Watching the final seconds tick off the clock in the clinching Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals and seeing the crowd in Los Angeles get louder and louder, was one of those moments. I could only imagine how happy those people were in that arena, especially those who have stuck with the Kings through the entirety of the 45 years it took for them to finally reach the top of the mountain. There was relief, joy, bewilderment, excitement all rolled into one group of fans and all directed at the guys on the ice. I try to watch the final moments of every championship contest for exactly those reasons. It’s a blast as a fan of sports to see how happy it can make others.
But, this is hockey. This is the sport where the really great stuff happens once the final horn sounds. The NHL has championship celebrations down to a science. There’s the customary handshake line that takes place after every playoff series; where the same players who battled unmercifully throughout put any animosity aside and sincerely (some more than others) shake the hands of their opponents, those who have lost wishing the victors good luck and congratulations. There’s the Conn Smythe trophy, given to the MVP of the playoffs and one of the very few MVP trophies whose name is known by a majority of fans outside of those really into that particular sport. Go ahead, try to name the trophy given to the Super Bowl MVP. And no, you can’t say it’s the one where they get a free car. I’ll wait. No luck? Exactly.
Then comes the Cup. Again, the NHL is the only league where the actual playoffs are named after the trophy. It’s not the NBA Larry O’Brien Finals, or the NFL Super Bowl Playoffs. But for years, it’s been the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. That’s just great. The Stanley Cup is engraved with the names of every player who has played for a team that won it all, and is as sacred an item for hockey players as there is. People break down crying in its presence like they were a 14-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert. Players won’t touch it until they actually win it. It’s amazing.
Hockey is one of the most tradition-laden sports around, especially the NHL. So many moments are based on what has been done for generations. Players grow up knowing the history of the game and respecting it unflinchingly. And I think that’s one thing that resonates with sports fans – the tradition. Especially in the playoffs, and especially after a team wins the Stanley Cup.
We want tradition. We like knowing that what we are watching unfold following a game was the same images our fathers saw when they were growing up. The same images our grandfathers called them over to see, secretly allowing them to stay up past their bedtime with a “don’t tell your Mother” permission.
Maybe its easier for me because when it comes to hockey, I am honestly a bigger fan of the tradition than any one team. I do have squads that I will root for, but as the men in white gloves are walking out on the ice with Lord Stanley’s Cup, allegiance goes out the window.
At that moment, I’m simply a fan of one of those moments when sports elicits an unconscious smile, a “that’s awesome”, a feeling that you’re watching a moment that for some of those players will surpass any moment prior in their lives. You see the unadulterated joy, the sense of accomplishment and realization of years of hard work, all to feel what they are feeling right then. It’s… it’s just one of those moments.