We’ve promised a report of Victory Euro Mats’s trip to the Rawk and we were planning on publishing that tonight, but a series of events have led us to put that on hold until Tuesday. You see, Gentle Reader, all day we’ve been sitting in front of the television (shocker!) watching football (shocker!) and stitching (*faints from the shock*) and with every passing hour it’s felt more and more like a December day in 1995, our first full season as fans. It was the time when everything was fresh and new and wonderful, and the magnificent world of the NHL was like some huge present just waiting to be opened every single day. Basically, that time in our fandom was the exact opposite of how we felt at the end of last season, when things were so bad in Devils-land that we were all happy to have summer. So there we were this afternoon, chillaxing and feeling ever more like the sports-fan innocents of those many years ago, just enjoying the vibes of a perfect fall day.
And then the football ended. There was a hour to kill between the afternoon game and tonight’s hockey, so we absent-mindedly flipped over to the NHL Network. And holy cow, but it’s as if they were beaming the contents of our brains directly onto our television. First we caught a bit of an earnestly low-key episode of Hockey Odyssey about last year’s Calder Cup finals (and while we suppose Hockey Odyssey is always earnestly low-key, we’ve never seen it before, so we can’t say whether it was just this episode, or if they’re all like that) that seemed to have been steeped in our long-ago attitude of “everything about hockey is grand!” They had an ages-long interview with the president of the AHL that had been conducted in the stands, during play, during one of the finals games, and a featurette about the refs being mic’d up that led to exactly one on-ice audio clip (every other word of which was bleeped out becuase it involved two players yapping at each other; it, appropriately to today’s ’95 theme, sounded a lot like the “safe for radio” version of “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails), and then that dimwit of a sideline reporter who used to work games for NESN (we think he’s doing the Rangers on MSG this season) gave us a heart-to-heart discussion of how he was filming the clip we were watching at that moment during the Calder Cup finals, but in a moment there would be an edit that would be like a warp in the time-space continuum and would give us a voice-over and some highlights to tell us how the series ended. Seriously, it’s like the producers of the show were worried we’d never seen television before, but they still really wanted to convey the hockey content to us, despite our likely inability to understand the format of their show.
Hockey Odyssey was then followed by the truly magnificent Hockey Academy. Katebits had alerted us to the genius of this show a few days ago, and thank goodness she did, because we probably wouldn’t have turned it on otherwise. Hockey Academy takes Hockey Odyssey‘s earnestness and raises it to the billionth power. You have not seen earnest until you’ve seen Hockey Academy. Today they were teaching us backwards-skating drills (it’s all about your C-Thrust), and hybrid shooting drills (we had no idea what they were talking about), and then some team practice drills (the likes of which we’ve seen the pros do). With each drill came solemn assertions that every single element of the drill was “essential” to be done right, and heart-felt exhortations to “go out and have fun” with the drill. And just as we were squealing about how much this hockey-tips-for-kids show was making us feel like hockey kids again (our hockey childhood being 1995), they rolled out an NHL highlight reel. Filled with highlights from 1995. Seriously. There was Pavel Bure! There were the Whalers! There was one of those huge hits that served as the centerpiece of the old “Hits of the Season” Christmastime highlight reel they played at the arenas back then! (Does anyone else out there remember “Hits of the Season”? Do they still have that? Where they have a whole bunch of clips of huge hits set to “Carol of the Bells”, and they only update the highlights every few years, so there are all kinds of obsolete sweaters, or guys on one team who’ve since moved to a new one?)
So just when we thought we were going to overdose on nostalgia, we turned on the Coyotes feed of tonight’s Ducks/Coyotes game, and there were some old friends from the ESPN years — Dave Strader and Darren Pang. You know what, Gentle Reader? Sometimes hockey really sucks. Sometimes the season doesn’t go well, and it turns into a long, hard, miserable grind that you can’t wait to end. Sometimes summer is such a respite that you’re not quite sure you even missed hockey when the new season starts up again. And then sometimes hockey realizes it did something wrong, and to make up for it, finds a way to remind you of how much fun it is to be a fan.