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Read this before taking up hockey

Jim Cross

How exciting it was to watch our Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup. They are a team of such beautiful skaters and stick handlers, and the pace they set is hard to match.

I have long admired ice hockey for the truly all-out effort the players give, especially in the Stanley Cup finals. They skate as hard as they can during a shift that lasts about 45 seconds to a minute. Then they are off the ice to recover, and a new line of skaters comes on. As a basketball coach for 25 years, I have always felt that basketball should adopt ice hockey’s substitutions on the fly system. Nonstop action is where it’s at. And I love the Stanley Cup tradition that allows each winning player to keep the Cup for a day.

If you were as inspired as I was by the Avs and are thinking of taking up ice hockey, don’t make a hasty emotional decision.

First, ice hockey is a highly anaerobic sport, which is played at a pace that is physiologically impossible for humans to maintain for more than a minute or two at best, thus the need for frequent line changes. This maximal effort creates bacteria that really stink. It is widely accepted that a men’s ice hockey locker room is the smelliest of all sports. I can attest to this having taught and coached at Colorado College, which had a Division I program. The highly odoriferous bacteria (anaerobes) are brought on by a perfect Petri dish of sweat, wet equipment and lack of air circulation. Avoid the locker rooms if you can.

Second, hockey players rarely have all of their own teeth. Toothless smiles are so prominent and proudly displayed by players, that Sports Illustrated did an article about the all-time best toothless smiles. Catch a puck with your mouth and you’ll be “spittin” Chiclets, eh? Pucks are made of rubber, and they have been known to bounce, which is not good. Pucks do their job better when they slide, and they slide better when they are frozen, so the National Hockey League freezes the pucks to help eliminate bouncing. A referee may take a puck out of play when it gets too warm. So, if you’re taking up hockey to attract women, these first two reasons may give you pause.

Third, hockey players started wearing cups to protect their genitals in 1874, yet they didn’t start wearing helmets until 1974. It took them 100 years to realize that maybe their brains were important, too?

Next there is the cost. Equipment is expensive even if you’re not a goalie. Colorado College used to buy 120 dozen sticks a year. All of the pads on an NHL player add up to about $1,200 and with replacements, it costs a team about $21,000 to outfit a skater for a year, $36,000 for a goalie. Even a youth player will face a cost about $1,000 in startup equipment. Don’t get me started on the cost of ice time (Chapman Hill lists $200 to $300 an hour) and the fact that the only rink time available might be 5 a.m. Mom, can you drive me to practice?

Remember the old joke? I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out. There is less fighting in the NHL now and, indeed, one of the joys of watching the Avs is that there is more skating and passing, and less fighting. I applaud the women’s game for prohibiting body checking. Body contact is allowed in women’s hockey, but the player’s intent must be to play the puck first. Less hitting places, more of a premium on skill. And they smell better, too.

Best hockey films? “Miracle,” “Slapshot,” “Mystery Alaska,” “Red Army.”

Jim Cross is a retired Fort Lewis College professor and basketball coach.