There is no doubt in my mind that most NHL owners and NHL players discount the efforts and passion of the NHL fan to a large and, for me, insulting degree. That was the catalyst in giving you a place to voice your love of the game and remind them of your value and passion.
I asked you to write some lines on what hockey means to you, and boy did that explode the ol' Inbox! I've never had such a reaction in this space. I wish I could use them all, but there are limits.
The backdrop was my assertion that the Hockey Hall of Fame should honorarily induct a fan every year. Below are the words of hockey's most valuable treasure -- you, the fan -- and what you would say if you were the person to represent the fan at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
I love hockey because you don't have to.
I love hockey because it will survive, even if it fails to capture Tampa's imagination or move products off the shelves at Wal-Mart.
I love hockey because T.O. isn't invited to play.
I love hockey because the Stanley Cup has been in bed with supermodels, and because hockey's most legendary team has never visited the White House.
Most of all, I love hockey because, yes, Al, I do believe in miracles.
I have to go now; the pond behind my house just froze.
You don't normally expect a young African-American growing up on the streets of Flatbush in Brooklyn to embrace hockey, but that's what happened to me. Like most of the kids in my neighborhood, I grew up with a pair of roller skates -- you know, the metal ones that we had back in the day -- that many of the kids used on the bottom of a 2x4 with a fruit crate nailed on top, because we couldn't afford "real" go-carts. It's memories like that, and my own continuing passion for the game, that will always keep me coming back.
Darryl J. Henderson
Liberty Corner, N.J.
I do not love hockey for the thrill of winning. I love hockey for the thrill of seeing my son score his first goal, or any of his 8-and-under buddies beam a mouthguard-filled smile at making a play. That is where the true spirit of the sport resides, at the local rink. That is where the sport lives and breathes. That is a hockey fan's house of worship.
Gary J. O'Neil
Kennedy Space Center, Fla.
Hockey is taking shots at my brother with a ball on the street beside my parents' house.
Hockey is friends with a tennis ball and some plastic goals in the middle of the street.
Hockey is little kids with big smiles on backyard rinks and local ponds.
Turn off the TV, lace up your skates and go have fun.
Hockey is irresistible. Hockey allows you to forget your troubles and be suspended in time without any worries. Attend a playoff game and you can just feel the excitement. Attend one live game and your life has changed forever -- you are a fan now.
I met Kelly Hrudey at a "Skate with the Kings" when I was 6 or so. A hug, a kiss on the cheek and an autograph. When I grew up and got back into hockey, that was the memory I had. That moment is what made me the fan I am today.
The smell of a fresh sheet of ice at 6:30 on a Saturday morning in January.
The feel of taking that first check along the boards, followed by the burn in the lungs and legs to back check and break up the two-on-one.
The taste of the blood and sweat after a scrap in the corner for the loose puck.
The sound of a shot from the blue line ringing off of the post and going in for the game winner.
The sight of a group of players from both teams smiling, shaking hands and talking about their favorite plays after the clock hits zero, with the thoughts of next time already on their minds.
Thanks for the opportunity,
Hockey is purity. From the crisp, white ice to the cool chill as you skate, to the subtle, quick snap of a wrist shot to the top shelf, there is no purer joy than playing hockey. My soul feels fresh whether I'm watching or playing this great game.
Oklahoma City, Okla.
Once I was able to see the beauty of a line change and fluidness with which the game is played, my heart was hooked. I love this game as much as if I'd grown up with it all my life. I embrace its spirit, its history and its humility. Thank you for allowing me to be part of such a special day and special place.
San Jose, Calif.
The game affords us an opportunity not only to share emotion and bond with our own families but also to provide an extended family and additional places we can call our own.
Perfect strangers, longtime friends, fellow countrymen, season ticket-holders and tavern-goers all unite as extended family in the quest for a common goal and the love of the game.
I was thinking about what it is about hockey that is so great, and I kept coming back to family. My dad introduced my brother and me to the game, flooding our backyard and taking us to University of Minnesota games. I was 3 years old when it started, and he would bring a stepstool for me to stand on so I could see over the boards and watch the game. My brother has passed this tradition down to his daughter, bringing her to men's and women's U of M games. She is hooked. The guys I played high school and college hockey with are family, and the stories from our playing days never get old
St Paul, Minn.
Hockey fans are more than just passionate about their sport, they've got be the nicest and most generous fans of all the other sports. I've yet to meet a hockey fan who is a lousy person. Maybe playing in the cold freezes out the ill will.
Andrea L. Gallo
My dad has had season tickets to the Flyers since their third season in the league. He took me to my first game when I was 1, and hockey was one of my first words, right up there with Mommy and milk. I would recite all the players' names for my dad's friends and would run around our basement with a plastic orange puck and little wooden stick.
This is what hockey means to me.
Shady Side, Md.
I really didn't know what I was getting myself into that first morning when my parents woke me up and drove me to the rink for my first hockey clinic at the age of 8. I mean that in a great way, because hockey has pretty much been the one constant in my life that I have stuck with playing and watching ever since. The sport of hockey has had a tremendous effect on my life, and I am addicted to it. As long as I am physically able to I will play the coolest game on earth, and I will watch it as long as it is played, at any level. I can only thank my parents for all of their support while I was playing, all professional and amateur players for making my winters something to look forward to and my teammates over the years for making the game fun.
