New Hockey Fans, Start Here. // Hockey But Dumber №1

This series will answer your questions.

Spring 2020 was not a great time to be a sports fan. The NFL season had ended in February; a global pandemic had put the NBA and MLB on pause. And I, a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan and lukewarm-at-best follower of basketball and baseball, had nothing to watch.

Prior to spring 2020, my interest in hockey was comparable to my interest in basketball and baseball — essentially nil. But one day, while flipping through TV channels, I stumbled across the Philadelphia Flyers. At that moment, they were in an isolated “bubble” in a galaxy far, far away (also known as Toronto, Ontario), battling against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I had no idea what was going on. I could barely see where the puck was. But the feelings were all the same as the ones I got watching the Eagles — the euphoric high when the Flyers scored, the crushing disappointment when they were scored on, and all the nail-biting suspense in between.

Photo by Maurice DT on Unsplash

Hockey became my pandemic hobby — the equivalent of baking bread or learning to play the guitar, for other people. I watched every single game (even after the Flyers eventually fell to the New York Islanders). I consumed copious amounts of NHL news, listened to podcasts, and dove deep into all sorts of statistics.

In those first months, though, there was always an undercurrent of nervousness. As a recent convert, I felt like I wasn’t a “real” hockey fan. Despite the fact that I could name the starting goalie (and sometimes the backup) of every team in the NHL, there were always rules I didn’t know about and strategies I couldn’t understand.

Back then, I wished there was some way — besides reading the NHL’s entire official rulebook — to finally figure out the game. I was tired of not knowing things. In my experience, that’s one of the biggest challenges in starting to watch a sport. Sometimes the doubt and annoyance of feeling dependent on others for answers can take away from the excitement, and ultimately make new fans feel like it’s not worth the effort.

That’s why I’m here: to explain all things hockey, but dumber. Well, not dumber, per se, but in layman’s terms — so that beginners can get a better understanding of how the game works without having to ask anyone how it works. In this series, we’ll discuss:

1. The Game

Everyone’s got to start somewhere, and we’re going to start with the very basics. That includes rules that come up often, as well as player positions, simple strategy, and miscellaneous facts that could be useful. This way, you can jump in right away with enough knowledge of how the sport works to watch (and enjoy) a hockey game.

2. The Stats

I know, I know. Most of us probably aren’t math people, and numbers scare us. But these are fun numbers. You’ll hear people say that “stats don’t tell the story of the game”, and that’s true, to some extent. But they’re also very good at describing individual players — who’s a star, who’s a liability, etc.

3. The NHL

The NHL is North America’s premier hockey league, with a total of 32 teams — seven in Canada, 25 in the United States. Picking a favorite can be difficult, so I’ll run through each of them, including star players and general notes about their style of play. Then you can decide for yourself whose bandwagon to jump on.

Photo by Klim Musalimov on Unsplash

4. The Complicated Stuff

Prospect pipelines. The salary cap. Sometimes-toxic hockey culture. They’re all complicated issues (hence the title) that don’t necessarily fit into any of the previously-mentioned categories. Talk about any one of these with your hockey-loving friends or family, and I can (almost certainly) guarantee they will be impressed.

Ultimately, my goal is for you to walk away from every article with a greater understanding of hockey. I hope you’ll be able to watch it and feel smart, and talk to friends about it and feel like you actually know what you’re talking about. And maybe, as you read and follow and learn, you’ll find yourself falling in love with the game — just as I did two years ago.

Questions? Most of them will be answered later in the series, but feel free to leave them in the comments for now.

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Elisa Chen

Elisa Chen

Diehard Flyers fan and creator of Hockey But Dumber — a series designed to get new hockey fans acquainted with the game.