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Changing on the Fly: Why Hockey Rules

I'm headed back from Jazzfest in New Orleans, where hockey info was scarce, but my brother and I were struck by two events: First, the corner sports bar on Decatur (with great bloody mary's) in the French Quarter had the NHL Network on, so we saw playoff highlights in the middle of our traditional New Orleans experience -- lots of great food, music and drink, with sports an afterthought. Second, our non-hockey-aware niece from southern Maryland texted us at how upset she was that the Capitals lost in OT to Tampa Bay.

Frankly, this wouldn't have happened 10 years ago, nor six years ago (the last time either of us were in the Big Easy). But more than that, it got us talking about why hockey is so excellent. We settled upon an unoriginal but still unsung thought: The line change on the fly is one of hockey's most unique inventions and greatest contributions to sport.

There are a thousand reasons to love hockey, but the change on the fly is completely unique to hockey.

All of these other sports -- football with its set plays and set personnel sets, baseball with its mostly one-on-one encounters, and basketball and soccer with their set roster plus subs -- don't offer the dynamic that changing on the fly does. We arrived at this while talking about how great it is to have four lines of guys trying to maximize the short-term adrenaline and energy bursts made available through the 45-second shift: Essentially, hockey players are pressing the human athletic pedal "in the red" for their entire shift, then changing when the ceiling of human athletic capacity is met.

Rinse, repeat, for 60 minutes, give of take faceoffs and special teams that add new wrinkles. Hockey is multiple track and field repetitions on skates. It's an ideal, in a way. Playoff hockey brings it to its logical extreme, with shortened benches and the best of the best going at it four of seven games. The matchups that result are where strategy bleeds into hockey's pedal-to-the-floor vs. pedal-to-the-floor.

My brother and I are in swampland -- there's a swamp insect on my screen in this hotel lobby as I type this -- but we're thinking of how sweet this game can be, thanks to an attribute only hockey provides.

(Sorry, I'm in vacation mode, so these are the things the mind drifts to...)

P.S. Get well soon, Radek.