Published: April 21, 2016
The oldest championship in all of professional sports is up for grabs once again.
Successful head coach Mike Babcock – whose resume includes more than 500 NHL victories along with three finals appearances and one championship – once referred to the National Hockey League playoffs as a “grind.”
Coaches and players compete in potentially 28 games over four rounds facing up to four teams in an effort to claim the NHL’s prized possession, the Stanley Cup.
There are factors that make the Stanley Cup Playoffs special: its age, superstitions, famous declarations, grizzly beards and raw emotion.
The Stanley Cup is named after Canada’s former governor, General Lord Stanley of Preston. The trophy was first awarded in 1915.
Hockey players range from very superstitious to “stitious” (a la Eli Manning) to nothing at all. Players put on gear a certain way or prefer to walk out of the tunnel either in front of everyone or behind as the last one to exit. In April and May, tendencies become heightened.
There is also the question of what will team captains do upon advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Western conference champions are awarded the Clarence Campbell Trophy while Eastern counterparts are presented with the Prince of Wales Trophy. Team captains choose to touch or not touch the trophies based on superstitious ideas.
Watching the playoffs is also different because players will go unshaven to signify the depth of their team’s playoff run. It makes hockey playoffs more exciting and players more interesting.
The celebration of winning or depression of losing the Stanley Cup for some guys is apparent on television. Men cry and kiss the cup as they skate around hoisting it over their shoulders. Likewise, men have cried when they’ve lost in the Finals. Jean Sebastian Giguere cried while being named the most valuable player of the 2003 playoffs.
The Mighty Ducks film trilogy sparked my interest in ice hockey. But, more than anything, watching the 2009 playoffs brought me back to hockey.
I attended a couple of games in the early 2000s but then dropped interest over time. I remember briefly catching hockey experts discussing the collapse of the New Jersey Devils playoff run in 2006. Yet, when I saw the Devils lose in the first round of the playoffs in 2009, I immediately wanted the following year to start.
I didn’t care that anyone else was still playing, I just wanted to see the Devils make another crack at it.
Then the amazing run of 2012 occurred. It also happened to be the year that my grandmother passed away. I like to think she was watching from above manipulating the game, but that is not possible because achievement relies on a complete team effort in hockey. It takes four lines of forwards, three lines of defensemen, and one goalie to attain hockey’s ultimate prize.
“Cinderella” teams have become extinct. The last team that completed a fairy tale like championship run was the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings in 2012, who defeated the sixth-seeded Devils.
Now I wait and hope, like any fan, that one day maybe my team can lift the Stanley Cup over their shoulders.
That’s what the NHL playoffs mean to me: a chance for achievement unlike any other.
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