Ryan's Rant - Hockey Is The Toughest Game

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By Terry Ryan

After my last two rants, this week I simply wanted to list a few reasons why I love the game of hockey.

First of all, I want to say that I love Canada’s true game, hockey. It’s an easy game to fall in love with and it is filled with, for the most part, good natured, character guys who appreciate things. In my experience I think hockey is filled with small town guys who make it big - or not. They are relatively easy to deal with as far as things like dealing with media and signing autographs go, as we appreciate the fact that we get to do what we love for a living if only for a couple of years in some cases. Also, let’s face it, hockey players are usually from places that have a lot of snow at some point during the year and one has to have SOME character to begin with on that alone. Also, it’s a sport where a slip up with the other team - whether it be goal celebrations, hitting an opposing player, any level of disrespect really - could result in bare knuckle fighting. Again, even for the extremely finesse guys, just to continue playing knowing that this is an OPTION and that at any minute you may be hit by a guy 6’4 and 230 LBS…you have to have SOME character and level of toughness. I will always stick by my word that I think hockey is one of, if not THE toughest sport. It DEFINITELY is if you are only comparing it to the 4 major North American team sports which are Baseball, Basketball, Football, and Hockey. And here are my reasons:

1.) PHYSICAL PLAY - The sport of ice hockey is very physical and you are constantly getting hit hard, shift after shift for 60 minutes. Stoppages of play are infrequent, don’t last long and the average player size is over 6 ft and around 200 LBS. On top of that, you are SKATING to hit someone, not running. The faster they are the harder they hit. Basketball, for instance, has an under-rated level of physicality but it’s not close to hockey and doesn’t allow body checking. Baseball, well…baseball is baseball. Football is VERY physical obviously but it’s based on short plays with extra long stoppages. Players are bigger, yes, but remember, try some of those hot-dog celebrations that football players are famous for…and you have to pay the price and fight someone real tough….and it’s all within the rules. I am not saying football players are not tough. They are huge and very mobile for big dudes. But it’s all relative. When you go into another team’s barn and hear all the screaming fans and know you may have to bare-knuckle fight….trust me, it’s intimidating!! But all in all, so far football fans would have an argument, but to me what seals the deal is…..

2.) THE SCHEDULE - Professional Hockey players play around 100 games a year, 82 regular season games plus exhibition and playoffs. Let’s just look at the regular season schedules and compare:

Baseball - 162 games. Let’s face it, it’s probably harder to MAKE the major leagues as there are more players worldwide, but as far as toughness is concerned, baseball comes last. Although I would take guys like Pete Rose and Ty Cobb on my team any day! 

Football - 16 games. This is where hockey takes over. If there WERE any argument for football it ends here. 16 games vs. 82 games. ‘Nuff said.

Basketball - 82 games. You know, I have always said that people under-rate this sport on a toughness level. These guys are huge and there are more cheap shots going down under that basketball hoop than on ladies night in a run down Mexican strip club. This is a tough schedule too. But hockey trumps it in my biased opinion. Sorry guys…

3.) WE HAVE A STICK - Never mind body checking, try getting whacked in front of the net with a piece of lumber and staying there, knowing you are gonna get more. And just because we are wearing equipment, there is virtually no padding on the back side of you body. Which is exactly where guys like Chris Pronger or Sheldon Souray will make you pay. Night in, night out, getting whacked and paying the price happens every game, even to the skill guys. They just don’t usually retaliate.

4.) THERE IS NO OUT OF BOUNDS - The boundaries in hockey are marked by BOARDS and hard glass, not paint. So not only are you getting hit, most of the time you are getting sandwiched between an opposing player and boards with relatively no give. Makes for more hard knocks than a failed rapper in Harlem.

5.) THE PLAYOFFS - For those of you out there who haven’t done it, do yourselves a favor and watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And for those of you who have, WATCH IT CLOSER. 4 rounds of best of 7’s. It truly takes a warrior (and I don’t like overusing that word) to win a championship in hockey. Combine all of what we said and multiply it. More games in less time, more hits, more slashes, more bruises. Less fights though, and I agree with that. Even though as a player I did a lot of fighting, I think it slows the game down in playoffs. In playoffs guys are less wary to drop their mitts and go and the guys who generally do it get a little less ice time. But there IS a place for it, I recommend watching Jarome Iginla vs. Vincent Lecavalier in the 2004 Stanley Cup final. Two franchise players fighting for hockey’s ultimate prize and doing whatever it takes. High emotion levels from two guys who PLAY TOGETHER on Team Canada!!

Outside of toughness, the speed and finesse of the game are highly under-rated. Remember, you can be the best stick handler in the world or be able to run a 4 minute mile, but in order to even consider playing hockey at a high level, you have to be able to skate!! Skating is hard enough to learn and master on it’s own, and throwing in passing, shooting, dodging hits and on ice awareness and it really is a graceful game. Watching Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby make a drive to the net is like watching an artist at work….well I guess it IS watching an artist at work!!! Some of those old Gretzky and Lemieux highlights are jaw dropping.

Teammates, chemistry, loyalty? In hockey, or any sport where the sacrifice is to move away at a young age to pursue you dream, the guys in your locker room become your family. You spend more time with them than anyone else, like it or not. You begin to grow up together and see the world together getting to do what you love. I keep in touch with hundreds of ex-teammates. Sometimes they are the only ones that can relate to a particular thing. This goes for the wives and families too. They spend a lot of time coping with their husbands being gone all the time (or wives, I don’t want to exclude the women that have played!!) and have a special bond to say the least. Morals and respect are instilled at a young age along with responsibility.

One last thing I would like to point out about the coolest game on earth is that it gives a lot of kids a lot of opportunities.

If you play junior or NCAA and are fortunate enough to get drafted and make it, that’s great..  But given the amount of players, the chances are slim to be honest. I wish more kids would realize that there are many opportunities out there and the NHL is only one of them. However, all you have to do is those 3 words we have heard so much they have become a cliché….STAY IN SCHOOL!!!! Every Major Junior and Collegiate player has the opportunity to get all their schooling paid for and that is a great thing the game gives back to us. And, of course, the opportunity to travel. From junior to the lowest rungs of pro to the NHL to the Olympics……  small town kids like me, who grew up on farms, fishing villages, mill towns - wherever - we get free travel and sometimes you don’t realize how fortunate you were until it’s time to come home and work at the mill and talk about who you know playing on HNIC that particular evening!! From Anchorage to Augusta, from Quesnel BC to Corner Brook NL, from Helsinki to Milan to Amsterdam - there is a pro hockey player from sipping on a cold beer after a game relishing every minute of it. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to experience it!


Check Back Every Week For 'Ryan's Rant', By Terry Ryan.


Also Watch For Terry Ryan's book, 'Tales Of A First Round Nothing'.



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