It is, indeed, a physical game. This is a common hockey platitude, usually used to try to make everyone feel better after an incident of significant violence. You know, a guy is lying totally still on the ice in that really scary kind of way, or they’re sweeping up someone’s blood and teeth, or two dudes are pummeling each other’s faces for no discernable reason, and eventually it cuts to the talking heads, and one of them says,
“Well, Bob, it’s a physical game.”
“It certainly is, Steve.”
But it’s not just a physically violent game, it’s also a physically affectionate game. This is something that long-time hockey fans take for granted, but trust me, when you’re is new to the sport, it’s strikingly weird at first. There may be no crying in baseball, but there is a ton of hugging in hockey. 93% of goals, in my personal highly scientific survey, are followed by hugging. Often giant group hugs that last a full minute, the kind of hugging usually reserved for long-lost brothers or people who’ve just won several million dollars. I guess, indirectly, maybe they have just won a million dollars, but I’ve never seen baseball players hug like this, and they probably make more money. Even comparatively slow, dispassionate games usually generate a few last-scene- of-the-movie-oh-my-god-I-thought-you-died-in-the-mine-collapse-but-you- showed-up-at-the-last-minute-and-shot-the-supervillain-type hugs, like somebody was saving all their energy for the snuggling part. And then there’s that crazy head-bumping thing, which I’ve decided is the hockey equivalent of Eskimo kisses.
I love it. It’s endearing. And it’s logical too, because it is a physical game, an always violent and often cruel game, and it would just be depressing if all that adrenaline was always expressed in pain and rage. All the hugging gives a tangible shape to the feeling of winning, unfiltered excitement, shared. Hockey players are given a hundred outlets for anger and hate and the more vicious aspects of their natures, there has to be one for joy as well. Hell, I’m not even involved and I want to hug everybody after a really gorgeous play. It still surprises me, every night, how much emotion is invested in this game. Sure it’s a sport, but sometimes it’s got more intrinsic, authentic drama then prime-time television.
Let’s all give praise to the Tao of Hockey, which balances good and evil, winning and losing, grace and violence, hugging and checking. Harmony is a beautiful thing.