This is not the time to fight with your boss. but after more than a decade as TIME’s hockey-beat writer, a job I wrestled from no one, my editor, Josh Tyrangiel, has refused to hear any more of my hockey-story pitches, arguing that the sport is not relevant enough to be in a mass-circulation magazine. “Like most people in America, in my daily life I’m much more likely to kick something or throw something in a basket than I am to put on ice skates,” Josh says. “I’m actually more likely to tackle somebody than put on skates.” That’s the kind of guy I’m dealing with. Before these columns are edited, they are full of earnestness and sunshine.
Luckily, I can drive anyone to a point where they get so annoyed that they yell something stupid. Josh yelled that I could write one more column about hockey during this incredibly exciting playoff season, but it had better make a convincing argument about how excellent hockey is. If I failed to convince, TIME.com readers could vote to bar me for life from ever referring to the sport again . Therefore, this is the most important column I’ll ever write. Unless, of course, you vote to keep the hockey pieces coming, in which case there’s a super-important column I’m planning about further reductions in goalie leg-pad sizes.
Now, I’m not actually going to ask you to watch hockey. I’m just asking you, as an educated, curious person, to be aware of its excellence. To support my case, I sought out testimonials from the busiest and most important people in the game, some of whom took more than an hour to get back to me.
Wayne Gretzky e-mailed that “TIME readers are much like hockey fans: affluent, passionate people. Why would anyone described that way want to be deprived of Joel’s wisdom and wit Joel’s not an expert on much let’s at least give him his hockey!!!” I did not know the Great One was such a trash talker, or that he uses exclamation points like a 15-year-old girl. See, in hockey you can even make fun of one of the greatest players ever! Try that on Mike Tyson.
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In a friend-of-the-court essay written to advance my cause, director Kevin Smith argued that hockey has “Heroes! Villains! Costumes! Masks! Fights! It’s a comic book come to life … at any moment, someone might try to punch someone else in the face!” Oddly, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was less effusive. When I asked him to sell his sport, he pointed out, “The players all grow playoff beards. It’s their commitment to the cause, the bond of the team.” But Bettman did add that anyone who watches “Washington play Pittsburgh and sees Ovechkin play Crosby” will catch hockey fever. When I e-mailed this to Josh, he responded by sending me a news story about how Washington and Pittsburgh had to reschedule a playoff game due to a conflict with a Yanni concert. Yanni not only won the fight but cruelly taunted hockey fans by recently shaving two decades of facial hair.
Three-time Stanley Cup champion Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s active goal-scoring leader, argued that while NHL players are often accused of being boring and Canadian, many are not even Canadian. I asked Shanahan for an exciting fact about himself, and he thought for a moment. “I have a photographic memory in any sort of movie game,” he said. I pressed him for something else: “My beard grows every three hours and looks completely gray. I make Brett Favre look young.” Seriously, the NHL has got to abandon this beard campaign.
Is any of this working Because I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the NHL will let me do things no sport that doesn’t involve animals will. I’ve played goalie at a New York Islanders practice even though I can’t skate. I’ve brought the Stanley Cup to a pawnshop. The league has even offered to let me be commissioner for a day. When I pitched that last idea, Josh said, “If the NHL would let you be commissioner for a year, we’d have something. Because then you’d change that stupid sport.”
I’m not deluding myself. I know hockey is a subculture and that few of you will join it. But you should still vote to let me write about it. We’re at risk of becoming a society in which we read only about topics we’re already interested in, and TIME is one of the last places that tries to satisfy the intellectually curious. Besides, if you choose not to drive a Zamboni across my heart, there’s a fair chance I could get Gretzky to grow a Yanni ‘stache.
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