Two years ago, I was finally able to get radio on the Internet in my Bangkok home. Last year, I listened to Tim Saunders and Brian Propp announce every Philadelphia Flyers game, while I kept score. Including playoffs, that was 100 games. This year, I'm hoping to hear at least one.
My love affair with ice hockey is over 30 years old. My best childhood memories are attending St. Louis Blues games at the old Arena with my dad. The crowd would be so loud that I was sure that old lamella roof would cave in like it did when the tornado hit it. I loved the speed and the skill and the excitement of never knowing what would happen next. But the best part was sharing something special with my dad.
That was cathartic. Thanks,
I would like to thank my mother for introducing me to the wonderful game of hockey. From that fateful morning, as I got ready to go to kindergarten, and she asked me if I wanted to play floor hockey at the local rec center, I have loved this sport more than anything. So thanks again, Mom -- without you I would've never had the joy of knowing hockey.
State College, Pa.
I love the fact that it's always been about the team. When a player scores, he almost always points to his teammates, the ones who started the play deep in the zone, carried the puck up the ice, took the hits and made the perfect pass so someone else could put the puck into the net. They don't beat their chests and shout, "Hey, look at me!" They celebrate their collective hard work together as a team. That's what I love about the game.
Ten years ago, when I was 13, my mother passed away and my father and I were not on the best of terms. But hockey was a common ground. Growing up in Buffalo, the Sabres brought us together. For three hours a night we forgot about the outside world and cheered for our team. It brought us closer together. Hockey always gave me something to look forward to. The game always made me feel that no matter how bad things got in the real world, it would always be there to bring me to a place where I could just be a fan. In closing, this game saved me and I hope someday I can give back to the game everything it has given to me.
When I was a teenager, I was not close to my mom (not many teenage girls are, I know), but that non-relationship continued into college. At that time, I had a budding interest in hockey and my mom was (and is) an avid Colorado Avalanche fan. Well, the two of us bonded over many hockey games and during the last five years have become great friends because of hockey talk. In fact, we're planning a trip to Sweden this spring to see Peter Forsberg play for MoDo!
I accept this nomination on behalf of:
• Every parent who woke-up at 4 a.m. to drive their kids to the rink;
• Everyone who has ever played in an over-40 league;
• Everyone who has ever played on a lake and thought it as glorious as The Igloo, or The Garden, or The Forum;
• My dad, a Brooklyn-born and -bred NYC fireman whose only exposure to ice was around a beer mug or on the rim of his helmet in winter; who moved out to a hick town on Long Island so we could have a better life; and who taught me how to skate on a local lake, even though he just got done pulling a double tour and still smelled of smoke. It's why I like a fireplace in winter.
I know this is more than five sentences, John, but my dad is worth it.
Blue Point, N.Y.
It's the game that I can't look away from when I see it; a perfectly balanced amalgam of grace and violence rising to an emotional crescendo finally reaching apogee at the signal of a red light. I never watch this game; I feel it. It captivates as well as entertains. It's the game I have an emotional connection to. I like baseball, I like football, I love hockey.
Just wanted to let you know what the NHL means to me. I live in Greece. I spent 5 G's on a dish that has 499 Arabic language channels and ESPN ORBIT. I watch 24/7. I'm up at 3 a.m. to watch the games live because the taped rewinds the next day just don't do it for me. I go to work once a week on no sleep and all my coworkers know that "the amerikano was up all night watching hokaee." What's cool about my scenario is that I know it's not unique. There are hundreds of thousands of NHL fans around the globe who do this. This is what the NHL means to us.
The true hockey player embodies the characteristics I want to instill in my children -- work ethic, determination, toughness (especially mental) and, most of all, loyalty.
I was 6 when my dad took my sister and me to see the 'Hawks at old Chicago Stadium. We sat halfway up, behind one of the nets. My dad told us if a puck comes up here, we needed to duck behind the seats in front of us. Without pause, the man in front of us said, "If the puck comes up here I'll give it to you, kid." That's the guy I want in the Hall of Fame -- he showed me how easy it is to love hockey. Hockey players and fans take care of their own.
Brian S. Thomas
You know that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams explains to Matt Damon that he will never know what it smells like when you walk into the Sistine Chapel just by reading books? I love the game of hockey because it's not easy to know. A non-fan will never understand "hands" until they have stepped on the ice and felt the weight of a puck on their stick. A non-fan will never know why that was a perfect pass, and not just a lucky shot that was tipped, until they have struck a perfectly controlled one-timer. But fans know.
There's no greater art than the ice shavings misting and fogging up the air when a player comes to an instant stop. There's no greater magic trick than a fully-extended toe drag. There is no passion parallel to that of a hockey player, as he fights for hours as if the life of the only lover he's ever had is on the line, through pain, lingering injury and fatigue. Hockey is the only game where even the most talented player will lose if he does not hustle and put forth the best effort.
West Covina, Calif.
For me, hockey is more than just a mere sport. Hockey represents our basic human desire to compete and win, one of the driving forces that comprise our being. Hockey is the ultimate expression of that desire. Why else would the human mind create a competition where intelligence, strength, agility, coordination and cooperation are brought together so thoroughly and completely to achieve victory? By using all of our best attributes to the very best of our ability we fulfill that desire, as a community and as an individual. That's why I love hockey.
Steven A. Yoresh
John Buccigross' e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is firstname.lastname@example.org.