Take it from someone who was there when it began: Learning hockey from the World Wide Web was weird. And for someone who is trying to learn the game today, it has only gotten weirder. Saying you want to start following hockey online is like saying you’d like to be religious—well, you’ve got options as far as temples and altars go. Lots of them.
So for the benefit of all fans new and old, I’ve put together this brief field guide. What lies below should not be taken as instructions on how to act properly as a hockey fan online, but as a primer on the common kinds of people you may encounter during your journey to enlightenment and righteousness. To wit:
History: The message boards seem like a logical place to start. Like Amazonian tribes that remain separate from modern civilization, message board posters cling to the most primitive traces of the Usenet web. While other hockey fans left en masse for the wonders of Web 2.0—social networks, blogs—these tribal societies remain close-knit and exclusive. Outsiders are expected to pay tribute to the chieftains (the board moderators, or mods), which can be jarring for those who are used to the more democratic modern Internet. Their organization of discussions into linear threads acknowledges the interminable nature of sports talk.
Spiritual leader: Brian Burke, blustery patron saint of big trades
Favorite player: First round pick’s name here
Language: Trade proposal. Like many early, pre-currency and pre-writing cultures, these fans communicate with symbolic trades—e.g., “horvat and a first for kessel,” which loosely translates to, “Fine skater you've got there! Good luck this year!”
Why they don’t actually watch hockey: They got trapped in a 376-page argument with some dolt who thinks Patrick (sic) Bergeron is better than Sidney Crosby.
History: The Internet can be perilous for a teenager. There’s the need to prove your individuality and ... uh ... hormones. Enter Tumblr, the wildly popular micro-blogging platform with lax standards for explicit content and good community-building tools. Tumblr is perfect for young hockey fans who needs to prove that—unlike his or her JERK MOM with her STUPID NAGGING about responsibility in the defensive zone—they appreciate fun hockey, y’know, sick Vines of Josh Ho-Sang dangling on the OHL. Or maybe you just want endlessly looping GIFs of #the baeJonathan Toews taking his shirt off.
Favorite site: For them, there is only one site on the Internet.
Spiritual leader: PewDiePie
Favorite player: Patrick Kane
In case you don’t know, that collection of Emojis to the left there means, “I’m in love with that Jonathan Toews goal,” but don‘t even bother trying to learn the language, Grandpa.
Why they don’t actually watch hockey: They’ve never seen a TV before. They think everyone watches TV shows on Netflix and hockey games in a series of 56 GIFs.
History: Imagine if, for years after winning the American Revolution, the U.S. continued to send a series of increasingly hostile Declarations of Independence to King George. Guys, you won. Stats bloggers are like that. Newspapers are dying and Cam Charron is cashing NHL paychecks. Relax.
Favorite site: WAR on ice
Spiritual leader: Ken Tremendous
Favorite player: Mikhail Grabovski
Language: Numbers and acronyms that aren’t acronyms: What do you mean, “What does PDO stand for?”
Why they don’t actually watch hockey: Contrary to stereotypes, this is the one group that actually does watch the games. Over and over. Tracking the micro-movements of every player in excruciating detail. God bless.
Xbox Live gamers
History: Somehow hockey became the official sport of a subgenre of North American counterculture that I can only describe as “stoner meathead.” It strives for all the totally chill elements of puck without the patriarchal overtones of sport. Blame Kevin Smith, I think. Anyway, it figures then that the greatest sports video game franchise of all time would be hockey-related. All you really need to know about these people is that they worship Dany Heatley.
Favorite site: YouTube
Spiritual leader: Dany Heatley
Favorite player: Dany Heatley
Language: Profanity laced with atrocious slang: “If I quit in the middle of a ‘chel game, you’re a [redacted] [redacted]!”
Why they don’t actually watch hockey: Bro. They need the TV to play.
Trade rumor addicts
History: Why is hockey’s appetite for fake trade rumors so much more voracious than other sports’? Maybe it has to do with the NBA-esque salary-cap pressures combined with the MLB-sized rosters. Perhaps it’s a moral failing of the Canadian people (just kidding!). Whatever the reason, the need for these reassuring bull droppings now fuels a profitable cottage industry. If the HfBoards trade proposal forum is the rumor addict’s methadone clinic, “insider” Twitter is a gutter littered with dirty needles.
Favorite site: Hockey Buzz
Spiritual leader: Eklund
Favorite player: Whoever they’re sure their favorite team is about to acquire (Phil Kessel)
Language: Equivocation. “Take this with a grain of salt, but Dion Phaneuf will perhaps be traded or maybe not be traded. Stay tuned.” Translation: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Keep clicking the banner ads.
Why they don’t actually watch hockey: The real game is played between GMs. Everything between the trade deadline and the draft is the off-season.
History: It’s easy in your online echo chamber to forget that not everyone is as hip as you. That’s right: People still use Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg is a genius not just because he’s rich and had a movie made about him, but also because he had a vision of a totally connected world—of people uniting, hand-in-hand, to criticize Alex Ovechkin’s defense.
Favorite site: NHL.com
Spiritual leader: Homer Simpson
Favorite player: Shawn Thornton
Why they don’t actually watch hockey: “Well, I’m glad you asked, because I’ll tell you why. Because we’ve got one of those LAZY Russians skating up the ice. And some other COMMIE is defending him. And I just had to turn the game off.”
History: Actually, don’t ask about their history. Don’t even mention the word around them unless you want to be sitting there all day.
Favorite Site: Home page
Spiritual leader: Don Cherry
Favorite player: Gordie Howe
Language: Caps lock
Why they don’t actually watch hockey: Past their bedtime