Hockey is for everyone

An introduction to the sport

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Hockey is for everyone

Ice Hockey vs UNH in Hockey East quarterfinals at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass., March 16, 2019. (Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff)

Ice Hockey vs UNH in Hockey East quarterfinals at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass., March 16, 2019. (Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff)

Judith Gibson-Okunieff

Ice Hockey vs UNH in Hockey East quarterfinals at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass., March 16, 2019. (Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff)

Judith Gibson-Okunieff

Judith Gibson-Okunieff

Ice Hockey vs UNH in Hockey East quarterfinals at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass., March 16, 2019. (Photo by Judith Gibson-Okunieff)

By Ana Pietrewicz, Collegian Columnist

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It is my humble opinion that ice hockey is the greatest sport on Earth. With the University of Massachusetts’ hockey team’s recent success in the NCAA Frozen Four series, I anticipate a boatload of new bandwagoners will find themselves seated in the Mullins Center next October for the team’s opening games. Instead of demanding they prove their loyalty by spouting statistics, I welcome them with open arms. But October is many months away – and until then, these recent converts to the cult of the puck have some learning to do.

Fortunately, these new fans have come at just the right juncture. We loyal watchers of the National Hockey League find ourselves in the midst of the most wonderful time of the year – playoff hockey season. Sixteen teams from the National Hockey league duke it out in a best-of-seven series. Two teams, one from each coast, will make it through three elimination rounds before facing the final battle for the ultimate prize – the Stanley Cup. If you’re looking for teams to root for, consider regional favorites the Boston Bruins. If the B’s aren’t your style, try local legend Cale Makar’s new professional endeavor, the Colorado Avalanche. Both teams advanced to the second round of the playoffs after an intense first round.

This year’s playoffs are particularly entertaining. They can only be described as entirely unpredictable. Virtually every bracket has been busted, to the extent that the NHL has allowed participants in their official Bracket Challenge a second chance to choose their winners. The actual games have been action-packed too. During the first round, three of the eight matchups went all the way to the final Game Seven bout. Two other series finished within the first four games – a total sweep. If you’re not interested in the actual gameplay, the physical aspect of the game has been pretty entertaining too. There have been multiple ejections for infractions such as high sticks to the face, cross checks to the head and brain-rattling beatings. This is not to say violence in the NHL is a good thing, but it certainly keeps things interesting.

If you’re still reading this article, you’re probably wondering what else the sport has to offer besides sometimes-interesting games and fights. But the NHL is more than MMA-on-ice. There is a closeness like no other within the hockey community. There are fewer people who are dedicated to hockey, as opposed to other sports like football: in 2017, NBC’s Sunday Night Football special had an average of 18.175 million viewers. On the other hand, regular season NHL games had an average of 417,000 viewers. Hockey may have a lower number of viewers, but the fans are more than dedicated – during the 2013 playoffs, one pregnant Chicago Blackhawks fan was attending Game Five of the series when she went into labor. Instead of doing what most would consider the rational thing in going to the hospital, she stayed to finish the game before rushing to the delivery room.

The fans are (mostly) great people, but the players are even better. The NHL has a rich history of philanthropic endeavors. The league-sponsored “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign provides “children of all backgrounds opportunities to play hockey and leverages the sport of hockey as a catalyst to teach essential life skills and the core values of hockey: commitment, perseverance and teamwork.” The NHL has also worked with organizations like You Can Play, which focuses on LGBTQ+ acceptance in the sport, and RISE, which aims to “eliminate racial discrimination, champion social justice and improve race relations.” Those are just the organizations that the league promotes – teams often have their own special organizations. For example, the Boston Bruins Foundation recently announced that over the next three years, they will be donating a total of $1 million to the Special Olympics Massachusetts, and “will join forces to involve Special Olympics athletes in a variety of initiatives to promote inclusion and overall health and wellness.”

Hockey is a sort of home for its fans. During the 82-game regular season and beyond, followers take comfort in watching the matches. I’m sure the same could be said by fans of any sport, but there’s just something special about hockey that should be shared. Whether you’re a new fan of coach Greg Carvel’s NewMass, or a hockey veteran who’s grown up watching games, the sport has a way of taking hold of you. I encourage everyone to turn on their TVs and watch the rest of this season’s playoffs, and I extra-encourage UMass students to take their place in the Mullins Center next year for more UMass hockey magic. Hockey is a joy which should be shared by everyone.

Ana Pietrewicz is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]