Hockey is a game that breeds addiction. Chris Rock once joked about the sport, "Hockey is like heroin. Only drug addicts do heroin. It's not like a recreational drug. It's never like, No, that's O.K., I'm not going to have heroin. You guys go right ahead. Hockey is kind of the same way. Only hockey fans watch hockey." He's not wrong, and he definitely wasn't wrong about me last weekend.
Last weekend was when I disappeared from my family for 36 hours to run headlong into my addiction. I went to three cities, saw three games in the span of two days. The total cost (as a credentialed media member)? $35 between train fare and gas. If you use sites like Stubhub or just catch the Islanders on a bad day, you can probably manage it all in less that $150 without a press pass.
The thing is, it wasn't all that hard. On Saturday morning I drove from my home in North Jersey to Uniondale. This was the Islanders leg of the trip, but it was spurred on by the Devils being there. I spend a lot of my time on the Devils beat for NHL Network Radio, and a necessary trip to cover the team at Nassau Coliseum prompted a look at the schedule.
Devils-Islanders turned into sort of an entertaining drag, a game with an almost premeditated ending that still proved fun. Jaromir Jagr scored his 700th goal, and even the Islanders faithful (well, it was about 60/40 Islanders to Devils fans in the house) gave him a standing ovation. The Isles put up very little fight in the second half (they really are a rudderless ship without that Tavares fella') and took the game 6-1.
Day two was going to be a little more difficult. I had to cover two games that started in a span of five hours, make every train and still do the job I was sent to do. Most drug addicts are not into forced into such tight schedules.
Game two was in Newark, with a full house in to see a Sunday matinee between the Devils and the San Jose Sharks, in what was easily the best game of the weekend. New Jersey tends to slow down the teams that they are capable of doing that to (AKA Eastern Conference teams), but it's a lot of fun when they're forced to play at the pace of others. The two clubs played a mostly even, enthralling game that New Jersey lost on two turnovers by defensemen that the Sharks' high-powered offense cashed in on.
I quickly got post-game sound from the Jersey locker room and shoved right off to New York City. Believe it or not, I'd never been to Madison Square Garden for hockey prior to this NHL season. I've only seen the sport in here "post-transformation," but it really is an exceptional place to see a game. The only problem is that the press has to watch from those bridges, which really are a spit in the face of Mother Nature.
Despite a great start, the Bruins shut down the Rangers and the flow of the game, finding six goals from their offense and taking down New York 6-3. It was a game that was, of course, stilted by rumors of Ryan Callahan's eventual departure. I was a little worn out from the weekend, but there are worse ways to live.
Here's the thing: you can't really do this anywhere else in the world. I'm sure you could find a way to manage by car in Eastern or Western Canada, and definitely in California if you did San Jose the first day, but there's nowhere simpler to take in three games in two days than the New York area. People often wonder why there are three hockey teams here, and the reason is simple: there are more hockey fans here than in any other city in America.
How do I know that? Well, for every NBC or NBCSN hockey game this season, the ratings champs are always markets like Boston and Minnesota and Buffalo. But that's just in terms of percentages. You know where the most households are that watch nationally televised hockey? The New York metropolitan area. The biggest media market in the world earns the fact that it has the most teams more often than not.
So how would I rate my fix? Not bad, but it can be better. Here's what the league schedulers should do in 2015, when the Islanders move to Brooklyn: schedule a Rangers game (presumably on NBC) at 12, an Islanders game at the Barclays Center at 4, and a Devils game at The Rock at 8. Hockey tripleheader, entirely via train. Can you imagine? What's stronger than heroin?
Until then, however, hockey will remain a great sport to just bury yourself in and enjoy a bunch of games. And at the NHL level, there's no better place to do it than in New York.