And here we are again. The greatest postseason in all of pro sports begins later this week with the start of the NHL playoffs. Whether you’re a lifelong hockey fan like this writer, or a newbie to the sport, there is nothing on earth like hockey playoffs, and here’s why:
1. Everything is turned up to 11. The fastest game in the world gets even faster, hits are harder, shots are sharper, passes are crisper, and the games’ intensity is cranked to the Nth degree.
2. The atmosphere. Hockey fans are notorious for being loud, rowdy and passionate. This all increases tenfold come playoff time. If you’ve never experienced an NHL playoff game in person, then you haven’t heard, and FELT real crowd energy. (Professional side note: Team marketers love this time of year, as it can really showcase their product and brand at the highest level.)
3. The handshake line. This is awesome and unique. Teams do not shake hands with their opponents until after the series ends, and it’s not some little league, quick five, token “good game” gesture. Players stop each other, share a legitimate handshake, and offer sincere words of praise and respect to one another. It’s a great showcase of honest sportsmanship rarely seen elsewhere.
4. Rivalries. Some of the most intense natural rivalries in any sport are found in hockey, and if or when a rivalry matchup occurs in the playoffs, the games and atmosphere reach bloodbath proportions. Look at last year’s semifinal series between the Blackhawks and Red Wings. Absolutely THRILLING, and that’s just one recent example.
5. Unpredictability. The playoffs are called “hockey’s second season” for good reason. Once you’re in, virtually anything can happen. Look at Philadelphia in 2010: They barely squeezed in, and ended up advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. Los Angeles in 2012 was in a similar boat, and they ended up winning the whole thing, becoming the first 8-seed to ever accomplish it. You just never know…
6. Crazy comebacks, crazy moments. Like #5 above, you just never know what will happen. Last season my Blackhawks scored 2 goals in 17 seconds to win Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final and capture the Grail. Completely nuts and unexpected to pull it off in that fashion, on the road. Prior to that the Boston Bruins were down 4-1 to Toronto midway through the 3rd period in Game 7 of their series, and came back to win 5-4. Pure craziness indeed, and this kind of thing happens regularly.
7. Traditions. You think baseball players are superstitious and weird? Hockey more than holds it’s own. The beards aren’t even a big deal anymore. What about the octopus (octopi?) Enough said. So much history, folklore and hero worship surrounding the NHL.
8. Adrenaline. “Breathe!” was a text I once got from a friend during overtime of a Blackhawks/Canucks opening round game in 2011. She was right, I was turning blue, and pacing back and forth from the anticipation and adrenaline. The levels of excitement the hockey playoffs can provide are off the charts.
9. Doesn’t matter what game you watch. As a lifelong Blackhawks fan, the last few years have been particularly exciting and enjoyable for me, and thus the playoffs are better when your team is relevant. But as a hockey fan in general I can tune in to any game in any series, and be enthralled. There’s just nothing like playoff hockey. The game itself looks, sounds and feels in a world of it’s own.
10. The Grail. It’s the most coveted, and hardest-to-win trophy in all of pro sports. The silver chalice of Lord Stanley is held in extremely high regard and respect from all players, organizations and fans, and rightfully so. Whatever team that gets to hoist it in celebration each June has truly earned it.
There you have it. Now let the most fantastic postseason begin!