"You never take advice. Someday, you'll pay the price, I know."
October 14, 2008 12:18 AM   Subscribe

How can I watch hockey on TV more "actively"?

I know everyone says how you have to see a game in person to really enjoy it, but that's not an option for me geographically, and even then, it's not like I could go to every game. I do get some HD games on Versus and the regional cable channel though, which is nice.

I've been a fan of the sport for several years, but while I follow my team as much as I can, I'm more of a "passive" viewer of games on TV, and don't find games involving other teams as interesting as I used to (although I guess that goes for a lot of people these days).

So, I'd like to develop a better idea of what to look for in terms of player positioning, preset plays, offensive/defensive strategies, etc. What sorts of little "game within the game" things do diehard fans notice? What made things click for you as a hockey viewer, and help you go beyond just following the puck around? Or what have you done to successfully help an acquaintance find the game more captivating? General or specific, I'll take whatever I can.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What makes hockey so great? The role players, the skilled players, the youngsters, the veterans, the energy guys, and the dynamics between them. The juxtaposition of grace and brutality. The un-written rules that are enforced by the enforcers.

To get a different perspective, don't watch the puck, watch the overall flow and direction of the players. Watch a few shifts by focusing on a single player and notice what he does away from the puck. When the puck is in the defensive zone, focus on only the goalie for a few minutes and how he moves and plays the angles and deals with traffic in front. It's all those details and how they get strung together that makes hockey a beautiful sport.

Oh, and an HDTV makes a huge difference.
posted by afx114 at 12:45 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

PS, try picking up a stick and puck. Playing the game gives you a whole new respect for those guys out there. They are highly skilled warriors.
posted by afx114 at 12:49 AM on October 14, 2008

I watched a lot of games last summer online when I was without a TV during the playoffs, at justin.tv and there's a live chat that runs alongside the game. Can get a little silly at times but people also seriously discuss the plays.
posted by mannequito at 5:42 AM on October 14, 2008

Yeah, everything that afx114 said....also, good announcers can make all the difference. If you're lucky, they'll explain the game in a way that makes sense to a novice viewer, while also pointing out the little things that would appeal to a more seasoned fan. Even if you're not particularly interested in watching other teams, you may want to do so once in a while to get a feel for how other play-by-play & color guys see the game. SI published a list of the "best" announcers a while back, if you want to read one guy's opinion on who's worth listening to. (You may also find that your local radio guy is better than your local TV guy, so you could flip on the radio while watching on TV.)
posted by brandman at 5:43 AM on October 14, 2008

I find that watching college hockey makes pro hockey more fun. I feel a bit more connected to teams that feature a former college player I know, even if I wouldn't otherwise care about that team. Plus it becomes interesting to watch players develop, in a "hey, that kid finally learned how to skate!*" kind of way.

*thinking of one former college star in particular; dude seriously looked awkward the first time I saw him skate, and now he's a former collegiate national champion and has his name on the Stanley Cup. That kind of thing makes watching the game fun for me.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:34 AM on October 14, 2008

I like picking a couple of players - preferably, one on each line, so that one of my favorites is always out there on the ice. Look for habits - skating form, a penchant for strong bodychecks or smooth passes, or how that big dude will always try to camp out in the low slot and try to scoop rebounds, or deflect shots. Get more intimate with how individual players play the game, and follow those details. The game will be more fun.
posted by entropone at 6:53 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

1) Forechecking. When one team takes possession in their own defensive zone, what are the other team's forwards doing? Do they send one guy in to halfheartedly wave his stick at somebody, or are they creating more pressure and forcing mistakes? You'll see anything from zero to two-man forechecks, and it tells you something about a team's aggressiveness.

2) Neutral zone play. How effective is each team at carrying the puck into the other's zone? Particularly, are they hitting the blue line with speed and forcing the defense to backpedal, or is the defense holding the blue line and forcing dump and chase? This can really define the pace of the game. A defense that consistently backs off and fails to hold the blue line is a sign of a team that's getting outworked or outskated and finding themselves slightly out of position. This can be a good barometer for momentum in the game, as well as the relative strengths of the two teams.

