Las Vegas, can we talk? On behalf of Canadian hockey fans everywhere, I’d like to offer you a belated welcome to the National Hockey League. Now that the Golden Knights are officially the league’s 31st team, we wanted to reach out and make sure you feel at home. We’ll send along a poutine and maple syrup basket later.
And yes, I realize it’s a bit of a belated welcome. As Canadians are fond of saying, sorry about that. The thing is, we thought we had more time. See, the way it usually works in the NHL is that you get a team and then you spend the first few years being terrible. You show up, you lose and you keep losing—and you’re fine with it because you’re just happy to be here. The rest of us don’t have to really get to know you until you’re ready to be competitive a few seasons down the line.
You guys have apparently decided to skip that part and go straight to being a real team. Just over a quarter of the way into your first season, you’ve beaten plenty of the more established teams while holding down a playoff spot. At first, we figured it was a phase you were going through, but you seem to be sticking with it. So we’d better get your orientation done now.
I’m here to help. Being an NHL fan really is all sorts of fun, as long as you stick to certain rules that will help you get the most out of the experience. Here are some tips to get you started.
Learn to love the game (but only the right parts).
This is important. Here’s what you like now: fast action, crazy stickhandling, highlight-reel goals and big saves. In time, you’ll be expected to like everyone who plays on the fourth line, good news for you since expansion teams usually start with three of them. Also, Marc-Andre Fleury, if you happen to have one handy. You do? That’s a solid start.
Here’s what you Don’t like.
Commissioner Gary Bettman, the referees, the replay review war room, the Department of Player Safety, Gary Bettman, anyone who seems to be having fun, every fan of every other team, Sidney Crosby (for reasons nobody’s quite clear on), and Gary Bettman. Yes, I know he just handed you a team and you feel like you should show some gratitude, but trust me: Nothing will get you accepted into the hockey fan fellowship faster than hating on Gary Bettman. Think of him as Roger Goodell … without the charisma.
Appreciate the small stuff.
Hockey’s known for the speed and skill on display every night, and you’ll occasionally get to see big plays that bring you out of your seat. But as you get to know the game, learn to value the smaller skills. The way Crosby shields the puck from the defender, how Connor McDavid somehow gets faster when he has possession, Erik Karlsson picking pucks out of midair with almost impossible hand-eye coordination. At first the game might seem too fast to pick up on any of that, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you’ll start to see it.
Study the way the goaltenders play.
It’s the most important position in the game, and playing it well goes beyond making highlight-reel saves. Watch how goalies come out to cut down the angle, how they keep their heads steady while trying to look around all the bodies in front of them and the subtle way they cushion shots to prevent rebounds. (Study this stuff extra closely. At the rate the Knights are going through goalies, you’re going to be playing net by the weekend.)
Learn to handle losing.
Sure, you haven’t done much of it yet, but those days are bound to come. And when they do, don’t abandon hope, because losing isn’t all bad. For one, it’s how you get the best odds for the draft lottery, which in turn is pretty much the only way to get an elite, franchise player.
More importantly, the NHL gives out points for losing. No, really. You think I’m joking, but I promise you I’m not. Losing is a rite of passage for new teams and lays the groundwork for better days ahead. Learn to love the game now, even if the early winning fades.
Being a hockey fan can get kind of intense, and you’ll want to take the occasional break. Luckily, Bettman recognizes this, and shuts the entire league down for a half-season or so every few years. They told you about that part, right? You’ll want to find yourself a temporary hobby for when the league disappears in 2020. You know, right around the time you were supposed to get good.
See? None of that’s too hard. You’re practically half-Canadian already. Follow these steps, and it will be the start of a beautiful friendship.