Two years ago, when I arrived in the States from the UK, I had a very vague idea of what ice hockey was. I was, though, sure that it was one of the most far-fetched sports out there. While most sports are played on the sort of easily accessible field we can all find and involve a ball, hockey is played on a smooth sheet of ice, with sticks, a goaltender dressed up to look like Aaron Rodgers in that awful State Farm commercial and a comically tiny goal that itself can slide around the ice.
In retrospect, I'm not sure why such a strange sport didn't immediately appeal to me. Think about it. Football: one ball, get ball into zone. Baseball: hit ball, run in diamond. Basketball: get ball through hoop. Ice hockey, get small circular piece of rubber across frictionless playing surface and past a human boulder into a goal the size of a postage stamp. Hockey is the outlier here, and for such a weird setup to catch on in America, it must be undeniably the most awesome thing imaginable. I should have realized this, because I am as hooked as it is possible to be.
Back in the UK, I played for a few five-a-side soccer teams. Five-a-side soccer is a bit like your futsal, only futsal is the soccer Americans play when they want to be fancy dans who don't like to be touched by other, less skillful players. Five-a-side soccer, by comparison, is futsal for people who enjoy violence. It's soccer played inside a cage, with the intensity increased by the fact the ball can't go out of play. An American futsal player would try a lengthy dribble on a UK five-a-side court only to find that he no longer possessed the football or indeed the use of his legs, which are flying somewhere over his head as a six-footer with a raging hangover takes unkindly to the implementation of skill.
All of this is an extraordinarily long way of saying that ice hockey is my favorite, because it is like a terrifying version of five-a-side soccer where friction is not allowed but fighting is, where people trying fancy skills are liable to be punched in the mouth by a toothless man, and where it only takes half a second of outrageous luck to swing an entire game.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) October 17, 2014
Not coincidentally, I have fallen madly in love with the Dallas Stars. I was on the fence about hockey being my favorite American sport until last season's NHL playoffs, in which the Stars and Ducks played some of the most intense sport I have ever seen in my life, capped off by a full-on brawl in front of 20,000 people as streamers and confetti rained down from the ceiling. I could barely believe what I was seeing. This, I thought, is the true pinnacle of sport. "PUNCH HIM IN THE FUCKING MOUTH!" an otherwise normal-seeming woman next to me yelled. I was home.
Where is all this going, I hear you scream, clutching your monitor with both hands and shaking it? Can I have the last five minutes back? Who cares about Canadian things? Well, furious denizen of the internet, it is my delight to tell you that I'm going to report on our own Dallas Stars throughout the season in the style of a man who knows almost nothing about ice hockey but is fervently, unshakably in love with the sport and the team this city calls its own. Mistakes will be made, reporting will be largely unintelligible, and almost everything will be based on opinion and hearsay rather than the statistics beloved of hockey blogs, but it'll still be of more value than things that aren't hockey. Maybe we can grow together.
Week 1 of the season has produced conclusive evidence that the Stars are a pretty genial bunch, content to let you score a decent amount of goals, until you or referees make them really angry. At this point, Dallas will morph into some sort of team of Tecmo Bowl Bo Jacksons, an unstoppable force of nature led by Jamie Benn's fists and body of pure iron.
A perfect example came in the game away to the Penguins, where the Stars were looking second best until a disallowed goal. So thoroughly did Benn and Co. disagree with said disallowed goal that they unleashed an entire gallon container of whoop-ass on one of the NHL's best teams, coming from 2-1 down to win 3-2 from a Tyler Seguin goal with three seconds left on the clock.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) October 17, 2014
On the downside, this weekend produced evidence that Dallas' defense, the universally agreed-upon weak point of the team, is not going to look safe sitting on a lead any time soon. Indeed, the direction, skill and speed with which this team can self-destruct is admirable. It's laser-directed self-annihilation. Up 4-2 with a third of the game remaining on Saturday, the Stars somehow conspired to lose 6-5 in overtime, with a performance that really defied any kind of explanation other than shouted cries of "GODDAMMIT DALLAS," or as one lady next to me succinctly put it, "WHAT THE FUCK GUYS?"
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Goalie Kari Lehtonen, who so often spends 95 percent of a game looking like someone has basically parked a van much bigger than the goal in front of the net, spends a frustrating 5 percent of his workday driving the aforementioned van a considerable distance away from his crease, thus leaving visibly bemused opponents with the simple task of tapping the puck into a suddenly Kari-less net.
Of course, it didn't help that the referees on Saturday were basically magnetic, if pucks were made of metal, having unintentionally big hands in at least two Flyers goals by simply failing to get out the way of the puck. Now, no referee wants to be in the way of the puck, I'm sure. That thing must really fucking hurt. Even so, it's not much to ask for the referee not to deflect the puck back into the middle of the ice in front of a suddenly gaping net, you might say.
Such are the breaks in this sport. While baseball and football, with their short ten-second bursts of action, lend themselves to easy detailed analysis, ice hockey is really just several non-stop minutes of chaos punctuated with the odd moment of skill from a man who managed, despite traveling on ice skates, to rise above the threat of several men hitting him round the knees with a very large stick. It is for that reason that I can only offer you the following analysis for week one.
The Stars are a very exciting team to watch, because their forwards are amazing and their defense is not. If they were a soccer team, they would be 2013-14 Liverpool. 2-1-2 is not the start the team would have chosen, but there are still lines to be sorted (Benn/Seguin/Spezza was not working especially well on Saturday, but Roussell/Eakin/Garbutt was terrifyingly bad). Nemeth's season-ending injury is a grave blow to a team that was already stretched in defense, but I am excited at the prospect of seeing a 6ft 7", 250lb man (ON ICE SKATES) take his place. I'll be back next week with some more stunning insights, and probably more gifs. I leave you with this gif.