By Chad Huebner
Though my writing contributions have been few and far between, I still stay busy following one of the sports I love. . . cricket.
Err, I mean Hockey! Yes, that’s it! Put it in bold with big caps. . .
These days, there are many ways to stay on top of the game. The following are my outlets for a game I feel passionate about at least during the cold, dreary winter months.
WATCH HOCKEY ON TV
By far, the easiest of the methods to keep track of what’s going on in the hockey world, at least in the Western Hemisphere. Having the DirecTv sports package is a great and inexpensive way of watching a lot of games without having to shell out $100 plus for the NHL Center Ice Package. I get NHL Network, which I watch on a nightly basis, even more so than SportsCenter to find out what happened in the NHL on any given night. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the segments where John Buccigross or Steve Levy talk hockey with Barry Melrose or Matthew Barnaby, but they don’t cover all the games. I guess on a network that has its main focus on basketball at this time of year, they tend to neglect hockey. A shame.)
I get Versus, which, aside from NHL Network, is the only place to get weekly NHL action from outside of my area, and I have to live with that. Only two games per week, usually only Mondays and Tuesdays, and usually only the East Coast games that start at the odd time of 6 or 6:30pm in the Central Time Zone. No East-West doubleheaders. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, ESPN, take the NHL back into your fold!
I get all the FSN and other local sports networks, and if I’m lucky, I can actually watch a game once in awhile. Not all the games are blacked out, only about 92% of them are. And yes, I’m whining about this when all I have to do is buy the Center Ice Package, but there we are.
Soon I will be able to get the Chicago Wolves games. That’s because I’m switching from DirecTv to Comcast, which is the only TV broadcaster for the Chicago Wolves (the notable exception being last year’s AHL Calder Cup Finals, in which the NHL Network carried all the games as well as Comcast). It would mean so much more back when I was a jaded Blackhawks fan, and my hockey loyalty was up for the highest bidder. But hey, I get to watch more hockey games, I can’t beat that.
Speaking of other leagues beside the NHL, I love to watch college and minor league hockey games when afforded the chance. There’s a tape-delay broadcast between the Binghamton Senators and Houston Aeros on right now? Plop me on the couch. NHL Network showing a Yale-Union matchup? I’m there. Got any old ECHL or CHL game? Yep, count me one of the few puckheads to actually watch it. It might be minor on the ice, but it’s major in the hearts of hockey nuts like me.
Lastly, but most importantly, and it’s something I’ve said on here and in various forums, I get all 82 games of the Chicago Blackhawks. By far, this has been one of the biggest improvements by the once stodgy, no-frills organ-I-zation. And it doesn’t hurt that the ‘Hawks are doing really well this season.
(One more note about the ‘Hawks success: I’ve found out that if I’m flipping between a ‘Hawks game and something else, it seems like the ‘Hawks score more when I’m watching something else than when I watch them. It seems to happen so much that when I flip from, say, a heated Quickfire Challenge on “Top Chef” to a game, I can’t help but laugh at the good fortune. And for being a jaded Chicago sports fan that supports the ‘Hawks, Bears and Cubs, I can’t get enough of good fortune, no matter how bad it might be to me personally.)
LISTEN TO HOCKEY
So far, my only exposure has been to the ‘Hawks broadcasts on WGN 720 AM. Again, I could invest a bit in XM Radio, and get a gaggle of games no matter where I am in the country, but I blame the bad economy on this.
READ BOOKS ABOUT HOCKEY
I’m an avid reader, and like Mel Gibson in “Conspiracy Theory”, cannot function without having at least one book to read at any given time. During the hockey season, I therefore read a lot of books on hockey. Since I’ve already devoured as many books on the history and stats of the game as I can get my hands on, I turn toward some of the more offbeat offerings. An example is what I’m currently reading: “Emerald Ice: Hockey in Seattle from 1915 to 1975” by Jeff Obermeyer. If you’re scratching your head wondering why the book doesn’t go beyond 1975, since there’s obviously Junior League hockey in the city right now, the book focuses on Seattle’s history in the pro game. Despite numerous grammatical errors, the book is a fascinating look at one city’s history with the pro game, and the numerous attempts to bring an NHL franchise to the Emerald City (something I think should have already happen, if it isn’t going to in the next 10 years, more on this later).
