By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) The strangest feeling was over me when I woke up this past Saturday. It was not unlike that giddy anxiety of anticipating the first pitch of the season or that whole-pot-coffee-drank happy jitteriness of preparing to watch the first kickoff of the year or the drunken exhalation that comes with the return of the McRib.
But it was because of the return of hockey of all things.
Now, I like hockey a lot. It’s my favorite sport to watch in-person. But I cannot say that the commencement of an NHL season in the past has put those butterflies in my stomach. Like the majority of sport-revering Americans, the NHL has always taken a back seat to the NFL, MLB, and NBA. Perhaps it was because of Bill Wirtz’s TV stinginess during my formative years. Maybe it was because I was never coordinated enough to learn to skate (though I was the best flat-footed street hockey goalie the South Side ever saw).
Saturday had me itching for a puck drop, though. It was as if hockey was going to be a sort of completion. It just felt as though there was a hole in my sports soul that was filled the past few days. And what else hockey’s return did for me was that it un-Grinched me for a few hours. See, many might criticize me for being too negative in this here corner of the Internet (I prefer “pragmatic” or “honest,” but whatever), but I do have a heart, one that grew three sizes that day as I was genuinely happy and excited for the likes of Jay Zawaski and the merry tribe of psychopaths over at TheCommittedIndian.com and HockeeNight.com, folks who do a fabulous job writing about the game and for whom my heart genuinely ached during the lockout. Cyberspace is a little bit better reading the wonderfully acidic articles, columns, and tweets from those guys. So if for nothing else, hockey made me a bit less salty.
Critics of the game will often cite particularly low TV ratings for NHL games or apathetic poll results as evidence of hockey’s inferiority if not irrelevance in the grand sports landscape. I contend that hockey is not appropriately appreciated when it is around. It’s taken for granted until it goes away, and then there’s a rush back to it when it returns, especially after the latest lockout.
Hopefully the enthusiasm with which fans are taking in NHL games lasts throughout the season and beyond. The NHL is a league that is unfortunately run by bad people that treat fans like dogs that will always come back to drink from a bowl on the floor. With the positive fan response on opening weekend, it would be nice if the fervor would last.
And if you’re not a hockey fan, I hope you can at least appreciate what its return means to sports landscape. If your indifference to the game is for lack of trying, I ask you to give it a chance. One of the benefits of the lockout is the new schedule that has games jammed into the four months, so there will be plenty of opportunities to take in Blackhawks games. Pat Foley is one of the best voices in sports, Eddie Olczyk is one of the best analysts in the game, John Wiedeman and Troy Murray do a fantastic job painting a picture on the radio, and the Blackhawks are a very fun team to watch, as evidenced by their first two games that netted two very convincing high-scoring wins.
The other major sports get the lion’s share of America’s attention and press coverage—especially since a major national network refuses to respect a game it doesn’t have broadcast rights to—but having hockey back is a good thing. It feels like the next few months will be that much better for a sports fan, and that makes me feel good.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget, but please don’t follow him in real life. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.