Minutes into Game 1 and I’m hardly recognizing what I’m seeing. The game is choppy, slow and sporadic. Save for a few names like Esposito and Mahovolich, players are a fraction the size of the giants that stalk the halls of today’s coliseums. It is a game full of mistakes and unpredictable game-play. It’s far from today’s game of structure and precision.
It’s this imperfection that bleeds its truest quality; excitement.
Hockey’s evolution at the professional level has been vast to say the least. The ’72 Summit Series gave way to arguably the sport’s most exciting era in the 80’s, a time where names like Gretzky would shred teams only through raw skill. Record setting offensive seasons paved the way for coaches and teams to implement complex formations and systems, and eventually lay the groundwork we see today.
For example, last season one of the biggest stories in hockey was Tampa Bay's 1-3-1 formation. In the clip below the Philadelphia Flyers finally figured out how to put an end to the newest formation to mystify NHL teams. Watching the opposition dissect and beat the 1-3-1 is a perfect example of adaptation in todays game and how teams are learning to beat their opponents with wit and savvy game-play. Check out the video below.
Enter the “Dead Puck Era” of the 1990’s where it seemed as though every player on the ice was stuck skating through oil, which only ended up producing the clutching and grabbing witnessed in the early 2000’s.
The post-lockout era serves up a unique twist of its own. By entertainment standards, today’s game should trump that currently on my television. Size, speed and skill are bred into today’s athletes, men who more so resemble machines in comparison to their predecessors. Meticulous amounts of time and effort are poured into the smallest intricacies of preparation. Systems are developed and mastered to counter any attack the opposing team can muster.
Today’s game has been mastered, perfected in nearly every way, which begs the question; why is the choppy inadequacy of the Summit Series pulling me deeper into the game?
No doubt the size and scope of the event play a part but this feeling isn’t exclusive to the Summit Series. The same can be said when watching a minor or junior hockey game in some of the country’s veiled corners.
It’s at these levels where hockey’s being played as intended, in its truest and most exciting form. Here, the speed and skill remains however crude, untrained and eager. Here, mistakes breed excitement and ignorance applauded.
Was hockey wasn’t meant to be refined and marred by routine? Its attraction lie in the mistakes where in the blink of an eye, one player or one team’s breakdown becomes an opportunity for the opposition. The unknown and unexpected are welcomed here.
There’s certainly more than can be said for today’s professionals who we admire for their remarkable dedication to what they do, even if at times passion is called into question. Although with all due respect to them, certain fans of the sport can find solace in knowing that aspects of this great game were just as exciting back then as they are today.