When a memorandum of understanding on a $660-million renovation of KeyArena was announced last Thursday, it essentially guaranteed that Seattle will be home to a major professional hockey league team for the first time since 1924.
Fifteen reasons why I’m very pumped about this:
1. Although hockey remains an acquired taste for those tuning in on television — the sport is fast and the puck is small — the pace of the game is made for TV: Three 20-minute periods with three 120-second commercial breaks per period. A typical NFL telecast, it seems, includes three 120-second commercial breaks per every change in possession.
And don’t get me started on baseball-bullpen micromanaging that slows everything down around the sixth inning, or the bottomless supply of last-minute time outs available to basketball coaches. Hockey is non-stop electric.
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2. That said, hockey is at least 10 times more exciting to watch in person than on the couch at home.
3. The emerald sheen of a baseball diamond is the most beautiful sight in sports, but a hockey rink, freshly iced by a Zamboni, comes pretty close.
4. The NHL tried to make its involvement with the Olympics work, and there are some memories — the 2010 Winter Games final between the USA and Canada comes to mind — that qualify as indelible. But shutting down the league for 17 days, in the middle of the season, wasn’t feasible for business. The NHL got it and moved on, clearing the return of amateurs to make magical moments.
5. On my home-office wall, above the desk, is a framed Sports Illustrated cover from March 3, 1980. The American players are in full-tilt jubilation after their epic upset of the USSR. There are no words, because no words are needed.
6. The Stanley Cup, which dates to 1893, is the world’s oldest pro sports trophy. It was in its 20th year of existence when Vince Lombardi was born in 1913.
7. Unlike the Lombardi Trophy, the Stanley Cup annually is taken on an off-season tour to the home towns of the winning team’s players. This is among hockey’s many charming traditions.
8. Here’s another: At the conclusion of each playoff round, the competitors line up in single-file to shake hands. High school and college basketball players also participate in the ritual, but it’s different from hockey. Basketball opponents don’t take turns bashing and bruising each other for 60 minutes.
9. There are no shootouts to determine the winner of a playoff game that is tied after three periods. In 1936, the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Maroons took their overtime battle into the 16th minute of the sixth 20-minute overtime before the Wings’ Mud Bruneteau settled the issue.
10. Only in hockey could a legendary game be decided by somebody whose name is Mud.
11. The coolest jerseys in pro sports? Any of the Original Six group of the Blackhawks, Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Rangers and Red Wings. There’s a reason the logos are little different today than they were seven decades ago.
12. The late Paul Newman, who was nominated for 10 Oscars, insisted he had more fun portraying Reggie Dunlop in “Slap Shot” than any of his 61 other roles. The son of a Cleveland sporting-goods store operator, Newman grew up playing hockey, and when he laced up the skates again, he remembered the sheer exhilaration of coasting on ice.
I can relate. Until I walk on air — an item on the bucket list likely to be unrealized — skating while gripping a hockey stick will remain my favorite sports activity.
13. Vancouver vs. Seattle. The Canucks vs. Whatever Nickname Is Chosen For The New NHL Franchise Created By Expansion.
It’s gonna be a blast.
14. A few hours before the seventh game of the 1993 conference finals between Los Angeles and Toronto, the Kings’ Wayne Gretzky took a cab from his Toronto hotel to Maple Leaf Gardens. The driver didn’t recognize that his passenger happened to the greatest hockey player on earth.
“If you want to catch a ride to the hotel after the game,” he told Gretzky, “you could have a problem. The Maple Leafs are about to clinch their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in forever. The streets will be crazy. Good luck on getting any kind of transportation.”
As Gretzky was paying his fare, he assured the cabbie there would be no street-dancing revelry after the game.
“It’s so,” Gretzky said, “because I’m playing.”
The Kings won, 5-4, with the help of Gretzky’s three goals and an assist.
15. There’s a lot of skepticism about an NHL team’s long-term survival in Seattle. Ticket prices will be high, convenient parking opportunities around KeyArena will be spare, and in the likelihood the NBA someday approves a resurrection of the Sonics, it’s fair to wonder if there’s room for another major pro-sports team in the region.
Trust me, there’s room for hockey. Why?
It’s like what Louis Armstrong once said about jazz: If you have to ask, you’ll never know.