3) Matchups. Home teams have a lot of control over the line matchups, because they're allowed to change last during stoppages. What matchups does it look like each coach is trying to get on the ice? Are they both happy with the standard first line vs. checking line or are they angling to get both first lines out at the same time? How is that changing as the game progresses?

4) Rebounds. Is the goaltender giving up lots of rebounds into dangerous areas of the ice or is he catching the puck and stopping play? Goalies vary on how good they are at this, and it can also tell you a bit about how sharp a guy is on any given night.

5) Agitators. Most every team has at least one guy whose main job is to get under the skin of the other team. Is it working? Do you see lots of little shoving matches after the whistle? A lot of times those will be one-sided, with a single player from one team mixing it up a bit with lots of players on the other. This is sort of fun to watch unfold and the team that's not reacting well to the agitator often takes unnecessary penalties.
posted by shadow vector at 7:06 AM on October 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

What everyone else here has said, especially about not watching the puck, but watching the PLAY. Look at what's happening behind the play as well, so you can see how the plays develop. An especially interesting time during a game (to me) is the minute or so immediately following a penalty, this is often when the teams that have trouble switching out of special teams mode get scored on, and when the just-penalized team feels they have some catching up to do.

I definitely agree with shadow vector about picking certain players to watch, it can really help you be more active if you pick a couple of players and learn their styles well, this can then translate into helping you watch other players more actively. Watch a couple of teams regularly, find teams whose style you enjoy, and players on those teams to specifically keep an eye on. And if you can even go to a couple of good non-pro games, this can really give you a much broader perspective on the things you don't get to see on TV. Or even watch some of the hockey shows that show you the stuff that goes on during games that isn't the usual top-of-the-glass, follow-the-puck stuff you see on broadcast TV, those can be really enlightening.

Also read good sportswriters, and watch stats with a critical eye, stats in hockey are interesting, because they can be completely misleading taken out of context.
posted by biscotti at 7:32 AM on October 14, 2008

Watching with friends who are likewise interested over a few beers also adds a lot to the enjoyment. If that isn't an option, maybe there's a local bar showing the game.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 8:17 AM on October 14, 2008

I, like you, came to hockey later in life. Found it when the NBA went on strike a few years back. Here are a couple of observations/wishes:

1) The big thing for a neophyte to get – and this is something you need to explain to any acquaintance – is the offside rule. Once you understand why people are waiting to cross the blue line or are just trying to clear the puck out past the blue line, things start making more sense. Lifelong hockey fans take this as a basic assumption. But it explains a lot. I wish someone like you explained it to me.

2) Seeing a game live helps you understand line changes. TV hardly shows them well. So casual fans watch the puck go to one end sent there by one set of players, then the camera pans back and new players seem to have magically appeared. I wish they would use the behind-the-goal camera shot more. It helped me see the positions players rush to. And on power plays, just what a team is trying to do.

3) I went to my first Flyers came just a few years ago when a neighbor asked me to go with him. Turned out Mr. Neighbor's seats were at the glass behind the Flyers' bench for the 6th game of the Toronto playoff series. I never knew how hard the players worked; how short the shifts were; how they're more sprinters than football players ... and damn what great athletes.
posted by lpsguy at 8:31 AM on October 14, 2008

You may not be able to get to an NHL game easily, but watching a college or junior level game live can be just as much fun. Does your area have an affiliate of one of the pro teams?

Watching the game live does make it easier to do the things being suggested, like following certain players during their shift. The TV cameras only focus on the puck, so it can be hard to see the play developing the way you can if you are in the cheap seats far above ice level.

When watching the game on TV (which is what I mostly do now), I try to guess what the colour guy is going to say. You tend to get to know them andwhat things they will identify in reviewing certain plays, so I try to get there first. Or disagree with them, and point out why they are idiots. Yes, it makes my wife think I'm nuts when I shout at the TV, but I've given up that fight.
posted by never used baby shoes at 10:29 AM on October 16, 2008

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