If you’re a hockey fan, there’s a pretty good chance you’re submerged in a vat of Certified Grade A Playoff Agony right now. We’re well into week two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and tensions are high.
Surprises abound – who’d have thought the Maple Leafs would be putting up such a scrap against the Capitals, and uh… did the Blackhawks forget they were supposed to be playing hockey? – but to the dismay of us, at some point during the playoffs, we are all going to experience misery.
Abject, all-consuming, rage-tinged misery.
Hockey fans are no stranger to pain. We’re all united through our suffering. Because let’s be real: no matter how many times we’ve survived the Stanley Cup Playoffs, every time April rolls around, it feels a million times worse than we remember.
So how do we live; how do we go on knowing that our team could be eliminated tonight or tomorrow night, or the next? How do we function like normal humans when our boys get shut out two games in a row in Round One? I mean, other than drastically increasing your alcohol intake.
I don’t have all the answers, but I am here to take your hand and guide you through this harrowing time. Despite having no prior experience or certification, I am now your official Spiritual Playoffs Guide, setting aside my own allegiances for a moment to share my wisdom with you, my sisters and brothers in suffering.
Take a Breath
Literally, breathe. But not too much, because that becomes hyperventilation. I mean turn off the miserable hockey game that makes you want to throw your phone across the room, turn off the NHL app push notifications, and crank your chillest music. Then sit your ass down, close your eyes, and spend the next ten to twenty minutes focusing on your breathing.
Some people call this meditation or mindful breathing, but it’s about existing in the moment and trying to keep your thoughts in a soft, hazy place where hockey can’t reach them.
Breathe for as long as you need to until your pulse slows and you’re no longer in danger of anger-eating an entire pizza with bread sticks (and chicken wings). Unless that’s part of your chill zen thing, in which case, try to eat it slightly less angrily than normal? I promise, taking a few minutes every day to marinate in the moment will improve your blood pressure situation immensely.
Do Something Else
For the love of all that’s holy! If your team is losing spectacularly and it’s only second period, or if your team is one game away from elimination and you’re about to go completely bonkers, go and do something else. Watching playoff games is enough torture, so why spend every minute of your free time poring over stats and articles and predictions? I mean, yeah, poring over stats is part of the fun of playoffs, but like all things, try to do it in moderation.
Spending all day on hockey twitter laughing at memes can be fun, but if you don’t take the time to focus on the rest of your life while playoffs are in full swing, you’re guaranteed to have at least one existential crisis. You have to remind yourself that you love other things that aren’t hockey. Play a video game instead of watching hockey, even for one night. Go out for drinks with friends (non-hockey friends, please). Read a book, call your mom, practice violin, walk your dog – anything that has nothing to do with hockey.
It’s hard to pull yourself away from the constant content-factory that is playoffs hockey, but trust me, you’ll feel better once you get out there and remind yourself that even if things go wrong for your team in the playoffs, you still have a pretty cool life to get back to when the dust has settled.
This one’s tough for me, which says a lot about the kind of cut-throat, competitive person I am. If you’ve been blessed with a temper and an extra dash of petty, then you might find yourself feeling hostile toward friends who root for opposing teams. That’s normal! (I hope.) What’s not normal or cool is acting on those emotions. Sports get us revved up, but they’re just sports. They’re for what people call “fun.” I promise the Stanley Cup is just a silver cup on top of a cylinder and it means nothing, shh, it’s okay, don’t even worry about it.
For real though, before you text your St. Louis Blues friends and tell them you wish their team’s private jet would crash on its way to Minnesota for their next game against the Wild, consider: not doing that. If you need to scream, scream into a pillow. If you need to express how much you loathe the Blues and every player on the team’s roster, write it all down in a fancy notebook where nobody will ever read it. Tweet it on your very private twitter. Tell your poor roommates, who probably could not care less about any of this.
And then, when all of your angry garbage feelings have been expelled, tell your Blues friends congrats on the win. It will mean so much to them, and even though it stings, in the long run, your friends and fellow fans are more important than your hockey team.
Remember Why You Love Hockey
We’ve all asked ourselves this question, now more than any other time of year: “Why do I even like hockey?” Everyone has a different reason. Some love the sport despite the pain it causes, others because of it. Whatever your reasons – whatever keeps you coming back to this ridiculous ice sport even when it does you dirty – don’t lose sight of it.
One of the reasons I love hockey so much is its camaraderie and team-oriented dynamic. Even if my boys are recuperating after a big loss, it’s always clear that they’re in it together, supporting each other. That sense of community and mutual respect warms me up inside and keeps me feeling good about my chosen sport.
Maybe you love hockey because it’s so exciting and fun to watch. So your boys might be losing a game, and maybe they’re not scoring goals, but try to take a mental step back. Appreciate the little things they’re doing. Maybe your fourth line is putting every fiber of their being into it one night, and setting up some great scoring chances. Maybe your rookies are flying out there, and it’s nothing short of beautiful. Even if it doesn’t win the game, don’t forget to appreciate the work your boys are doing, and to enjoy the things they do well – even if it’s for a second.
Cling to Hope
Listen. Until your team is dead and eliminated, there’s still hope. There is always hope. You’re a Columbus Blue Jackets fan and they’re down 3-0 in the series? You think there’s no possible way any team could come back from this? I mean, you’re statistically right to worry. But statistics are only there to get in the way of hopes and dreams! Remember the film Miracle on Ice? It happens! Sometimes the Hockey Gods intervene, or the opposing team forgets how to play hockey altogether, and your dudes pull through with four miraculous wins in a row.
Don’t give up. That’s the main thing: If your team’s still in it, they need you. Their fans cheering and stomping and screaming, even if it’s done at home and far away from the rink, gives them energy and purpose. Hockey players don’t perform their best in front of a dead crowd – that’s been proven with science, I swear – and you don’t want to let your boys down.
And even if your team has been eliminated, don’t give up! Take time to mourn, but don’t abandon your team. Send them an encouraging tweet, thank them for all the hard work they put in all season, and let them know you’re excited to see them kick all kinds of ass when October rolls around.
Because at the end of the day, no matter how badly your team tanks in the playoffs, there’s always next season.