Another good source of information on hockey in the more lesser-known hockey cities and places like Portland, Oregon, Indianapolis, Indiana and Broome County (NY), is a series of books called “Images of Sports”. Most of the books are pictorial histories, but you get enough from the captions to piece together an interesting timeline.
FOLLOW HOCKEY VIA THE ‘NET
It’s more than just clicking on NHL.com or ESPN’s NHL website to get the latest news and standings. It’s also bookmarking sites like Hockey-Reference.com, The Legends of Hockey Net, the Internet Hockey Database and all the teams I write for (and no, I won’t tell you which one is listed first, you’re all my favorites, I mean that, man.). It means being addicted to Facebook because of all the fun internet games, and then finding out you can join groups like ones on the Chicago Blackhawks, the NHL Network, and of course “Bring Professional Hockey Back to Seattle” (see, I’m not the only one). It means buying a Society for International Hockey Research baseball cap because: 1) You’re a member and 2) You want something to wear to Chicago Wolves games other than a Blackhawks cap because you’re afraid you’re going to get your ass kicked at the games. It means spending countless hours, most of them at work, searching for a Chicago Blackhawks necktie and finally finding one on a site from a sports store in New York, then promptly losing said tie and spending countless more hours finding a replacement necktie until you’re stuck with a general hockey necktie that at least has the ‘Hawks colors in it.
So yeah, it’s just more than point and click. It’s point and click, and point and click, and then Alt-Tab sometimes when the boss walks by.
Well, not literally play the game. I wish I could, but my version of skating is me pulling myself around the boards trying not to fall on my butt (that ice is thick. . . and cold). I wish I could take up floor hockey, but a bulging disc (that’s D-I-S-C, you cheeky monkeys!) has me sidelined. Air hockey and table hockey are as close as I’ll come nowadays, unless an errant disk (D-I-S-K) flies up and blinds me.
I’m playing EA Sports NHL 09 for the Xbox 360, and liking it a lot. I used to play EA Sports line of NHL games, but for some reason, after NHL 99, I got out of the habit. Well, I’m glad to be picking this up again, though I’m a bit old school when it comes to hockey games, so no new controls for me. It might work for me on the Wii, but until I try that version, I’ll be sticking to the classic controls, thank you very much. Also, the “Pro” level is a little too harsh for my tastes. While I like the increased defensive awareness the AI has, any goaltender you face acts like they’re the second coming of Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek and Ken Dryden all wrapped up into one supreme being. There needs to be a “fallible” setting for that.
You’re thinking that of course I’m playing as the ‘Hawks, or as their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. Wrong. I prefer to create my own organ-I-zation, and see how it does against the NHL. I give to you the latest expansion team, the Seattle Shockers (not my first choice of a nickname, as I’d prefer the Shockwave, but the game doesn’t let you create your own, for some crazy reason), playing in the Northwest Division. Our colors are primarily green (a nod to the Totems and Thunderbirds) with some silver and black, and the logo. . . well, I had to pick one of the computer’s, and I guess the snarling ball that looks a lot like the Tasmanian Devil has something to do with shock. Anyway, I have superstars like Johnny Toews and Pavel Datsyuk, grinders like Anson Carter and Dan Carcillo, and young but up-and-coming goalie in Pascal LeClaire. Again, I couldn’t create my team from scratch, which makes for another crazy thing about this game, but had to build it from current or former players-here and abroad-using a salary cap as a guide. Speaking like a coach, umm, yeah, we’re uhhh coming along and it’s uhhh, uhhh, it’s a long season.
So there you have it, the many ways I keep myself busy and entertained during the hockey season. I’m probably not the only one that does these things, nor am I anywhere near the craziness some fans exhibit, but the love of the game is still there, and it’s still good. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to look up the game-by-game results of the Atlanta Flames 1975-76 season.
EXTRA NOTE: Last time, I wrote about the NHL All-Star Game in Montreal and about the town itself. While it was supposed to be a half-serious look at the city, it wasn’t supposed to be a half-assed researched attempt on my part. Reginald Moore, who calls himself a Montrealer who follows the Rockford IceHogs, pointed out many inconsistencies in my column, and for that, he gets a big “thank you” and “atta boy.” You are now allowed to pour curd cheese and gravy on my head.
Remember; e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for anything on your mind. Best responses and/or questions will be answered publicly.