Welcome to ice hockey! That is indeed what you’re seeing out of the corner of your eye, in this bar, which you’re at because a friend of yours’ boyfriend wanted to watch LeBron at a place with good WiFi, for tweeting.
That hockey is on at this bar at all is attributable to a minor marketing miracle—it is the New York City team, the Rangers, playing the Los Angeles team, the Kings, for the championship.
I will not be giving you a list of talking points. Those are reductive. And you won’t be needing them, anyway, because you won’t be getting approached by any actual hockey fans. Actual hockey fans, as a rule, do not go out and watch hockey in public.
Your one friend’s boyfriend, when he looks up and sees you watching the hockey—he will tell you that hockey fans are, in fact, the worst fans: they are the least generous with their love of the game; they are some real misers of the heart. Woe! He makes good points.
Anyway. Here are some things about the players you see there on the screen:
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles, #11
He has the haunted eyes and Carpathian slouch of a being that has existed for eons. He refers to Milton wistfully, and with a sigh, as Miltzy. He plays hockey as though the central trouble of this—any—game is also the central trouble of life: having been born at all. He is what those in the know call a “two-way center.”
Kopitar lives off of the siphoned vigor of other teams’ best players. Imagine a spread cape, enveloping you. That’s Kopitar. He is, for all intents and purposes, undead, unkillable, and unloved. The team he leads is likewise.
The only man who could have vanquished him—Jonathan Toews—was himself vanquished in the previous round. Toews. He of the Lincolnian chops, who skates as though made entirely out of stovepipes. Toews is the least-articulated superstar athlete in the world. Vanquished, he walked into a small, bare closet on Monday morning, shut the door—and there he will stay, unblinking, until the fall.
Brad Richards, New York, #19
Richards is a “pass-first player.” “Pass-first player,” in hockey parlance, is a euphemism for “coward.”
With the puck, he is as exasperating as the parent who asks their shitty kid, “Now, Wren, why is it that we don’t do that?” instead of just whomping him.
(Fun fact: Brad Richards’ teeth were fashioned out of porcelain taken from the toilet Evelyn Waugh drowned in!)
Justin Williams, Los Angeles, #11
We lament “puck luck,” the impersonal force that governs our stochastic game. Stay healthy, we say. Stay healthy, match lines, and stay out of the penalty box. Aside from that, what can you do? Pray that the puck luck favors you and your goaltender.
And yet, and yet: Justin Williams has seven goals and seven assists, and is 7-0, in Game 7s.
Mats Zuccarello(-Aasen), New York, #36
I have an inkling as to why lil’ Zuccarello dropped the “Aasen” when he came over from Norway: Every hockey player gets a nickname, and every hockey nickname is your last name, often truncated, with an –s, –er, or –ie appended. Patrick Kane is “Kaner.” Jonathan Quick is “Quickie.” It’s a simple system. I doubt he was even given a choice, poor lil’ Aassie.
He is great, though. The Rangers’ most consistent forward. He looks like a slow loris. Did anybody else love BASEketball? He’s Squeak, basically.
Martin St. Louis, New York, #26
St. Louis is as short as Zuccarello, but whereas Zuccs is a tenacious overachiever, St. Louis is a wee hockey god. He is the smallest, oldest player to have ever led a North American sports league in scoring. If you spot what looks to be a Make-a-Wish kid absolutely tearing shit down out there—that’s Marty. As he goes, so goes New York.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles, #32
He tends goal with the careening gusto and coltish glee of an origin-story teenager who’s just discovered his superpowers. Sometimes, after impossible saves, he just looks at his upturned hands.
Henrik Lundqvist, New York, #30
Jonathan Quick is occasionally the greatest goalie in the world. The rest of the time, Henrik Lundqvist is. He is called, unironically, King Henrik, or else just Hank. Staten Island goombas serenade him with his own name (no homo) after every stop. His beard’s moustache is enviously wide, and full. The oxygen has been squeezed out of his eyes, leaving them as gelid as the heart of a glacier. He plays guitar in a band, you guys.
He is imperturbable. Not in a flaunty way. Very Scandinavian. There’s no pride there. Just maybe the slightest hint of smugness? Like he’s beyond us? Like, wherever we’re going, when we get there, Hank’s going to be waiting for us, with his jacket hooked over his right shoulder, and his wristwatch turned toward his eyes—but he’s not looking at it, he’s looking at us, with a smile spreading, and his foot tapping good-naturedly.
Fuck Hank. He plays really deep in his crease. Crash him. Get your ass in his face. Perturb that man. Go high.
Ryan McDonagh, New York, #27
To correctly understand a defensive pairing, you have to picture a buddy-cop duo. There’s the loose cannon, the brilliant liability—that’s the offensive-defenseman. Then there’s the other guy, Mr. Stay-at-Home, whose value is relational in that his steady, sober play frees up the offensive-defenseman to try another of his harebrained schemes that just might work. For the first three years of his career, that was Ryan McDonagh groaning, hitching up his slacks, and ruing the fact that, at 22, he was getting too old for this shit.
No longer! Ryan McDonagh is the offensive-defenseman now. Ryan McDonagh wears the jeans in this duo.
Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles, #12
Formerly the fastest hockey player on earth. Sleek, flimsy, and laughably frangible. You get the sense that, had he not grown up with the game, he’d be uploading a dashcam video of himself reeeeen!ing a sportscar directly into a Hapsburg opera house right now.
Derek Stepan, New York, #21
Well-rounded to the point of bluntness. He appears to have been made out of one of the softer cheeses.
Stepan—like the majority of the Rangers—is an above-average talent with speed. The team itself is a textbook example of how to succeed in the salary-capped NHL: Home-grow the skill players; fill the gaps with smart free-agent acquisitions; trade for the final pieces when you’re on the cusp. They are the consummate un-New York team.
Because most New Yorkers don’t care about hockey, and because their petulant child-king of an owner doesn’t know enough to meddle, the Rangers don’t have to go in for the Pyrrhic glitz of your Knicks or your Nets. They aren’t impelled to trade away draft picks or overpay for aging stars.
Hockey is a hidebound, parochial, swaggerless game—and, sadly, the team from the world’s biggest media market reflects that. They are vanilla contenders.
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles, #23
There is a special kind of dread that comes from watching someone will to victory at any cost. The hair-raising-ness of the survival instinct; the bald self-interest of the cornered. Dustin Brown reminds me that, try as I might, there are no deserters from zoology.
Dan Carcillo, New York, #13
Funny: Carcillo played half the year for Los Angles, and the other half for New York. Funnier: Everybody on those teams, as well as every other team in the league, hates his guts.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles, #8
The vast majority of professional hockey players are harmless citizens of the game, neither beautiful nor clever. They, like most people everywhere, perfume the noise of insignificance by making their own reckless noise.
Drew Doughty, though.
Drew Doughty is a near-perfect hockey player. Watching him play approaches a transcendent experience. He is the light which makes the darkness visible. If you see his silver-and-black lemniscate 8 on the ice—please, do me the favor of watching him, and only him. If you are meant to be a hockey fan, this will feel like kissing someone and having that kiss take. If you are meant to be a hockey fan, he will suddenly renovate your heart.
Despair, as they say, is a form of certainty. It’s thinking you know what’s coming, and not liking it. It’s having a confident memory of the future. Every time Drew Doughty steps onto the ice, I have no idea what’s coming.
Kings in seven. In overtime. And hockey becomes the new-new. Why not?