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What makes hockey great

Jaromir Jagr returned to the NHL after spending three years in the KHL and has 27 points in 28 games. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jaromir Jagr returned to the NHL after spending three years in the KHL and has 27 points in 28 games. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

All too often we hear about how our game is broken, flawed, behind the times and barbaric. Most of the time, those reactions are bloated, misleading, sensational, miss the point or are from someone who doesn’t like or understand the game in the first place.

So I’m going to take this opportunity, five days before Christmas, to share all the things I find wonderful about hockey.

’Tis the season.

• They’re almost all gone, but I love how there are still a few players around the league who I remember fondly from my younger days as a happy-go-lucky fan. The return of Jaromir ‘Mario’s Little Sister’ Jagr and the Winnipeg Jets let off an overwhelming whiff of nostalgia and the fact both parties are playing well means the aroma is as pleasant as ever. Teemu Selanne’s return to a standing ovation in Winnipeg was goosebump-inducing and Nicklas Lidstrom is still the cream of the crop at 41. Something tells me when I go home for the holidays and a hockey game breaks out, someone will eagerly call out “I’m Jaromir Jagr!”

• As much as I love to watch the Sidney Crosbys, Pavel Datsyuks and Steven Stamkoses (Stamkoi?) of the league I also love how diverse the skill sets are in the NHL and hockey in general. I love the work ethic and drive of Tomas Holmstrom, who specializes in taking a beating in front of the net just to redirect a shot. I love the ferocity with which players such as Milan Lucic, Derek Dorsett and Steve Ott play that brings fans to their feet at any given moment. I love Martin Brodeur’s calm and calculated approach as much as I love Tim Thomas’ off-the-wall unpredictability. I love the fearlessness and art of shot-blocking players such as Dan Girardi and Brett Clark have mastered. And, even though I sometimes loathe them for the style, I love how Brad Marchand, Sean Avery, Jordin Tootoo and the like have a knack for getting under your skin.

• I love how, for the most part, hockey players (and hockey people in general) have humble personalities that they carry around with them. When Phoenix was in town recently, we were at the morning skate to shoot a video on Keith Yandle. We were patiently waiting to interview Shane Doan, who was talking to a friend and his little boy. When Doan realized we were waiting for him to finish, he excused himself from that conversation, came over to us and apologized. Of course, we were the ones who felt a little intrusive. The gritty and grizzled culture of the game, so often under attack, holds much responsibility for this characteristic, a fact lost on irrational fear-mongers.

• I love how we don’t have over-the-top celebrations after every goal that demean the role and importance of sportsmanship, that we don’t have self-absorbed athletes holding weight-lifting sessions in their driveways to attract media attention or an epidemic of players holding their teams hostage to force a trade. I love the team mentality. I hope none of these players listen to anyone who says they should be more like their MLB, NFL or NBA brethren, where the player, more often than not, seems to come before the team.

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• I love how this is a global game, enjoyed by many different kinds of people and growing in so many countries such as Latvia and Switzerland. When I travelled to Russia for a kids’ hockey camp in the summer it was an incredible experience to connect with a new generation of hockey fans on the other side of the planet and, despite the thick language barrier, talk to them about their favorite players. It amazed me how many of them shouted “Sidney Crosby” when the question was asked and how many gave me a thumbs down when the name Alexander Radulov was raised.

• I love the community of hockey and how it unites after accomplishments, such as Hall of Fame inductions, and tragedies, such as the untimely deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak and everyone on the Lokomotiv team. It’s a shame when these instances are used to connect an unproven dotted line to hot button issues, but most hockey folk see through those callous grabs for attention.

• I love the sounds of the game: the slap of the puck off a stick, the boards and the glass; the urgent calls for a pass or a heads-up from a teammate; the crunch and thunder of a hit; the carving of the skate blade; the hollowness of a pad save; the rising excitement and bursting celebration of a crowd after a goal; and the “ping” of a puck going off the post…and in. (Hey, I’m a forward.)

• I love how when friends get together after a long time apart it takes about five minutes before hockey talk sets in. I love how it’s a common denominator for so many of us and that we share many of the same types of stories and experiences from our days growing up as fans and players.

• I love old rural rinks where it’s colder inside than out in mid-January.

• I love flooding the outdoor rink in the serene quiet of night so that hours and hours of loud, good-natured fun can be had in the dead of winter. (Let’s just hope the weather will allow that one this year.)

• And, most of all, I love how when you organize a full-equipment hockey game over the holidays, the least of your worries is accumulating 18 willing players.

Merry Christmas.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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