How I learned to love the NHL’s Return To Play format

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By WGR 550 SportsRadio

When sports like hockey hit the mother of all pause buttons back in March, I wasn’t sure when I’d be ready for them to start up again. Yes, much of that doubt was fueled by when it would actually be safe to bring groups of athletes together to compete, let alone whether or not there would be fans allowed to attend these events.

While real life raged all around, in hospitals and eventually the streets, I struggled with finding my footing as it pertained to sports and it’s place in all of it. Emphasizing the need for the return of sports seemed at best frivolous, at worst, maybe brutally tone deaf.

Not to mention that competing for the Stanley Cup in August and September just seemed preposterous to me. If you are a regular listener, you probably heard me say any number of times how little interest I’d have in spending beautiful summer days and nights in front of the TV watching hockey.

Well, I was wrong.

Sure, a large part of my thinking in the spring was predicated on being able to travel to Canada by the summertime and, of course, that has not happened. But I also underestimated my love of, and simply put, my addiction to the game.

I’m scoring the NHL’s return a 9-out-of-10. The only reduction coming from some odd TV rules that have kept some games from being shown in their entirety in either the U.S. or Canada. Also, allowing for a scenario where one of the losing teams in this play-in round would win the draft lottery is all-time bad. So maybe an 8-out-of-10 is the right score. Either way, I’m thrilled with how this has all gone on the ice and on TV.

Like most observers, I wasn’t sure what no fans in the buildings would look and feel like. Mark me down for being more than fine with it. That’s not to say I wouldn’t rather there actually be fans in the arenas. That’d be awesome, mostly because it would be normal and a great sign that we’ve got the pandemic under control.

Of course we know that we don’t have the pandemic under control, and it may still be months, or maybe longer, before we do.

So how’d I end up here?

Well, as alluded to above, I’m still pretty much stuck in my house. Yes, restrictions have lessened considerably, but I’m still not doing much. I work from home, hit the grocery store once a week or so, and that’s pretty much it. One family outing to our favorite restaurant last week that just re-opened their dining room, a 4th of July cookout at a friends house and maybe a couple of other outings, including a trip to Connecticut for hockey. That’s been it for me since March.

So I am a captive audience for the NHL, but don’t let that read like I’d be happy with whatever they shoveled into the trough. The league has done a fantastic job dressing up the arenas for TV. I don’t find myself hung up at all on there being no fans there, and the piped-in crowd noise doesn’t offend me at all.

It looks like hockey, it sounds like hockey, it’s hockey. The intensity of the games is fine, though I am not loving the round-robin games for seeding as much as the best-of-five play-in series.

Maybe the fact that I’ve spent so much time watching sparsely attended games I was invested in has trained me not to need the energy of a packed arena to get into the games. This last year especially, I watched more of my son's games on a single camera video feed than I did in person. So I’m used to not having much at all in the way of visual or audio cues to amp up my interest.

But mostly it comes down to this: I love hockey. I missed hockey, both in my family and on television. It’s back, for now. Next week, I’ll travel to Wisconsin with my son, Owen, for his NAHL camp with the New Mexico Ice Wolves, who selected him in a recent draft. Yes, I’ll have to quarantine when we return. Of course I wish I didn’t need to, but for now, no problem.

14 days at home? Ok. What time do the hockey games start?