It takes something special to be a real hockey fan. I first should clarify what I mean by a real hockey fan. Simply put, someone who watches most of the games, reads articles, and is regularly engaged with the happenings of the favorite team and the league as a whole. Everyone else enjoys hockey. Which is great because hockey is very enjoyable to watch and casual spectators probably drive a lot of the ticket sales for a team like the Predators.
I cannot think of a high-level professional sport in North America more subject to randomness than hockey. The entire game focuses on a frozen snack cake being slapped around on a sheet of uneven frozen water at speeds that can flirt with triple digits. A lot of weird stuff can happen in all the little moments as pucks bounce over sticks, a player hits a divot and goes sprawling, a goal is scored off a quadruple deflection, and whatever else you see over the course of a single game. Between the 1,230 games played in the regular season and nearly 100 year history of the NHL it is actually surprising that no player has ever been abducted by aliens, named as the god of a race of plant people, or been invited over to John Tortorella’s house for Sunday brunch.
The randomness of the NHL is so pervasive in my mind, that it hockey fans can only be sorted into three large categories. The first category are the people who really don’t care about the randomness. Randomness has nothing to do with grit, playing the game the right way, or dressing up in racist costumes in order to support a bunch of rich guys giving themselves exciting concussions. These are classic sports fans and are generally not a lot of fun to be around unless you’re a straight white male who gets their news from syndicated morning radio shows. To them randomness is not a thing that happens. Showing heart, playing with an edge, and taking 5-minute majors for fighting can smooth out randomness because that’s how hockey works to them. I’m happy to say that if you’re reading this sentence right now, you are probably not in this category.
The second group are normal people. They thoroughly enjoy hockey and will watch it all the time, they keep up with the beat writers and top blogs, and they’re more about listening and learning. Most people fall into this group. They get the issues with randomness, but don’t really care. It isn’t a problem so much as just a thing that happens. This is probably the largest category of hockey fans.
The final group of hockey fans are the ones who embrace advanced stats. Not just the ones who are pushing hockey analysis forward, but anyone who sits down and tries to figure out how to read spider and WOWY charts and really wants to see the next big study on shot quality. Frankly these people are insane. They know that no matter what the randomness of hockey is going to turn around and bite them full on in the face, but they are going to pet that tiger regardless.
How can you watch a sport knowing that every now and then a team is going to play a near perfect hockey game, but still lose to an opponent you later realize played the entire second period without their sticks? I’m one of these people, and I don’t understand why I keep watching. I can’t help myself. Maybe we see hockey as the most consumable metaphor for an uncaring universe that constantly marches towards chaos. Or maybe it’s because the squeaking shoes of the NBA are too much for us to deal with. Inevitably, the reasons are unique to each person, but damn if we aren’t a bunch of weirdos.