was around 1995 when I became a hockey fanatic, and there are no signs that my
interest is flagging. In fact, with the rule changes that went into effect
in 2005-06, the game has become even more exciting.
I have to thank my grandson, JD Upshaw, for
introducing me to the game. In 1993 my daughter announced that my grandson was going to be playing hockey, and I was invited to come and watch.
I have always had a very limited interest in sports of any kind. I follow baseball, sort of. But I pretty much deliberately ignore all other sports. However, people will watch their grandchildren participate in any activity--Parcheesi, curling, egg-rolling, even the slow torture of a one-sided little league baseball game. It's not the activity, it's the child that draws us.
But with hockey, I found that I enjoyed watching the games. If watching little kids playing hockey was good, I reasoned, maybe watching big kids would also be fun.
I began watching National Hockey League games on TV. In early 1996 I found myself at a
Fresno Falcons game. I started keeping track of the standings, learning about the players, following the playoffs. I became a hockey nut. And I have not recovered yet.
Starting in 2005, I became a Falcons partial-season ticket holder (24 game
packages). We had a great run, going to overtime in game seven of the
conference finals, and missed playing for the Kelly cup by one goal.
While Canadians still dominate the game as players, coaches and TV
play-by-play reporters, the US has also become a major source of players.
In the 2006 draft, the first round had eleven Canadians, ten Americans,
and nine Europeans.
Kids in the non-frozen parts of the US who can't skate on their flooded back yard as Wayne Gretzky did as a child are now skating on sidewalks, tennis courts, parking lots and in dedicated rinks--on wheels. Roller hockey
often leads kids to the ice.
On any weekend, there are back to back hockey games a good part of the day at Fresno's Gateway Ice Center,
where kids participate in "house leagues," playing other local teams, and on the
Falcons travel team, which faces teams from the Bay Area, Sacramento and Stockton.
After Johnny grew up and got busy with college and marriage, I watched his
younger brother Mikie
on the ice for several years.
But my favorite part of the hockey season, on the major league NHL level, is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Following a demanding 82-game season, the NHL playoffs are a grueling test that clearly proves who is best. Sixteen teams enter the quarter finals, with half being eliminated
each round in a sequence of best-of-seven series, until two teams face each other for the Stanley
Cup - the oldest prize in sports. Playoffs start in mid-April and extend into June. The team that skates the cup around the rink has won sixteen games in post-season play, and conceivably can play up to 28 games to get to that mark--the equivalent of a third of the regular season!
Although three teams, the Colorado Avalanche, the New Jersey Devils, and
the Detroit Red Wings, have won nine of the cups since I began watching,
it's been proven that any team has a chance. The next two winners, the
Tampa Bay Lightning and the Carolina Hurricanes, were among the league's
"laughing-stock" when I started watching. And both came from
what was derisively called the "South-least" division only a few
years ago. In 2007 a team from sunny California, the Anaheim Ducks,
finally raised the cup. And in 2009, I joined Johnny in watching his
beloved Pittsburgh Penguins come from out of the playoffs in January
to win it all.
And despite hockey's well-earned reputation as a rough sport, when each round of the playoffs ends, the teams line up to shake each other's hands--a tradition not seen in any other sport.
On these pages we'd like to share some pictures and information about the coolest game on earth.
(updated October 2009)