one thing worse: doing literally anything about it. New rules? No. New equipment? No. Making the nets a fraction of an inch bigger? Sure, right after you’re done spitting on the graves of our ancestors, you heretic swine.
It’s the same with everything else that we claim is a problem. The puck over the glass rule is terrible, but any of the alternatives are worse. Same with the new offside review rule. And with how the draft order works. And the fact that the NHL sometimes gives out points for losing. All big problems. None worth ever actually fixing.
Anytime anyone has an idea that might improve things, your job as a hockey fan is to come up with a slightly different idea that you think would improve things even more, and then stab the person who came up with that first idea.
Everything is terrible and nothing should ever change. Drill that into your head, and you’re on the road to true hockey fandom.