As a relative novice to the world of hockey, I've sometimes wondered whether I'd be able to get caught up in the game in the same way I do with football or baseball or basketball. After watching the Washington Capitals mount an impressive comeback to top the Philadelphia Flyers 7-5, I can answer, conclusively, yes.
Hockey had previously struck me as something akin to organized chaos, the puck flying in random directions while players chased it with no real method to their madness. Incorrect.
The sport is much more systemic than I had previously recognized. I took the time to observe the game from a holistic standpoint and came away with a new appreciation for it.
As obvious as it might be to veteran hockey observers, I was struck by the cohesive organization that exists on the ice. I watched the skaters position themselves relative to the location of the puck or another skater, shifting and adjusting and collapsing in a fluid and purposeful harmony.
Again, that is rote to established fans but, to this novice, it was truly fascinating to observe. I must admit I was one of those "fans" who liked the idea of a glowing puck on TV broadcasts but I see now why legitimate hockey fans rejected it outright: it misses the point. It would be akin to watching a Redskins game and staying focused solely on the football. Is that important? Obviously but, as any good Redskins fan knows, so much more is happening that impacts the outcome of a play. The same is true of hockey.
And as much as I enjoyed the game itself, I would be remiss if I did not mention the man who left my mouth agape on several occasions. Alex Ovechkin is simply amazing to watch.
He plays as if some law of physics dictates that, when he has the puck, he must go toward the opponent's net, as if some unknown gravity pulls him toward it. If you should happen to be in his way or attempt to impede his progress, no matter, he'll go past you, around you or, seemingly most often, through you.
I was stunned by how often the Russian superstar would simply charge toward the net with a defender or two, or three, clinging to him and he would still manage to fire a shot on the net. It's almost as if he is skating downhill.
I walked out of the Verizon Center with a new appreciation for the sport and a new respect for the way it is played. In the coming months, I hope to learn more about the game and the philosophy behind it, so I can become one of those veteran observers, and perhaps share some of my learning curve with other new hockey fans like myself.
The one thing I don't need to learn is how exciting the game, and this Capitals team can be.