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Hockey fans have plenty to be thankful for on Thanksgiving

by Dave Lozo /
Ah, Thanksgiving. That wonderful holiday where your family comes together to enjoy each other's company while feasting on a bounty of delicious food that represents the overwhelming amount of love that's been passed down over generations.

Or ... it's that stressful holiday where your family comes together to judge your spouse and question why you never call your mother while your senile grandmother microwaves cranberry sauce that's still in the aluminum can as your father-in-law uncomfortably pats your buttocks after every first down during the day's football games.

Hey, either way, it's a long weekend, right?

Thanksgiving also gives us a chance to reflect on how thankful we are for the first part of the NHL season. It's been quite the interesting seven weeks, and there have been plenty of happenings that have reminded us that hockey is always giving fans a reason to be thankful.

Obviously the No. 1 hockey-related thing I am thankful for is my paycheck. But beyond my selfishness (which sort of defeats the purpose of Thanksgiving), there are some things for which I'd like to give thanks.

I am thankful for...

... Marian Gaborik's health. Over the previous four seasons, he was more injury-prone than a calcium-deficient elderly woman trying to make it in competitive log rolling. Gaborik missed 121 games over his final four seasons with the Wild before signing with the Rangers during the offseason. Now he's lighting up New York in the early going with 18 goals in 21 games -- and getting to see him display his immense speed and talent every night has been a treat. He's also on pace to play 80 games, which puts him on pace to score nearly 70 goals.

... the Olympic-ordained condensed schedule. Players will clearly disagree that three games in four nights is a good thing, but as a fan, it's great. Would you rather have three chocolate donuts over the course of six days or four days? Exactly. Yes, I know that donuts aren't more susceptible to injury if they are consumed more frequently, but you get my point. There's more hockey to be watched in a shorter period of time, and I'm thankful that the players are willing to make that sacrifice for my amusement while I eat chocolate donuts on my couch.

... five-goal comebacks. Of course, if you're a Calgary Flames fan, please skip ahead to the next item. For everyone else, how amazing was the Blackhawks' rally from 5-0 down for a 6-5 overtime win five weeks ago? There was a time in the not-too-distant past where a two-goal deficit meant it was time to tuck your mullet under your trucker's hat and head for the parking lot. Not anymore. No lead is safe. There's nothing more fun than watching a game where the crowd goes from booing their team off the ice to dancing around like crazy people to "Chelsea Dagger" after an OT goal to cap the rally.

... new third jerseys. Well, I don't know if I'm thankful for what the Montreal Canadiens third jerseys did to the color pattern on my new TV this season, but besides that, they've been fantastic. Whether they're the vintage jerseys worn by the Flames this year or the classic-looking uniforms donned by the Minnesota Wild this season or simple ones the Colorado Avalanche broke out this season, I'm a fan. Even the stuffy New Jersey Devils will wear their old "Christmas tree" jerseys on St. Patrick's Day this season. The Bruins and Flyers will also wear special third jerseys for the Winter Classic. Clothes don't make the man, but they certainly look good and help generate revenue.

... ice girls. What? We're being honest here, right?

... John Tavares not getting off to a slow start. For one, the more exciting players to watch, the better. For two, no one wanted to re-live the daily questions about Steven Stamkos last season when he struggled during his rookie campaign with the Lightning. Tavares has been great on an Islanders team that doesn't exactly boast a plethora of offensive weapons. The 2009 Entry Draft's No. 1 pick leads all first-year players in goals (9) and points (19) and looks like the real deal.

... the manners of hockey players. Much like Jerry Seinfeld, I'm vehemently against the "God Bless You" after a sneeze -- but man, are hockey players courteous. Take Ducks captain Scott Niedermayer for instance. He wins a game for the Ducks in OT against the Lightning, earning himself first star honors. He takes his lap, waves to the fans, and tries to hand his stick to a little girl on the other side of the glass. One guy grabs the stick, another guy in a flannel shirt straight out of a 1995 Nirvana video grabs the guy, and all hell breaks loose. And who takes the blame for it? "I probably could've done a better job with that," Niedermayer said. You could punch a hockey player in the face and he'd apologize for his jaw being so rock-solid. However, I don't recommend trying that.

... for composite sticks. Because it's the little things in life you have to appreciate, and nothing cracks me up more than seeing someone step full force into a slap shot or one-timer and have their half-titanium, half-magnesium, half-graphite, half-polyester stick explode. The puck moves toward the net like a 6-year-old took the shot during an intermission contest, and I giggle every time. One day, these sticks will likely be made of the indestructible material that makes up Wolverine's skeletal structure, but until then, we should enjoy the non-wood sticks players love to use today.

... Zach Parise's hand-eye coordination. Perhaps I'm a little biased because I live in the New York-New Jersey area, but the Devils' star is on another level when it comes to knocking the puck out of the air or redirecting it on goal. At one point last season, he took the "eye' out of the hand-eye coordination and controlled a puck that was waist high and behind his back without looking. He manages to get his stick on more shots from the blue line or from bad angles, and his ability to turn a harmless shot into a goal makes him as fun to watch as any player in the League. It's a skill that goes unnoticed most times because he makes it look so easy.

... for hockey enforcers because they allow me to say, "They love to beat the stuffing out of the opposition," in a Thanksgiving column, and anytime you do a holiday-themed column, you have to make holiday-themed jokes. Fozzie Bear's jokes weren't that bad, but this one was required. With only two NHL games on the schedule this Thanksgiving, there won't be as many chances for players to carve up the opposition or hit players in the corner, so this column will have to be the gravy on your day.

Wokka, wokka, wokka. Happy Thanksgiving.

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