Did you see last nights game? Uh.....
June 6, 2011 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Hockey Fans, how can I become conversant about the sport?

Pending official NHL approval, the Atlanta Thrashers will be moving to Winnipeg, Canada, my hometown. The hype has been growing for weeks, and despite not being a hockey fan (or a fan of any other sport), I've found myself getting caught up in the excitement.

I know the basics about the game and I've been to several AHL level games, but I've never followed a team, or been able to participate in any hockey/sport related conversation.

What sorts of things do hockey conversations revolve around? Where can I find that information? Do I have to watch every game to keep up to date? Are there any good blogs that condense the highlights? I didn't grow up knowing any real hockey fans (which is a bit odd now that I think about it), so even basic insights will be helpful to me.

posted by Homo economicus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Forgive the obvious response, but a good start would be to watch the rest of the Stanley Cup finals on right now - there's a game Wednesday night, and a game Friday night (and hopefully the Canucks will have gotten their act together and won by then, otherwise there will also be a game on Monday and Wednesday). Pretty easy to get into the details by listening to the commentary...and I'm sure you could find lots of people to watch it with in Winnipeg (who may or may not be willing to answer your newbie questions).

I am similarly a hockey newb so I've been watching at home with my boyfriend, quizzing him on the details and wikipedia-ing terms I don't understand. I've been picking it up pretty quickly.
posted by stray at 10:34 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Watch the games, listen to the commentary during games, the analyses between periods and post-game, read hockey news articles, read hockey blogs.

I second the suggestion to watch with people who know hockey so you can ask them questions and listen to their chit chat during the games.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:56 PM on June 6, 2011

"Know your Winnipeg/Manitoba _____s Roster":

During the offseason, water cooler and message board hockey talk frequently revolves around speculating about forward lines and defenseman pairings. You look at who's set, who's a free agent, and what prospects will get a good look. So from your perspective, a conversation starter would be asking questions about what the team's strengths and weaknesses are.

I have no idea where the Thrashers were set at, but fans will just throw out stuff like, "Okay, so if we can get a big scoring left wing for our second line, and a shutdown center on the fourth line..." And then they put out a hypothetical chart of forwards and D-men. It's often pretty pointless, but it's hard to resist.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:07 PM on June 6, 2011

Best answer: 'The Game' by Ken Dryden might help, it's probably the finest book ever written about ice hockey, and written by a goalie no less. Very good for thinking about the sport.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 11:52 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was in the same predicament a few years ago. I wanted to become involved but I didn't know where to start. This is what I did and it helped a lot: I joined a hockey pool at work. Now that I have a stake in the games I followed the stats more closely. The first year I was in the pool I didn't know who to pick so then I picked players whose last name ended in an 'a' . I ended up winning the pool!

My advice is to join a hockey pool and then watch how you do. You will end up with an appreciation of the players and the teams. Then you can decide what / who you like.
posted by Kilovolt at 11:59 PM on June 6, 2011

Most of those people you hear having intelligent conversations about hockey or any sport, not to mention most of the commentators on television, don't know much about it either.

Notice how this doesn't stop them from holding strong opinions. Listen and emulate.
posted by rokusan at 12:30 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Attend a game in person. I had watched hockey on television for years before actually attending a game. Seeing the game in person let me get a much better feel for the speed/distance/spacing of the game that you can then apply to future TV watching.

2. Hockey makes for excellent video games. Get the latest hockey game for the latest video game console that you own. If that's NHL 94 for Sega Genesis or NHL 11 for PS3, it doesn't matter. You'll be able to get a feel for how lines work, basic strategy, etc.

3. Every time the puck is whistled dead and two opposing players grab each other near the net jump out of your chair and scream "KILL HIM".

4. Don't actually do #3.
posted by outlaw of averages at 12:31 AM on June 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I ended up winning the pool!

Wow, are you still on speaking terms with everyone else?

OP: Something else you can do is check out scouting report web sites/books/mags. By the time pre-season starts, you'll have some idea of who's who on your team as far as speedsters, snipers, big hitters, goons, etc. And look up highlights on Youtube.

Oh, and you'll score points by correctly pronouncing the name of fan favorite Dustin Byfuglien ("buff-lin"). Whether it's actually correct is another story...

You asked if you need to watch every game to keep up. At first, you may end up doing it anyway because of the novelty aspect, and because rosters are still being finalized, but after a while you could get by with a game a week or so. And any pregame show will fill you in on what's been happening.

