Blackhawks are simply amazing
Even those who aren't ice hockey fans have to sit back and admire the incredible start Chicago have made to the NHL season
True romance is non-transferable. The idiosyncrasies and illogical whims of love are proof of that. However, there is no moratorium on initiating the uninitiated.
I could tell you that ice hockey is easily the most spellbinding and riveting of all professional sports and just because it gets blown away in TV ratings by Nascar racing in Tennessee and college basketball in North Carolina does not make this any less true.
And yes, the fact that I was born and raised in Canada, the ancestral home of the sport, is undoubtedly a large part of the missionary zeal that grips me when I talk of the game. But I'm not here to convert you; I am here to enlighten you.
The hulking behemoths in the NFL can only play one game a week because the intensity and ferocity of their physical collisions dictates they need sufficient rest to recoup. But heavily padded and protected as they may be, none of their bone-jarring impacts occur when they are moving at about 60 kilometres per hour, the average speed of a hockey player in full stride.
And while there are quarterbacks who can zip the ball, there is no one who comes even remotely close to throwing a football at 160 kilometres per hour, the average speed of a hockey blast. The hardest slapshot on record belongs to the Golden Jet, the great Bobby Hull, who once shot a puck at 190 kilometres per hour. There is nothing in any sport, outside of motor racing and perhaps skeet shooting, that moves that fast. Nothing. Now imagine getting hit with that hard, vulcanised rubber and remember that while their brethren in the NFL need a week to lick their wounds, during the NHL play-offs hockey players have one day to rest between games.
If you go all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, you play every second day for six weeks and all this after having played an 82-game season. I don't care if you don't know the difference between high sticking and cross checking, what you have to know is that these guys are gladiators of the highest order. I have an English friend who was visiting Boston once and saw his first live hockey game. He was absolutely smitten and when I asked him why he replied: "I am a fan of greatness and seeing this live makes me appreciate that."
I too am a fan of greatness as well as a fan of hockey and when both of those collide it's a double blessing. Because of an incredibly misguided management lockout this year, the NHL season did not start until late January and it will feature a truncated and extremely dense 48-game regular season.
Unlike other sport-related work stoppages, there was little lingering animosity from fans because they were so desperate to watch some puck again. Many of the players were toiling in European or other semi-professional leagues so they came into training camp ready to go and with the abbreviated schedule there is no midseason malaise. The play is crisp and electrifying, much to the fans' delight.
For the Chicago Blackhawks, getting off to a good start in a shortened season was pivotal because any kind of slump could mean missing the play-offs. But not even the most optimistic person in the Windy City could have seen this start coming. After 21 games, almost half the season, the Hawks have not suffered a loss in regulation. They have won 17 and tied three, which were shoot-out losses, and in the process they have smashed the NHL record for season-opening points streak. Because of scheduling conflicts at the United Centre, they had to play 10 of their first 12 games on the road where they went 8-0-2. An argument could be made that this is the greatest start to a season by any team ever in North American sports. You a fan of transcendent greatness? Well, here you go.
The Hawks have tons of skill, a dash of grit and top to bottom they skate like their pants are on fire. They absolutely fly non-stop like no team in recent memory and they also play in front of some of the most frenzied fans in all of sports in a sold-out arena located in the heart of one of the world's greatest cities. "There is not one fundamental flaw on that team right now," said NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire. "Not one."
Well, actually there is one flaw. Nothing short of a championship will suffice at this point for the Blackhawks. The streak becomes meaningless without a Stanley Cup. But it's the type of flaw that true greatness eagerly seeks to rectify.