This one's for you, Paul

Yesterday, Paul Kukla, the king of hockey bloggers, issued a challenge, asking us to stop whining about what's wrong with the game and, instead, write about the good.

Now, even though I believe this blog is fairly balanced, offering both positive and negative aspects of the game, I'll happily accept that challenge for one simple reason: Paul's right.

I mean, who cares if hockey isn't the world's favorite sport? In a selfish way, that's good. There's more for all of us to enjoy.

Where else do you find athletes traveling at up to 20 mph, maintaining their balance on rockered razor-sharp edges, shooting a puck in excess of 80 mph only to have a goalie, weighed down by 30-plus pounds of bulky protective gear, flash out his glove, quicker than a hummingbird's wings, and snatch that bullet out of the air?

Not only does the player's shot bring us to the edges of our seats, but the chorus of appreciation for the lightning-fast leather is a sound that belongs in Carnegie Hall.

So, Paul, with a dose of my most humble sincerity, here are five things that I love about hockey:

1.) Though I'm a California boy by birth, a western New Yorker in heart and, now, a wannabe beach bum in gorgeous Tampa Bay, I have just enough Canadian blood, thanks to a great-great-grandfather who spawned another generation on Prince Edward Island, to get jacked up every time I hear O Canada, in French or in English. Mind you, I sing loud and proud with the Star-Spangled Banner, but the Canadian national anthem is wicked cool.

2.) The rituals of goaltenders. A quirky nature by lot, it's a hoot watching them limber up with the contortionist stretching, rough up their creases in a near-rhythmic hypnotic state, bang the posts with the shafts of their sticks and skate to the goal line on the halfboards during stoppages in play. Then again, whatever it takes to stay focused works for me.

3.) How hard work, determination and sacrifice, more than a stellar pedigree or tons of NHL experience, can lead to a spot on the opening night roster of, and some quality minutes playing for, an NHL team. Don't believe me? Ask Tampa Bay's Doug Janik.

4.) That there are players like Boston's Patrice Bergeron, Carolina's Cam Ward and Atlanta's Johan Hedberg who will fuel a young fan's love for the game and, with a little bit of luck and an answering of his Daddy's prayers, will find himself returning those favors.

5.) The fact that by chance encounters, either at training camps or by recognizing fellow season ticket holders at the games, you make friendships that will last a lifetime. Granted, not every introduction will lead to that, but those that do are truly special.

Hockey is a great sport. And, for the most part, so are the people, from the players to your fellow fans. Sometimes, we forget that. And sometimes, just like this, we remember.

Thanks Paul.


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