That most wonderful time of all is here, and it means we all should be thanking our respective deities for their intervention for peace on earth this year. It is also a time when we sing songs, celebrate together, and drink large quantities of distilled beverages.
I am referring, of course, to that most magical time of year: hockey season.
Disclaimer for American Southerners: Hockey is a sport where players “hit” each other in order to score goals while traveling at high speeds on razor sharp skate blades. Layman’s terms – way more badass than college football.
Now, those of you who are actually into watching blood bounce on ice (seriously), we are already well into the pro season, and the National Hockey League (now granting franchises to anyone with a pulse and a few billion in cash) is seeing incredible action. Last year’s pro championship team, the Chicago Blackhawks, defeated my favorite team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, despite the fact that everyone, including Pope Francis and Lrrr from Omicron Persei 6, laid the money line on “da Bolts.” It’s okay, though, because Tampa Bay still won the Cup before the Florida (MIAMI!) Panthers, so nyah!
Speaking of the Cup, it’s time for a history lesson of sports, one which even non-hockey fans can appreciate, because it involves frequent incidents of urination involving a sports trophy. The Stanley Cup is the trophy given to the winner of the NHL’s Championship Series, the Republican Debates. The actual “cup” is about a foot tall, but mounted atop a platform which features five large rings underneath three smaller one, with rotating turrets, photon torpedoes and the ability to make grown men beat the living crap out of each other for no other reason than to be able to hoist said trophy over their heads and jump around like little kids. Yes, folks, it’s that important!
For all its glorious, glittery sports goodness, the Cup itself has a rather checkered history in the possession of the players, owners, staff, management, and associated farm animals of said winners. For example, former Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Mario Lemieux (pronounced La-MEWWW, not Lay-moo!) became infamous when the Cup ended up at the bottom of his swimming pool, leading to the title of the best selling book Who Moved My Cheese? In other instances, the Cup was found along railroad tracks, in a strip club, and even in a urinal filled with pee, which seems redundant but, upon further reflection, I don’t even want to think how it got there. Whether it was used for drinking afterwards (seriously, they drink champagne from that thing…the Cup, not the urinal. Let’s be clear here!) is still a matter of conjecture. Either way, the Cup itself is a revered piece of sports history.
There are three Cups in existence today. The original Stanley Cup is housed inside the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, where it can be viewed through a special glass vault impervious to all forms of entry, including Mission: Impossible-style rope-suspension burglaries. The full-sized current trophy is in the joint custody of the Hockey Hall of Fame and National Hockey League, which divorced in 1962 but managed to work out a child-support agreement involving the Cup and several expansion teams. It tours with the league during the season and is carried by a “Keeper,” which attaches itself to the Cup and influences things, and can kill the Cup, but usually lets fans and children put their fingers all over it instead as punishment for its various misdeeds.
There is a certain mystique among hockey fans about the Cup; that it radiates energy and those who are true fans can tell if they have permission to touch it. In my case, I was told “NO WAY, JOSE!” My Lightning won the Cup that year (2004), no thanks to my tactile involvement. Winners of the championship series receive a smaller version of the Cup for display in their own cases. Losers receive a consolation prize in the form of several thousand dollars for showing up, and the honor of their cities’ Mayors having to settle bets with that of the winning team. In one memorable bet, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robinson, his team battling the Boston Bruins in the 2011 installment of the series, offered to wear a full-body yellow Lycra spandex suit worn by some sports fans (look it up!). Boston’s mayor wisely declined.
That history lesson done with, time to go back to the part of the hockey we all love – blood bouncing on ice. Hockey players often “drop the gloves,” which means they start fighting, usually for no apparent reason other than the fact they looked at each other wrong. Unlike baseball, where there are bench-clearing brawls, basketball, which are usually shoving matches or two players wailing on each other like high school girls, or football, where players have the luxury of ten billion layers of padding, hockey fights are much more “Roman” in their nature, meaning players actually throw punches. Fortunately, hockey players have the good sense to avoid the MMA-style of fighting, since a skate blade can nearly kill someone (it nearly once happened), so they instead go to the old-school, bare knuckle punching fest. Of course, every hockey team (at least, every good one, sorry Toronto fans), has at least one “enforcer,” whose job it is to keep the best talent safe by the committing acts of ritual bodily sacrifice wherein they take the opponents players, lift them up like the Incredible Hulk, and toss them into the crowd. This sounds a lot like pro wrestling, the difference being these players don’t use an actual script. Seriously though, enforcers “check” their opponents, meaning they use their bodies to block and drive opponents off their best scorers to assist during the game. This often results in bad blood between teams, though certain teams, such as the Toronto Maple Leafs, have grown so accustomed to losing they simply send surrender papers to the opponents in advance of every game.
Other terms used in the world of hockey include “boarding,” “high sticking,” “deke-ing” (really), “butterfly position” (don’t ask), “spearing” (really, don’t ask), and “game misconduct” (usually this comes when a player or coach insults High Commissioner and Grand Marshall Gary Bettman and are sentenced to life in the gulag of the NHL: Columbus, Ohio.). These terms are usually used by commentators and announcers, who are often about as informed about the sport as a cat is informed about showing empathy to a mouse before killing it.
One thing to bear in mind – hockey fans are generally extremely knowledgeable, and love to teach newcomers about the sport. Hockey players, however, are extraordinarily (generally) humble creatures who, unlike their pro sports brethren, are grateful for every chance they get to lace up the skates and hit the ice. Despite their newfound wealth, most hockey players come from small towns across Canada, the United States, and parts of Europe, though a genetically engineered version of hockey players have recently appeared in Syria, reportedly designed by Russia to use explosive pucks to attack ISIS fighters. The only problem with this is that the Russians have yet to develop a means of footwear which can be adapted from the rink to sand. From what I’ve been reading, they may be looking to place an undercover agent in the Florida Panthers locker room in the hopes of being able to perfect the MiG-95, an experimental jet capable of doing what no American jet has been able to do at this point, come in under projected construction budget. If this is successful, we may as well begin to kiss American freedom goodbye but, since Russia likes hockey, we will still be able to enjoy the wonder of the Stanley Cup, though Russian President Vladimir Putin may decide to perform a pre-emptive strike to take control of the Cup, citing “security concerns.”
The Cup, when reached for comment, referred all questions to Commissioners office, which promptly reminded us we were still in the penalty box for a game misconduct committed in 2002.