Descend into madness with me: It's time for the craziness of the Cup
Not Your Average Joe
I know I'm kind of crazy.
No, I don't mean crazy in the padded white walls and straight jacket sense - although some who have made my acquaintance might contest that statement. My craziness is more readily described as erratic. Eccentric. Any other "E" word that makes me sound smart.
Mostly, it's because I grew up a netminder. I would don my beat up, jet-black pads with John Brown's company logo and hit the ice like a Canadian kid at sun up. We goalies are a bit of a different breed, you see. And I grew up reveling in that fact.
As I matured, so did my love of the game. When I decided to opt out of pursuing hockey as a career through the USHL and into the NCAA, I turned to spectatorship to get me by. When that wasn't enough, an interest in sports journalism helped to fill the void that leaving competitive play had created. And as a newly anointed NHL writer for GrandstandU, I'm beyond excited for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Wednesday.
The term "Cup Crazy" has been a league favorite for years now, and it's one of the few instances I can think of in which "crazy" is a compliment. It's also alliterative, so you know it's catchy.
I'm a bit Cup Crazy myself, but not in the traditional sense. In the wake of a childhood idolizing Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche of the 90's, my love affair with NHL hockey was put on hold by the 2004-05 Lockout. After that, I was at a bit of an impasse. My favorite players had retired or been traded away. Columbus was still abysmal as a fledgling franchise, so any hope of jumping on the near-hometown bandwagon was naught. After a year or two of hopeless searching, I slowly realized the truth.
I no longer had a team.
Those were dark times in the Gieringer household. My dad tried to mold me into a Red Wings fan, but come on! I was riding the curtails of childhood filled with Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg posters. It simply wasn't an option. My brother insisted I get onboard with the Blue Jackets, but judging by my last paragraph, you know where I stood on this issue.
From what appeared to be an unsolvable quandary, a renewed sense of purpose would eventually reveal itself in my last two years at Miami. As I took on the responsibility of covering the Miami's hockey team for the Student, I slowly learned that having no allegiance to a professional team was a blessing in disguise. I was freed from the shackles of a single city, free to look at each matchup in its own entirety, and analyze more accurately what would become of a series. Am I free of all bias? Certainly not, but I'm no longer focused on one team, and I feel as if I enjoy the playoffs in a more wholesome, complete way.
For those of you who don't like hockey, that somehow made it this far through this piece, it's difficult to capture the essence of this two-month, emotional roller coaster in a long form essay, let alone a column. I can't tell you why you should watch it, but I'll try to explain why I won't be missing a second.
Every sport ramps up its intensity in the playoffs. But the NHL is a whole different kind of animal. It gets crazy.
I refuse to equate sports and heroism, but in no sport is sacrifice as inherent and imperative as it is in hockey. Players not only bleed for their team, but they'll risk their lives. Look at Rich Peverley of the Dallas Stars. After practically dying on the bench in a cardiac-related episode and being revived, he asked what period it was and if he could get back on the ice. And that wasn't even in the playoffs. Patrice Bergeron became even more renowned in his home city of Boston as he fought on in the Bruins' losing effort in Game 6 of the Finals last year, despite suffering the incredible pain of a separated shoulder, cracked rib and punctured lung.
You've seen the memes online, you've heard the soundbite that John Buccigross will utter on a segment of Sportscenter. Hockey players are just plain tough.
But more than that, hockey is a culture. It's something most people are born into, or initiated into at a very young age. Few are able to penetrate the veil that shrouds the sport in mystery to those that don't, or rather won't, understand its nuances. It's a family. It's a community. It's a living, breathing creature, and the playoffs bring out the very best, and sometimes worst, in its players, its fans and its organizations. It's the moments that take your breath away, that make you stand up and cheer, that bring you and your friends or family together to catch a game and reconnect.
It's the storylines of fortitude and courage in the face of insurmountable odds, like that of Wild goaltender Josh Harding battling M.S. It's two teams that hate each other every second of their time spent occupying the ice - those bitter rivalries that evoke emotions of hatred and anger - embracing each other in mutual respect at the conclusion of the series and the traditional handshake lineup.
It's about the players who give back to their communities, who love nothing more than to play the game they love and help out who they can in the process. It's about guys who do it the right way, like Ron Francis and Teemu Selanne. It's the unbearable agony of making that one mistake, of missing out on what could be the only chance at a Cup. But it's also about the players like Ray Bourque, who finally hoist the finest trophy in all of sports after careers filled with heartbreak. It's about those thirty pounds feeling like three when the man with the "C" on his chest raises those rings above his head, arms extended to the sky, and the guys who break down crying when simple words fail them. It's about moments like the '98 Finals, when the Red Wings wheeled Vladimir Konstantinov onto the ice to receive the Cup one year after a car crash ended his playing career.
It's about all of these things, sure, but I've hardly scratched the surface. I wish I could better articulate what this game has meant to me, and what I hope it will mean to me in the future, but for now this will suffice.
So yes, I'm a bit crazy, but I don't mind. And in five days I invite you to be crazy with me, because it's the Cup.
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