Most wonderful time of the year
March Madness, The Super Bowl, The Masters; they have nothing on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The National Hockey League drops the puck for the real deal Wednesday, April 14.
Much has been made in the past about the lack of meaning to the NHL regular season. Tell that to Minnesota Wild fans this year. Minnesota men will be beardless during this run at the Cup.
The New York Islanders of the '80s started the tradition of the playoff beard until their dynasty ended in 1984. Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers thumped them out of the finals and started a dynasty of their own.
The playoff beard lost that year as well. The tradition was on hiatus until the 1995 New Jersey Devils took the Cup behind the facial hair.
Former Gophers Chris McAlpine and Tom Chorske, Hibbing native Mike Peluso and former North Stars Shawn Chambers and Neal Broten all sprouted the scruff for the title that year.
Which is why the Stanley Cup is the best playoff viewing, especially, for we residents of the State of Hockey. Even without the local team in the hunt, there are plenty of Minnesotans to cheer on to hockey's ultimate glory.
It's the Minnesotan thing to do this time of year. According to Impact!, NHL.com's online magazine, more than 10,000 Minnesota teens play high school hockey: 6,276 boys and 3,922 girls. One author estimated one in every 113 Minnesotans is on a hockey team. Many of those players will be watching Wednesday night as the best-of-sevens start up.
For my money, it's hard to find better entertainment. Every check, shot and save are magnified. The crowds howl like Romans at the Coliseum. The verbal loathing of the visiting foes is only surpassed by the crowd volume for the home team.
There are anomalies in each particular stadium for even the television viewer - none better than Joe Louis Arena in Detroit where wit accompanies music selection. Listen for "We're Not Going To Take It" by Twisted Sister or "No More Mr. Nice Guy" by Alice Cooper when the visiting team scores a goal.
The playoffs are steeped in history and superstition, like nobody touches "The Holy Grail" until you rightfully win it. This trickles down to the Conference championship trophies, which many team captains refuse to touch at presentation.
If not for just the pure love of our state's official sport, the idiosyncrasies and quirks of the playoffs should be plenty to prove my point why waiting for huddles and commercials, guys to eternally glare over putts and busted brackets stand no chance in comparison to the greatest show on ice. Enjoy. This is the best time of the sports year.