Appreciating Ice Hockey: An Alternative to South Florida Football and Basketball Teams
By Nicholas Jurkowski
During a sports season where the Dolphins have the worst record in the NFL and the Miami Heat already seem hell-bent on a lackluster (or worse) follow-up to last year’s stunning championship win (dropping almost all of their preseason games and then getting completely trounced by the Bulls during their home opener), Miami – Ft. Lauderdale residents might be looking for a team that they can watch whose performance doesn’t disgust them. Enter South Florida’s hockey team, the Florida Panthers.
I was born and raised in Alaska, which means that it was mandated by law that I play hockey (and by hockey, I of course mean the variety played on ice, not the variety played on fields by high-school girls and the Irish). As such, I developed an understanding of it that extends beyond that of the average Floridian – namely, that hockey is essentially about large Canadians punching each other. While this is an important facet of the game, there is really a lot more to it. It is a precise game of individual skill and team strategy that is one of the most fast-paced games on the planet.
If you know nothing about hockey (beyond, of course, the bit about the Canadians punching each other), here are some basic rules and things to watch for: Each team is allowed 6 players, including the goaltender. The game is played in three twenty-minute periods, and the object is to put the puck in your opponent's net as many times as possible. That pretty much sums up the gist of the game.
As far as some of the finer points – if the referee blows his whistle, chances are there is one of four reasons: the goaltender has covered the puck, there is a penalty, there is an icing call, or someone is off-sides. The goaltender covering the puck is self-explanatory, and penalties are generally pretty intuitive (no using your stick to haul someone down, no elbowing people to the head, etc.) Icing occurs when a team shoots the puck from their side of the ice (behind the center red-line) to behind the opposing team’s goal line (the little red lines across either end). Off-sides occurs when an attacking player goes into their opponent's defensive zone (past the blue line) before the puck. Now that you know the basic rules, you can concentrate on what makes hockey so exciting: the action.
Other than the fighting, the thing that people know about hockey is the prevalence of bone crushing body checks. The whole stadium will gasp (and then cheer wildly) as two 240 lb. behemoths collide on the boards with a deafening shudder. Many people are surprised that such occurrences are completely legal by the rules of the game; the fact of the matter is that, when done legally, even the most impressive body checks have very little chance of resulting in injury, and when combined with the amazing speed of the game, the physicality makes it very exciting.
It should be noted that to fully enjoy an ice-hockey game, you should take some friends in tow and get some decent seats, as you would with any sporting event; and, just like for any other sporting event, many limousine companies (including Mirage Limo) offer sporting packages that greatly enhance your trip to and from the game.
In no time at all, you’ll be watching and cheering Ed Belfour’s great saves and Ollie Jokinen’s fantastic goals. Hockey is a great game, and now, with the wintry outlook for South Florida’s other professional teams, is the perfect time to discover it.