And, I'm reminded that I asked a somewhat similar hockey question myself a few years back.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:06 AM on June 7, 2011

Aside from watching random games, watch analysis between periods and watch Sportscenter on TSN. You'll pick it all up faster than you think.
posted by fso at 4:06 AM on June 7, 2011

You will have no shortage of people in Canada who know hockey. Hang around them, befriend them, indicate a sincere willingness to know more, and I'll bet you'll pick things up both directly and through osmosis. Especially if no one has to explain icing to you.

The blogging community is huge; you will almost certainly be able to keep up with the minutiae through the Winnipeg blogs that will spring up; there are more general blogs as well. I like Puck Daddy though he's a bit brash and uncouth for some; Kukla's Korner is a good aggregator of news, and has some team-specific blogs, although the most prolific single bloggers and 80% of the posters (including yours truly) are die-hard Red Wing fans.

You should also be familiar with the term "Wheel of Justice." Though Brendan Shanahan is taking over the duty of supplementary discipline next year, and hopefully things will be less of a crapshoot.
posted by stevis23 at 4:48 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The ESPN Hockey Today podcast is also pretty good for analysis.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:06 AM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: A lot of hockey conversation follows trends like:

- How about that ridiculous season PLAYER is having?
- I can't believe our bonehead GM gave CRAPPY PLAYER a bajllion dollar thirty year contract
- I sure wish TEAM would trade for PLAYER
- That big hit last night was Awesome/Dirty.
- How about that awful disciplinary decision the league made?

You can keep up with the latest by checking blogs or watching hockey night in canada.

Also if you're in Canada you should probably get used to:

- Hockey doesn't belong in the South, bring all the teams back to Canada where they belong.

2nding Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog and SB Nation has a lot of good content too.
posted by ghharr at 5:12 AM on June 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

My husband laughed at me when I came home armed with "Hockey for Dummies" and said you can't learn about it from a book. I took that as a personal affront as I'm sort of a nerd researcher by nature.

Alas, he was right. (damn the bad luck!) I watched Caps games incessantly, listened to the play-by-play and learned it halfway decently. I'm nthing the others who say watch and learn.

Good luck! It's by far my favorite sport - everything else is too damn slow!
posted by Mysticalchick at 5:54 AM on June 7, 2011

Seconding seeing a game in person. I never really thought much about line changing until I watched a game in person. Lines change a lot (it's not always obvious on TV), and is a huge part of the game.

As an up-and-coming hockey fan, I've found it helpful as I start memorizing player numbers. It's pretty interesting to be able to tell who's where without having to wait for the announcer.

Finally, if you've got a friend who's a hockey fan, you'll probably pick up stuff more quickly by watching a game with him/her than alone.

posted by Tu13es at 6:52 AM on June 7, 2011

Play EA NHL '11 (or '12, when it's out).
posted by notyou at 6:56 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 2. Hockey makes for excellent video games.

I couldn't agree with Outlaw more on this point. I've been a hockey fan for as long as I can remember and unless you're dropping serious cash on NHL Gamecenter, this is the only way you'll keep team rosters straight in your head (unless you turn into a hockey fanatic). Best part of the newer games? every month or so, EA Sports releases roster updates, so the players on the teams really are the players on those teams.

Kukla's Korner is a good aggregator of news, and has some team-specific blogs, although the most prolific single bloggers and 80% of the posters (including yours truly) are die-hard Red Wing fans.

I go here at least 5 times daily to make sure I didn't miss anything "behind-the-scenes"... but admittedly, it does focus on Red Wings related news (which is fine for me, but might not be fine for your Winnipeg Fill-in-the-Blanks).

If you're looking for overall league news, I'd recommend TSN. You live in Canada (or at least are rooting for a new Canadian team), so I'd assume you are familiar with their station - its basically ESPN for Canada, but it follows good sports. Their website is robust and covers all the important events well (playoffs, draft, trade deadline, winter classic, power rankings, etc.).

Other than that, stay plastered to your Winnipeg newspaper articles (you can find almost everything on their respective websites), keep an ear to the ground for online forums (like the Red Wing-focused Let's Go Wings or the Penguin-inspired Let's Go Pens), watch/go to games, learn Winnipeg traditions (like the "Go Jets Go! chant and the fabled Winnipeg White Outs).

