Long Nights And Goal Horns: It’s NHL Playoff Time, British Style

“Everyone is standing all over the place…roaring”

Bob Cole

Tonight starts the most wonderful time of the year for a hockey fan.

Sure, the British season ended a month ago, so live hockey has wended its way into the history books until August, but now, for the dedicated few, the true season begins.

As of tonight, the NHL playoffs begin. For the next two months, as the British sports pages are dominated by the end of the football season and the beginning of the cricket season, I and many others like me in this outpost of the hockey world will become creatures of the night and waking zombies during the day.

Sleep will be carefully rationed-a precious commodity stolen in the early evening, or a few hours in between the ending of an East Coast game and the alarm clocks. The chances of leaving for work having stolen an hours’ sleep after catching the end of a Western Conference OT thriller (Pacific time-zone games don’t even START until 3 am on a weeknight UK time, and four of the eight West playoff teams are in the Pacific Division) will increase. We’ll abuse our bodies, defy cicadian rhythms on a daily basis for our sport and swear three or four times “I swear I’m not doing this again this season” only to do it again a day or two later. And it’s brilliant. It’s what we live for.

The slide is swift. In the regular season, because the games come so thick and fast, there is a tendency for UK NHL fans to say “ah, I’ll miss this one and catch up on Twitter-I’ve got a busy day tomorrow” or “I’ll record it and watch it tomorrow night”. After all, that mid February game in Nashville can wait whatever your team is, partly because it’s not that important and partly because not even British Nashville fans will miss out on sleep to watch the Predators.

But in the playoffs, every game matters. From the hope eternal of a Round 1, Game 1, to the building nerves of an elimination game, to the joy of a team coming back from the dead, to the nerve-jangling, sinew-ripping, brain-melting tension of a game 7, to the euphoria and fulfilled dreams of a Cup win, we UK fans climb on the nightly rollercoaster on an early spring night in late April and we don’t jump off it until we arrive, circadian rhythms shattered, at the payoff of the Cup final as summer begins to kick into full swing.

And as we sit through the dark watches of the night sharing communion with our North American brothers and sisters via Twitter and a flickering TV/laptop screen turned down low so as not to wake the rest of the house, occasionally, we wonder why we do what we do. Non-hockey fans here ask us why, come NHL playoff time, as the rest of Britain revels in the lighter days, we look forward to and embrace the sleepless nights, the 4am starts, the double-headers, the miraculous comebacks and sitting living and dying by a game played by men we’ll never meet, 5000 miles away in the long, dark, restless hours. And then, almost as quickly, we answer.

Because “Hello hockey fans in Canada, the United States and Newfoundland” is a phrase that means as much to us as you.

Because we are a proud bunch of addicts who need our fix.

Because on the night of a Game 1, there is ALWAYS hope that “this is the year”.

Because it’s the sport we love, at its most frantic and glorious.

Because in a place where hockey is a minority sport, the long dark hours of the night are the time that it becomes a majority sport.

Because there’s ALWAYS a time for hockey-watching.

Because come playoff time, sleep is for the weak.

Because there’s nothing better than playoff hockey.

Because we love the game.

Because we hope.

Because we believe.

Because it’s the Cup.

Giddy up, Britain. It’s playoff time.

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