1. Playoff Beards – This is the best tradition in all of sports so it deserves its own category. The only thing that sucks about Playoff Beards is that the tradition was started by the New York Islanders in the 1980s. I hate giving credit to New York for anything, but especially to a team that represents the shittiest aspects of the Big Apple. But, oh well. It is incredible to watch the growth of your teams’ beards as it advances through each round of the playoffs. By the time one team gets the honor of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup it looks like a group of rogue wilderness man found their way into the arena and decided, “Fuck it, let’s play some hockey.” Here are some of the best playoff beards of all time.
2. Parity – Playoffs are all about excitement and no other North American sport has as much excitement in the playoffs than the NHL. It is like March Madness only played by professionals, so it takes away all the painfully bad amateur mistakes that blow up a perfect $50 three team parlay. Yes, I’m still pissed at you Cincinnati Bearcats. The top 6 point getters from this past regular season were all eliminated before the Conference finals. The fan base of every team that reaches the playoffs, excluding San Jose Shark fans of course, has reason to believe its team has a chance the win. Unlike the NBA, where even the most delusional Charlotte Bobcats fan, do these even exist, does not believe its team has a chance to eliminate the Heat. Yes, the NFL has similar parity, but it is so much more fun to watch your team win a series, not to mention four – 16 games total- to win it all, rather than just get hot for four straight Sundays in January/February. There is just no beating this excitement.
3. Intensity – Hockey is an intense sport. The level of effort that goes into playing a game is absurd. Only Stephen A Smith is too dumb to realize how difficult it is to play this game.
The level of effort required to play at a high level in hockey makes it difficult to do so over a grueling 82 game regular season, which leads to players either taking time off due to injury or having to pace themselves like California Chrome at The Derby. However, in the playoffs that all changes. The players realize that this is now a 7-game sprint repeated four times in order to win the Cup. The level of intensity is ratcheted up ten-fold and the fans get to experience 60 minutes of non-stop action between the best players in the world.
4. Playoff Overtime – Take everything I just said about intensity and multiply it by infinity. One goal that is all it takes to to capture an all important playoff win. It can last ten seconds or another 60 minutes, no one knows. But no matter how long it takes one thing is for sure, no one blinks till the lamp is lit.
5. The Stanley Cup – A key proposition, “the.” Teams don’t win a NBA Championship or a Super Bowl, but rather the Stanley Cup. The same one that Coach Dave Gill hoisted in 1927 when the Ottawa Senators defeated the Boston Bruins was lifted by Coach Quenneville when the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins last year. How many people can name the trophy in basketball, football, and baseball. For the record, it is the Larry O’Brien, inappropriately named Lombardi, and Commisioner’s trophy respectively.
Each team gets to take the trophy to its home city and take the Cup with it from bar to bar for the fan’s to treasure in awe. And after the city celebrates, each player and coach gets to take it home to spend one day with it. Passed around like a Bourbonais girl during Bear’s training camp, the amount of alcohol drank from the cup is enough to get even the city of Dublin drunk. No sport has a trophy that comes even close to the majesty of Lord Stanley’s.
6. Rivalries – Rivalries make sports better. There are always traditional rivalries that stand the test of time, but new ones can only be forged over a grueling playoff series. Never in my life would I have guessed I’d hate a team from Vancouver so much, but it happened thanks to three straight playoff series in ’09, ’10, and ’11. The Blackhawks winning two of these three. But the one elimination at the hands of the Canucks in ’11 when the Hawks trailed the series 3-0 only to come all the way back to tie the series and then game 7, shorthanded in the final minute, really stung. The Canucks do not deserve the right to ever say they eliminated the mighty Hawks if for no other reason than their pussy Goaltender, Roberto Luongo, refusal to even attempt a playoff beard. Thankfully justice was eventually served and the Canucks blew it in the 2011 Finals, losing to the Bruins, which caused the city to riot. They have rightly not been back to the playoffs since. Suck it, Luongo.
7. The Hand Shake – The hand shake line. The ultimate sign of respect for a series played valiantly. Teams line-up and shake hands to congratulate the winner and show appreciation to the loser. It is a beautiful tradition that everyone can get behind, well everyone except Milan Lucic apparently.
One sour apple can’t ruin a beautiful tradition and his antics were still better than the Bad Boy Pistons in 1991.
8. Home Team Crowds – The best way to convert a non-hockey fan is to take him or her to see a game live. No major sport is improved more by seeing it live than hockey. The crowds are terrific. They stay in the game from the time the first puck is dropped till the final lamp is lit. Plus it is always a very knowledgable crowd that not only knows the ins and outs of the game, but more importantly all the necessary information on the opponent in order to get in its head. Whether roaring for a big hit, serenading the opponents’ goalie, or cheering wildly for a winning goal you will never be disappointed by going to see a game live. Unless your an Anaheim Duck fan that went to Game 7 of the Kings series, then I just feel bad for you.
9. The National Anthem – No sport carries out this tradition better than hockey. Whether a beautiful rendition of O, Canada, or a rousing one of our National Anthem, make sure to get to the game or your TV early in order to not miss the Anthem. The greatest of all-time though…
10. The Chicago Blackhawks – I wasn’t sure whether to open or close with this one. I thought maybe I should start with it since those who know me best would call me out for only writing this because I’ve jumped on the Chicago Blackhawks bandwagon 6 years ago. And a cynical person would be right, but the fact is that all sports fandom is determined by the success of your team. There is a reason that there are more Cowboy and Steeler fans than any other team in the NFL. From 1971-1980 at least one of them competed in 8 of the 10 Super Bowls played. In a time well before the glorious Red Zone channel The Super Bowl was one of the only games fans could see and for anyone not living near a metropolitan area with a NFL team the teams that you saw on TV were the most familiar ones.
And for a while there they got to see the Steelers or Cowboys play on TV more than I did as a kid. Dollar Bill Wirtz, aka the second worst owner in sports, blacked the games out from local television in order to make fans come out to the game as it was the only way to see them play. It was an evil, short sighted financial ploy in order to increase Gate revenue. Unfortunately all it did was take away a generation of young Blackhawk fans. I never played hockey as a child, but I do remember attending a Blackhawk charity dinner in 1996 and getting to meet Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Eddie Belfour, and Tony Amonte. As well as legends the Gold Jet Bobby Hull and Stan “the man” Mikita, whom I also frequently saw on the golf course as a kid. I was enamored by these friendly giants and instantly became a Blackhawk lover, unfortunately my love could not last because I never got to watch what were actually some pretty good teams play. And the great memory quickly faded away as the team that shared a building with the Hawks repeated a three-peat and were literally everywhere I turned as a kid.
Dollar Bill’s cheap ploys eventually hurt the product on the ice and it became a blessing to not have the Hawks on TV as it saved us from watching them lose every year. It was not until Rocky Wirtz seized control of the team from the old man who passed away in 2007 before the return to glory. Rocky proves that sometimes it is good that the apple falls far from the tree because he has done everything completely opposite from his father. The Hawks have gone from being named the worst franchise in sports in 2004 by ESPN to being on the verge of becoming a NHL dynasty merely 10 years later. It certainly helps when Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane fall into your laps in back-to-back drafts, but Rocky has proven that the real key to success is a strong organizational foundation. The city has fallen back in love with its Original 6 team and has built a fanbase that will only grow stronger in the decades to come. There is absolutely no way I would be writing this article if it wasn’t for the work done by Rocky Wirtz and everyone involved with the Chicago Blackhawks and for that all I can say is, thank you.