Top to bottom—Antti Aalto to Zarley Zalapski—hockey is the most exotic of our major sports, and what the novice fan needs is an A-to-Z guide to the game. Or rather, an Eh-to-Zed guide, Eh being hockey's all-purpose rhetorical intensifier, Zed the Canadian for Z, as in " Peter Zezel has two zeds, not three, eh?"
With a little instruction, you too will grow to love the game, whose legends have snub-nosed names like Mush March, Muzz Patrick, Punch Imlach and Gump Worsley. (Who wouldn't enjoy making those cocktail-party introductions? "Mush, Muzz. Muzz, Punch. Punch, Gump. Gump, Mush....")
Sadly, this hockey season has, in its opening month, all the buzz of a five-watt bulb. Basketball—with LeBron v. Carmelo, Kobe v. Shaq, State of Colorado v. Kobe—is marquee. Hockey is more Marquis de Sade.
But it isn't, really. True, Toronto defenseman Ric Jackman scored a game-winning goal the other night after having a tooth extracted by a high stick. Afterward, Jackman told reporters that he's happy to trade teeth for goals and that he was certain his assault was an accident. As he spoke, he discreetly spit blood into a cup—presumably with pinky raised. "Tonight," Maple Leafs forward Joe Nieuwendyk told The Canadian Press, "we won the game by losing teeth.... But sometimes that's what you need to do."
There's a civility to hockey's incivility. The most feared fistfighter in the NHL has a name, Georges Laraque, that belongs on designer tea cozies. The game is, more often than not, a pleasing combination of chivalry and brutality, Lady Byng at the Bada Bing.
And so, in September, Florida veteran Todd Gill mugged teammate Max Birbraer while the latter was recumbent on the ice, stretching between periods of an intrasquad scrimmage. It was payback for a hit earlier in the session, and afterward Birbraer called his attacker "a respectable person," adding, "I deserved it."
It's a pity, then, that so many Americans don't follow hockey, don't know Jacques Martin (Senators coach) from Jacques Lemaire (Wild coach). The latter has sport's most comely comb-over, a white wave forever cresting across the sandbar of his scalp. Lemaire's comb-over wins in a walkover when matched against Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy's.
It's one of many areas in which hockey trumps basketball. Hockey, for instance, had the first and most prolific MJ. Indeed, Moose Jaw, midwife of manifold NHL careers, celebrates its centennial next week. Where exactly is this fabled Canadian city? As ex-Islander Clark Gillies, a Moose Jaw native, likes to say, "Six feet from the moose's ass."
You should know, too, that Moose Jaw is always twinned by alliterative scribes with Medicine Hat, hometown of Canucks great Trevor Linden, so that any story on Canadian hockey must begin, "From Moose Jaw to Medicine Hat...." The Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League play in the squat, cylindrical Moose Jaw Civic Centre—known to locals as the Crushed Can—which points out a pleasant eccentricity of Canadian sports pages, in which sceptics deny rumours that centres will practise at defence. Or that cheques will not be honoured by the organisation.
More important than spelling is proper pronunciation. It's everything in hockey. One simple mnemonic: Uwe Krupp ("Ooey Croop") is what you clear from your throat before Hakan Loob ("Hockin' Lube").