Baseball held me hostage last night, but hockey set me free. Midway through yet another four-hour MLB playoff battle, the otherwise compelling action thinned by stoppages and pre-pitch routines, I felt like I was simply watching out of obligation. There wasn’t any kind of happiness or love. It certainly wasn’t fun.
The opening night of hockey beckoned me during every 30-second break between pitches. Eventually, Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby won out, because, even in the regular season, even in the early fall, even without my Red Wings playing, hockey is beautiful.
This isn’t an argument about which sport is the best. They all each have their own unique qualities, none of which can be summed into any kind of quantitative calculation. Football is the best sport for socializing. Baseball is the best for statheads, students of history, and casual nights out. Basketball has the most intriguing storylines, and it can approach transcendence when two great teams meet.
But hockey is consistently the most aesthetically beautiful sport. It’s the most pleasant on your eyes, with cool white ice, strong color contrast, constant motion, and striking logos. The sounds of the arena, as blades carve into ice, crowds groan, sticks snap on slapshots and players get smushed into rattling boards, are unparalleled. It’s the easiest sport to watch without being tempted to look at your phone. It’s smooth and violent, filled with heart-stopping gasp-inducing chances, while only delivering on a select few moments of ecstasy. It’s a fast-paced game of patience and delirium. Plus, you can wear a sweater to any game and feel entirely comfortable.
Hockey is poetry. Listen to the sport’s best announcer, Jim Hughson, as he evenly and flawlessly puts into words a frantic, unpredictable dance of emotion, teamwork, and individual brilliance, punctuated with a quick burst of triumph: “Scores!”
Of course, hockey is flawed. Like every league, the NHL extorts cities for public money. Player safety is a major, under-addressed issue. The culture of the sport can veer towards conservative nationalism and discourage players from having any kind of off-ice personality. And, at the edges, it lacks the extra drama gained by a rivalry between two celebrity stars, while its fandom can be strange, esoteric, and even downright unwelcoming to outsiders. The biggest obstacle to anyone liking hockey is that it hasn’t gone out of its way to convince them to give it the chance.
However, the actual action, what’s on the ice from start to finish, is, for my money, closer to perfect than anything else on TV. The constants of hockey relax you, entrance you, while at the same time drawing you to the edge of your seat. Hockey commands a certain level of commitment—you’re going to miss things if you look down or flip the channel—but it will always reward.
So, as great as baseball can be, when the next playoff game is a five-run game on its fourth hour and 20th pitching change, flip to a close third period instead. Choose free, fast movement. Choose hockey. Choose a beautiful sport that will also respect your beauty sleep.