Disclaimer: I’m not a hockey guy. Zane Garstad and Kirk Viren? Hockey guys. And those two hockey guys sat me down and taught me a thing or two about the old stick and puck.
OK, I actually sat them down, but they still taught me a lot.
Monday night, the Washington Capitals beat the dog crap out of the Las Vegas Golden Knights in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, 6-2. And while I’ve gotten more and more into hockey over the last half decade or so — and watched more playoff hockey this year than ever before — I don’t have much insight to the Canadian sport aside from the basics.
That’s where Garstad and Viren came in. I baited them with some pork chops in exchange for their hockey expertise. So there we sat Monday night, a pupil and his insightful masters.
It was fun watching a somewhat-unfamiliar sport with these two guys — Viren the current coach of the Sheridan Hawks high school team and Garstad the head coach before him. I like big hits as much as the next guy, but something about Garstad’s applause when John Carlson plastered a Golden Knight to the glass got me extra amped.
And it’s not hard to appreciate a Evgeny Kuznetsov assist, but when it’s broken down for the layman by an expert, you get a feeling Kuznetsov is more like Steve Nash. (Fair warning, there will be basketball references in this hockey story because that’s all I know. Plus, Nash is Canadian, so it’s the best I’ve got.)
In all honesty, though, watching Monday’s game with a couple of hockey lifers made me realize how similar hockey is to basketball, and that heightened my appreciation for both sports. I’m a long way from having a complete understanding of hockey, but being able to compare it to a sport by which I grew up surrounded made the tiny lightbulb in my head blink a little bit at least.
Viren pointed out how offenses try to make plays in threes — it’s easier to move the puck and sneak by defenders if the offense stays in a triangular formation rather than a line. That’s similar to basketball — spread the floor (ice); create constant movement without sacrificing spacing.
Then, when Washington’s Tom Wilson dumped off the puck, circled around and got it back — a give-and-go as us hoopers would call it — late in the first period to give the Caps a 2-0 lead, you get a perfect example of Viren’s explanation. And boy was it a thing of beauty.
The speed and the brutal power of these guys, meshed so seamlessly with insane technical skill and finesse, it’s difficult to wrap my head around. I thought maybe it was because I’ve never played the game and hardly even been on skates, but to see Garstad and Viren just laugh at the sheer brilliance of these superstars gave me a better understanding what these guys were doing. Kind of. Watching a guy skate at full speed, kick the puck out of the air and blast it into the net is nearly impossible to comprehend. (And for good measure, the Caps did it again).
Garstad grew up in Calgary, so he typically roots for the Flames. Viren, a Sheridan native, pulls for the Colorado Avalanche. I randomly started rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs back in college because I think their logo is one of the best in sports.
Monday, we joined forces and rooted for the Las Vegas Knights, one of the craziest Cinderella stories in the history of sports. We were all pulling for the Knights for the same general reason — underdogs — but for hockey coaches like Garstad and Viren, the success of the Knights meant so much more. They embodied the philosophies of the Hawks — play hard; play together.
I certainly appreciated that and appreciated even more what these guys did and do with the local kids.
In the end, Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals were too dang good. They never relinquished the momentum even as it stretched to the Vegas zone on occasion.
I would have loved to see the Golden Knights snatch another game from the far superior Capitals, but at the end of the day, I left with a lot more knowledge and understanding than I had when the first puck dropped three hours prior. A success.
These guys get hockey — that’s why the Hawks have had a lot of recent success. But I appreciated their passion for the sport and their implied-time spent being lifelong students of the game.
Will I be strapping on a pair of skate’s anytime soon? Much to the disdain of Garstad, no, I won’t be. But consider me a hockey fan from here on out.
Now, if only I can get those two guys to watch the NBA Finals.