Jeff MacGregor, a very fine columnist for ESPN and author of this classic piece of participatory journalism, has a meditation today on the particular joys of ice hockey, a game he grew up playing. MacGregor is an odd bird at ESPN. He never shouts, and he never trolls, and largely for those reasons it's easy to forgive his column's frequent reliance on the purple fingerpaints. The worst thing you can say about him is that he sometimes seems to write for the anthologies instead of actual human beings.
This latest column has plenty of charms. It will touch a chord with anyone who grew up playing pond hockey, and MacGregor nicely captures the appeal of minor-league hockey, that underloved bit of goony Americana that fills the arenas in any icy Northern city worth its rock salt. These are the first two sections of his three-part column, and they're both delightful.
The third part is about an enjoyable NHL game that took place Sunday night between the Rangers and the Lightning. I know it was enjoyable, because I was sitting in the press box, on assignment for Sports on Earth, following as attentively as I could. Jeff MacGregor, it turns out, was seated to my left.
On Seventh Avenue and Eighth Avenue, tourists roll wet luggage through the snow on the way to the Penn Station cab stands. Fathers and sons and mothers and daughters in souvenir Rangers jerseys crowd the sidewalks around them. Maybe like me they've come here to rekindle something, to reconnect with something optimistic that can be had only firsthand. Because watching the game on television is like seeing it through a keyhole. It obscures as much as it reveals. Even writing about it hides it. Reading about it. Maybe this is why we're all here. Not just to admire the high level of play or to root for the local colors, but to feel, however briefly and imperfectly, the thing itself. Not because of the spectacle but in spite of it.
Jeff MacGregor left the game after the second period.
The Hockey News [ESPN]