We’re at a great point in the sports calendar. The Stanley Cup finals are winding up, the NBA Finals are in full swing, the World Cup is getting underway, baseball is rolling along, the US Open tees off at Winged Foot on Thursday, and NFL quarterbacks are proving that they should probably wear their helmet off the field.
I’ve been enjoying watching the Carolina Hurricanes play over the past week. I don’t have cable or satellite tv, so the NBC broadcasts have been my first real chance to see them play all year. I have had the distinct pleasure of listening to Chuck Kaiton call their games on the radio, however. He’s one of the great voices in sports broadcasting. I watched the second half of the Sweden/Trinidad and Tobago match on Saturday as well, and was reasonably entertained as well, for a 0-0 tie.
I got to thinking about why I like hockey so much more than soccer. In some ways, they’re very similar kinds of sports — relatively low scoring, get the object in the goal games — but they provide completely different spectator experiences.
I’m not a soccer-hater. I like to watch well-played soccer. I’ll follow the World Cup. Back when I had ESPN, I spent a summer following Ajax in the UEFA Cup. Their style of play was very interesting to watch. Ultimately, however, soccer can’t hold a candle to ice hockey. Here’s why:
1. Physical effort. While soccer players are incredibly fit, they’re on the field for 90 minutes, so they can’t give maximum effort all the time. They have to conserve their energy, expending strategically in short bursts. While this can make for interesting tactics and strategy, I much prefer hockey’s system of putting players out in short shifts of a minute or so where they are in constant motion for the whole time.
2. Substitution patterns. Speaking of shifts, while I understand how soccer’s substitution rules make a certain amount of sense and create their own drama as coaches have to decide when and how to use their substitutes, it just doesn’t do it for me. Substituting without stopping play — that’s where it’s at. Is there any sport where the coach has to make fewer in-game decisions than soccer?
3. Diving. Yeah, there are floppers and divers in every sport, but come on. There’s nothing more pathetic than seeing a star soccer player writhing in agony on the ground, only to pop up and run around as if nothing had happened once play resumes.
4. Speed. Is there a faster game than hockey? No.
5. Tie-resolution mechanisms. Shootouts? Aggregates? Whatever. Yeah, regular-season NHL games can be unsatisfying with the old-school overtime ties and new-school shootout wins, and Olympic hockey still lets gold medals be won via shootout, but the Stanley Cup playoffs have the best tie-resolution mechanism in sport — sudden-death overtime, first goal wins, play until we have a winner.
6. Star culture. Is there anything more tiresome than hearing about the social lives of your favorite (or least favorite) sports stars? Stars in the NHL are guys you’d feel comfortable hanging out with (My wife grew up in Alaska, where the hockey players were the BMOCs at school, so she may disagree).
7. Physical danger. Every time Chris Pronger winds up for a slapshot, Mike Emrick’s voice rises a couple of octaves as he anticipates one of three things happening: a goal, a miss, or some poor defenseman getting in the way of a frozen piece of rubber travelling at 90 mph. The crazy thing is that the defensemen are sometimes intentionally trying to get in the way of the puck. Insanity! That’s on top of the regular old hitting that goes on in the course of a game. By contrast, there’s no more comical sight than a line of men standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their hands cupped over their crotches. Yeah, it’s dangerous on the wall, but it just doesn’t look very manly.
8. Wives and girlfriends. While footballers’ wives are stereotypically hot, there’s no rational explanation for the number of butt-ugly hockey players with supermodels on their arms, other than they must be cool.
9. Broadcasters. Hockey play-by-play men (I don’t know of any women with this job) have the hardest job in sports broadcasting. When done well, it’s amazingly exciting to listen to. Did I mention that Chuck Kaiton is awesome?
10.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Playing with the man advantage.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Trinidad and Tobago played pretty much the entire second half of their match with Sweden down a man, and they managed to pull off a tie.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â What?Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Something’s wrong with your game if a) you have matches in which one team plays shorthanded for more than half of the match, and b) it doesn’t materially affect the outcome.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Of course, Edmonton is something like 1 for their last 20 power play opportunites, which gives the lie to my objection, but still.
I’m sure there are more reasons, but I need to get some work done. Feel free to disagree.