We’re now more than a month into an NHL postponement and there is still no clear timeline on when professional hockey will return. While fans of the sport have received small tidbits of news over that time, including college signings and contract extensions, the thirst for discussion has rarely been quenched.
With that in mind, we’re happy to continue our new feature: The PHR Panel. Our writing staff will give our individual takes on a question many hockey fans have been wondering about. If you’d ever like to submit a subject for us to discuss, be sure to put it in the comments.
To catch up on the previous edition, click here.
Today, as the hockey world focuses on the upcoming draft and whether or not it will be held in June, we discuss what we miss most about the sport we love.
Q: Which part of hockey do you miss the most?
Brian La Rose:
The first round of the playoffs which, from an entertainment perspective, is the best one in my books is what I miss the most.
Depending on the schedule, there would be three to five games basically every night for the first week or so until some series ended early. Between the different time zones, you could always watch a couple of games each weeknight and on the weekends, they’d be staggered out even more which basically made each Saturday and Sunday ‘hockey day’ for a couple of weeks.
The first round often features some of the best matchups, especially with the current format. Teams are fresher; the wear and tear of the playoff grind isn’t there yet so the physicality can be higher than it is later on. And of course, the first round of the NHL playoffs is always good for an upset or two…or more.
The day-to-day grind that is the regular season is fun in itself. But mid-April often represents the most exciting time of the season.
Having spent the last 15 years in Vegas, I have really grown attached to the Vegas Golden Knights franchise and what I miss more than anything is the day-to-day life of the hockey world. I miss games, I miss everything about hockey. However, it’s the stories, the injury updates, the scores … life in the hockey world that I really miss.
I was just walking by a Golden Knights poster in my home when I remembered that the team is still sitting in first place in the Pacific Division. I had basically forgotten that the season is still going on and the playoffs, in theory, aren’t that far off. Yet at the same time, it definitely feels like these things are unlikely to happen for so long that I forget what it’s like to be a hockey fan, which I find quite disturbing.
It’s bad enough being shut up in your home, but having no games and little hockey news is definitely making this shutdown order even more challenging.
At this time of year in particular, the part of hockey that I miss most is playoff hockey. Even back in mid-March when the season was initially paused, the focus had already shifted toward the postseason for many clubs. Of course, the stretch run can be exciting for those teams on the bubble, but a number of top contenders were already closing in on locking up playoff seeds and a picture of how playoff match-ups might play out had begun to form. Instead of currently enjoying the fruits of the regular season, gearing up for Conference Finals, more than a month has passed since the last regular season game and we’re still left to wonder whether the playoffs will even occur this year and if so, in what form or fashion.
Playoff hockey is unlike anything else in sports; a pace and intensity that is unrivaled. The importance of each game and even each goal in the playoffs places immense emphasis on every second, leading to triumphant victories and heartbreaking losses. It is hard not get caught up in the excitement, regardless of whether your favorite team is involved or not. Fortunately, the NHL’s competitive balance is such that only the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes have not made a playoff appearance in the past five years, so fans of nearly every team know how it feels to have recently had playoff success on the line. To have the opportunity to enjoy that experience stripped away this year without any concrete plan for a postseason revival down the road is a tough pill to swallow and is definitely what I am missing most as an avid hockey fan.
Other than my own beer league games being canceled—which is killing me—the thing I miss most about the hockey season is actually the playoffs at the amateur level. The Frozen Four and the Memorial Cup are some of my favorite hockey every year, giving me a chance to see the next wave of talent headed to the NHL.
More than the scouting aspect though is the emotion these young kids exhibit. I’ve always leaned toward amateur sports because of how the athletes seem to wear their successes and failures right on their sleeves. A championship is a memory not only for them but everyone that has ever attended or cheered for the program, while a defeat is a bitter reminder of how difficult those titles are to win.
It’s also the finality that a loss brings which makes the stakes that much higher. Sure, getting eliminated from the NHL playoffs must be heartbreaking, but for most of the players involved they know they’ll have another chance next year. For anyone that has played amateur sport at a high level, the feeling of emptiness that follows the last game of your last season is unlike anything else. It’s the knowledge that feeling is coming that makes the games so much more important.