By Jared Max
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“I cannot follow the puck,” said no hockey fan.
Hockey fans follow the action — like football cornerbacks read receivers’ hips.
Watching the Rangers-Predators game on television on Monday night brought me back 25 years to Christmas morning when I tried to explain to my mother how to view the 3-D Magic Eye print I had bought her.
On Monday night, the subject was hockey. My friend’s girlfriend lamented about not being able to follow the puck. I explained, “You are not a cat tracking a laser pointer.”
Having watched hockey on TV for most of my life, I had never questioned why so many fail to embrace this riveting game. I wondered, “How many people reject hockey because they do not know how to watch it on TV?” I thought, “People must feel alienated, unable to make sense of what others calculate easily.” Then, I thought about the X factor that makes the hockey viewing experience — more so than any popular North America sport — significantly greater in-person than on TV.
TV VIEWER vs. LIVE SPECTATOR
Among team sports, including baseball, football, basketball, hockey and soccer, there is no greater disparity between the experience of being at a game and watching from your living room than with hockey. The sport presents a challenge to TV viewers absent to its live spectators. The intangible is the manner in which we process the action.
Seated above the rink, the overall viewing experience is enriched because everybody can see the puck — as well as follow the game’s flow. We are treated to an unabridged spacial perspective unavailable to TV directors, who must present a Readers’s Digest version of the sport. While TV captures the essence of hockey, viewers must recognize the game in a slightly different dialect Still, a great read is a great read.
Stop telling me that you cannot see the puck. You are wasting energy looking.
OK FOR GOLF, BUT NOT HOCKEY?
I can continuously follow a sailing golf ball on TV as well as I can see a shooting star before sundown.
Even if you can see the smaller-than-a-large-egg white ball in contrast against any sky other than threatening-gray, can you make immediate sense of the drive? Can you justify the widespread use of what have become obligatory camera shots that, in my opinion, serve no purpose other than to express, “Wow! He hit the ball so hard. It’s traveling so far. How far? Soooo far! Good boy. Good hit. Good camera work. Isn’t this great?”
These people sound like toddlers who make noises watching soapy bubbles blown.
Unless the tee shot ricochets off a tree and falls into the gallery, knocking some guy’s toupee off, it is a waste of everybody’s time. How could anyone tell from 375 yards away if the ball will land beneficially? I marvel at the unabashed pretension. Pass me some watercress, please. And, stop telling me that you cannot see the puck.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL, NOT THE PUCK
Unlike a golf tee shot, a home run swing can be worthy of instant cheer. As soon as a baseball gets smashed by the sweet spot of a bat, the crowd usually knows if it will clear the fence. In contrast, when a right fielder makes a catch and rifles the ball toward home plate, the applause does not come as soon as he throws it. It happens if he gets the runner out.
Baseball is a game like hockey. We follow the action more than the object used to play. Baseball TV directors do not focus on the ball unless during instant replays and close-up action shots near the foul lines and bases. If we see a golf-like shot of a baseball in the sky, it usually means one thing: home run.
The next time somebody complains about hockey because he “cannot see the puck,” tell him the hard rubber cylinder should be thought of as information available on a need-to-know basis. For all we need to know watching hockey on TV, the puck will be there. Follow the action.
Follow Jared Max on Twitter at @Jared_Max