Now that football season is underway, I, of course, wanted to write about my favorite sport…Hockey. Growing up in Steelers’ Country and when the Pirates actually won was great, but I always loved hockey more. Back when I was a teenager, hockey games were affordable and my friend Lenny and I would get tickets and go to games. The Penguins were a so-so team, but that did not matter, we loved to go.
We had different favorite players; he like Jean Pronovost and I like Greg Malone. Pronovost was the better scorer, but Malone was the hard-working player that reflected the grit of the city he played in. It was really cool when Malone’s son, Ryan, played for the Penguins years later.
This year, Pittsburgh once again became the City of Champions with a Super Bowl win by the Steelers (their sixth) and the Penguins third Stanley Cup. We no longer expect the Pirates to win a championship and are only shooting for a season where they win more games than they lose. The Pirates seem fated to break a dubious record of 18 straight losing seasons which will be a record for ANY major league sport.
I think that my love of hockey comes from the speed of the game. I cannot stand chess, but I do like checkers and backgammon; games that move faster. I am one of those people who will wander from checkout line to checkout line to find the shortest and I always find one. It is not usually the one that I pick, but I try. Hockey suites me. It is fast and furious. Since the rules changes a few years ago, the game has become even more exciting. Living in a city with a talented young team does not hurt either.
One of the things that I have come to appreciate about hockey is that the players seem to be genuinely nice guys. If you follow sports, you are often treated to stories of the antics of football players shooting themselves, or baseball players on steroids, or basketball players with multiple kids from multiple women. Not all players of other sports are cads; we have some great ones that represent our Steelers and Pirates, but, hockey players are different. It is not unusual to see Penguin players delivering pizza to fans waiting in line hoping to get one of their scarce tickets.
One theory is that a child that decides to play ice hockey has to make great sacrifices (i.e. very early practices, very expensive equipment, very expensive rink rental fees, travel, etc.) that they tend to really be dedicated to the sport, its history, and culture. A great example is the trophy that is awarded to the best team each year, the Stanley Cup. There is only one Stanley Cup (actually there are three (the original bowl donated by Lord Stanley, a replica in the Hall of Fame, and the “authenticated” Cup).
Each year, the winning team’s roster is inscribed onto the cup with the names of every team that has won the cup. This has been done for over one hundred years. One of the coolest traditions is that each player (and other members of the winning organization) gets to spend a day with the cup. Some of the stories are very interesting. When the Penguins win, it always ends up in Mario Lemieux’s pool. In addition, fans get to actually see and touch the cup as it make its rounds.
I was prompted to write this story when I read an article about when the Penguins’ Captain, Sidney Crosby, had his turn with the cup recently. He took the Cup to his home town of Cole Harbour to celebrate his birthday. When I looked at his itinerary, I was again reminded of what a classy bunch of guys hockey players can be. Highlights of his trip included a ceremony with the Canadian military, spending time with sick children at a local hospital, and even played hockey with a lucky group of youngsters. He also spent time celebrating with his family.
I will still watch football and maybe even attend a Pirates game every few years (they are the only professional sports team that I can actually get tickets for a game), but I never miss a Penguins game. Almost never.