By Caylin Dean
Featured Image by McKendree University Athletics
Beer, extreme passion and a touch of aggression, the few words I knew that describe the atmosphere of a hockey game. Coming from western Illinois, hockey is not a sport that I ever had the opportunity or desire to watch. That is, until now…
On January 25th, I attended my first ever hockey game as the D2 McKendree Bearcats took on the Northern Illinois University Huskies. I observed their expert balance, skill and agility as if it was improvised choreography. As I examined the multitude of masterful techniques that they demonstrated, I had a few thoughts.
First of all, to me, hockey seems to be a mixture of multiple sports combined into one. The players pass the puck from one to the next, as basketball players do with a basketball. They use their sticks as a bat to whack the puck into the goal in a similar manner that a baseball player does with the ball. Lastly, the goal serves the same purpose as it does in soccer; the athlete’s main intent in the game is to land the preferred object into it, expertly passing through swarms of defense and a skilled goalkeeper to win the point. As if that was not enough, what kind of lunatic thought, “let’s put it on slippery, frozen water and let ‘em go?”
When I wandered into the massive arena, I was jolted with a flush of cold; the frigid air kissed my skin, pinking my nose. Swarms of fans were bundled within their coats and blankets, scanning the players’ every move, their heads moving hypnotically left, right, left. I sat on the numbingly cool, metal bleachers, as bitter as the ice the players skated on, as it froze me from the outside in.
As I surveyed the game, I was fully immersed in the hypnotic dance of the puck. It glides across the gleaming ice and is intercepted by the gentle curve of the of the teammate’s stick. Then thwacked with superb force, it weaves its way through the sharp blades of the skates and the chaos of flailing sticks before rebounding off the rear of the intersecting net. Spontaneously, the sticks of the victorious team raise to the ceiling in triumph, signifying their collective success.
To gain perspective of the game and its many articulations, I interviewed Andrew Best, goaltender of the D2 McKendree Bearcats hockey team. The Canadian described the main purpose of the game to just “score on the opponent,” and “get the puck in the net,” but of course, there are many other technicalities that are considered for a successful game. To him, playing hockey is an essential component to his daily activities, just as brushing his teeth and going to class, as he has four practices a week with an estimated two games during the thick of the season.
I pretty much gathered that the stereotype is true; most Canadians have some sort of connection to hockey, whether it’s playing, coaching, or watching. He got his first pair of skates around the age of three, and the rest is history. His father, as well as his grandfather were hockey players. With eyes lit up in passion, he told me that hockey was his absolute favorite thing to do, because to him, it’s the “best game on earth.” For him, it acts as an escape to stressors and other things going on in his life, as he is able to forget about them for a while when he’s in his element.
“It’s a rush, it’s incredibly challenging, and it’s not something that you’re ever going to perfect.”
He explained that constantly striving to improve his game and challenging himself is something that allows him to maintain his rigorous work ethic.
“I’d say that hockey is one of the most serious parts of my life,” Best explained, which is illustrated in this season’s record of 23-5-1, which means wins-losses-ties.
When asked about his specific job on the team, he joked, “to get hit with pucks,” meaning to keep the puck out of the net as much as possible, contributing and giving his teammates the best possible chance to win the game. Best said that to be a great player, it is imminent that they be able to read and analyze plays and have a sense of how that game flows, which is something that cannot necessarily be taught.
The most interesting part of the interview to me was his extensive use of pre-game rituals, as he is very superstitious. He is very focused on timing, he needs to complete his stretches in the same routine at the same time, and he makes sure to take his pre-workout in the same manner as every other game, about half an hour before ice time. Of course, if any is spilled, it’s a “bad omen.” Lastly, every article of clothing and gear must be put on the right side of his body before the left, and if anything occurs out of order, it becomes distressing, as structure is key. When on the ice, it is crucial that he taps the post in multiples of three ending on the side that the play ended on during the game, every time the play starts or they switch sides. However, our interview was not long enough to describe the multitude of other rituals he partakes in before games.
So, the next time you’re cheering on your Bearcats at a hockey game, just hope that Andrew Best has NOT spilled his pre workout.
Between my expectations, my experiences, and my interview with a hockey player, I have discovered just why people love to watch -and play- the game. The amount of passion that is emanated by the players, coupled with the enthusiasm by the fans make for a one-of-a-kind experience that is unmatched. Move over basketball, hockey is my new favorite sport.