The Importance of the Off-Season

Posted July 17, 2011

Forget the players, for a moment.

Forget the fact that there are human beings, both on and off the ice, who need time to recharge their batteries, lick their wounds, and possibly orchestrate a cross-continental move.

Forget the prospects, for whom Development and Training Camps provide a chance to catch the right attention and advance (or start) a career.

Instead, let’s think about the fans.  Specifically, the fans of the 16 teams who entered the playoffs after the regular season.  We all sympathize with those whose hockey ended in mid-April, we do.  But this is a Washington blog, and here in Washington that wasn’t the case.  Here in Washington, we not only made it to the post-season, but we bettered our 2010 performance.  We won a round, and we did it in less than 7.

With that kind of accomplishment comes hope.  Naysayers start to cheer up, optimists start to really believe what they’ve been saying since March, and prices on StubHub start climbing.

But on the heels of hope comes anxiety – that gnawing, gut-churning sensation every time the beloved team takes the ice.  And I don’t know about anyone else, but my alcohol consumption skyrockets during the playoffs.  Close games mean nail-biting, which means you look for something to loosen the knots that begin to take up residence in your muscles (generally, this is accomplished with something relatively inocuous – beer, hard lemonade, maybe a mixed drink or two).  Blowouts mean that you just want it over and done so that it can be put behind you and you can move on (see also: hard liquor).  The closer one side gets to the magical four, the worse the pressure gets (as a side note, if it’s like this as a fan, I don’t even want to think about what it’s like to be in those uniforms).

Then the (nearly) inevitable loss.  Out of thirty teams in the league, only one is going to win the cup in any given year.  To do so takes equal measures talent and luck, and sometimes there’s no measure of talent that makes up for the absence of destiny tapping on your shoulder.  Cue the playoff hangover, which is often treated with denial and (more) alcohol and the realization that life does, indeed, exist outside of hockey.  By the time you’ve made your way through the full playoff cycle, your bank account is glaringly empty and your liver is about ready to declare a revolt (even if your name isn’t Brad Marchand).

The off-season exists to allow fans to breathe and recover.  It lets us recharge our own batteries, rehab our wallets, and take a few weeks to consider whether we want to cheer for a local baseball team just for the hell of it (or this summer, Team USA in the Women’s World Cup).  So despite the fact that August is already looming large on the horizon, a never-ending string of hockeyless days, take a moment to remind yourself that the off-season is a good thing.  All too soon we’ll be skipping work (or classes) to stop in at Kettler for morning skate, wandering down to Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, and debating (yet again) if we really need that new jersey/t-shirt/touque or not (for the record, the answer is always “yes”).

Enjoy the calm before the storm.  But first, check twitter – just in case we’ve suddenly decided to trade Neuvy to Montreal for the spirit of Georges Vezina.  Hey, it could happen!

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