Most of all, welcome to Hockey! I can only hope its as addictive and fun for you as its been for me the past 2 decades. :D
posted by Yzerfan at 7:03 AM on June 7, 2011

Agree on many points already made: read a blog or two (Illegal Curve, and the NHL blogs at SB Nation), and just start following along -- you'll pick it up pretty quick.
posted by statolith at 7:58 AM on June 7, 2011

Best answer: CBC has a bunch of good links... http://www.metafilter.com/91229/CBC-Hockey

To keep up to date with the hot items in the league you should probably watch coaches corner. (although take it with a grain of salt)

Plus you never know what jacket he is going to wear. http://doncherryjacketwatch.wordpress.com/

One suggestion, don't be that crazy guy who memorizes every stat that ever existed,
but the odd colour comentary stat is interesting like
"1977 Canadiens and the 1989 Calgary Flames, both Stanley Cup champions the year after the cities hosted the Olympics. Can the Canucks do the same?"
posted by MechEng at 9:07 AM on June 7, 2011

Seconding Phlegmco(tm)'s recommendation of Dryden's 'The Game.' For a more local spin, see if you can dig up The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association (wouldn't be surprised if it were in the sports section of any number of fine 'Peg bookstores). A fascinating and often hilarious account of the history of the WHA, including a decent amount of prehistory of the Winnipeg Jets, who were arguably the best-run WHA franchise, and were positively crucified by the terms of their entry into the NHL.

(Reminds me that I've got to retrieve my copy from the Jets' fan I'd lent it to a while ago...)
posted by hangashore at 10:26 AM on June 7, 2011

Know about Don Cherry, Hockey Night in Canada, the Original Six, dirty checks, Crosby vs. Ovetchkin, and why Gary Bettman is a Bad Man.

Also learn about plus/minus, stupid vs. good penalties, overtime procedures, why 4-on-4 hockey is exciting and be prepared to defend why goalies should stay in / leave the crease.

There's also the traditions - playoff beards, not touching the conference final trophies (no hockey player should touch a trophy unless it is the Stanley Cup) and the obsessive-compulsive nature of hockey players. This includes only putting on all left equipment first (i.e. left skate, left glove, left elbow pad, etc..) and following the same routine on a win streak.
posted by glaucon at 10:51 AM on June 7, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks Everyone!

I didn't even think about getting a hockey video game. I'll probably pick up NHL 11 in the next week or so. I'll also try watching the rest of the Stanley Cup. Next step: figure out which channel TSN is on...

My fiancée's dad and brother are big into hockey, so it'll be great having more to talk about with them.

More replies are still welcome!
posted by Homo economicus at 10:54 AM on June 7, 2011

There is knowing hockey, and there is knowing all the stuff people who talk sports like to talk about. I don't see them as totally the same. Knowing hockey requires going to see the game live, watching the individual players, how they play as a team and what skills they exhibit individually and collectively. Knowing the team, and most of what you'll hear about on the incessant sports shows, revolves around who is making how much, controversy of the day, etc.

I can't recommend enough watching games live with a companion who really enjoys hockey and wants to teach you. It is an amazing sport with a ton of nuance, but fast moving. Television is good for finding out what happened, but not so much why. The color commentators try to explain it (some better than others), but unless you are pretty familiar with the game you'll struggle because the visual clues to what is happening are often off screen.
posted by meinvt at 11:47 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

You'll learn a lot more about the game of hockey (rather than NHL hockey) by going to Junior A (I think you'll have to go to Brandon) or International games. Watching live hockey also allows you to see the coaches yelling at the refs, or players trash-talking and mouthing-off to each other, so the rough-and-tumble element of the game is a lot more visible too.

My girlfriend is a hockey fan. I played a lot of street hockey as a kid but never really enjoyed the NHL product much.

My impression through attending a lot of (elite level) Junior games and International Tournaments is that television and the NHL has ruined hockey. If you go to a Junior or International game, you'll see a game with a lot of parries and counter-attacks where clock management and line changes are very important to the flow of the game. The coaches have to work hard to maintain discipline and keep fresh players on the ice. An NHL game has too many stoppages in play. In my opinion, well played hockey looks a lot like well played soccer.

The one amazing thing about NHL games is that the guys are HUGE and FAST in a way that doesn't show well on television.
posted by Intrepid at 1:39 PM on June 7, 2011

You can get your dose of Don Cherry here.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 10:43 PM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Watch Slapshot.
posted by outlaw of averages at 1:49 AM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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