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NHL

Now More Than Ever, We Need Hockey Guys Being Dudes

Nate Schmidt #88 of the Vancouver Canucks reaches for the puck
Rich Lam/Getty

Your mileage may vary on how excited you are for hockey to start again on Wednesday. On one hand, the COVID issues already being faced by teams like the Stars and Blue Jackets is a serious warning that, like every other sports league, the NHL is planning to power through plenty of concerning outbreaks as they send their teams from one empty arena to another, during a pandemic that keeps getting worse, in order to fulfill lucrative TV contracts with whatever entertainment product they can muster. On the other hand … boys on skates shooting pucks is always nice, even in the worst of circumstances.

In the process of preparing myself for the 2021 season, I have watched many, many hockey-related videos, most of which are highlights from the bubble or clips from games that seem to have taken place a lifetime ago. But none have given me more unexpected joy than a couple of “Mic’d Up” productions from the Vancouver Canucks.

These sorts of videos, especially when produced and edited by the teams themselves, are notoriously unilluminating and generally filled with little more than unremarkable grunts and “nice play”s. It’d be a stretch to say that these Canucks bits break that mold, but their videos do a decent job taking you inside a rink where a high-level scrimmage is happening and where the best players in the world are settling back into their roles. There are few other places I’d rather be at this moment.

These videos can also offer up a thrilling little glimpse into the adorable kind of bonding that occurs when a bunch of young men from all around the world wind up spending more time together than they do with their own families. And in the case of Elias Pettersson’s video, the clips can serve as a compilation of the team’s centerpiece young forward laughing at his own little jokes as he shows off his newfound English proficiency, often to the chagrin or confusion of his pals. This part, around the 1:35 mark, qualifies as a nice little rib that seems to amuse exactly one person.

Vancouver winger Brock Boeser: I’ll just play center for a quick second.

EP: Yeah. That’s what I’m worried about.

BB: What?

EP: You playing center.

BB: *Shakes his head and looks pissed*

EP: *Cracks himself up*

My other favorite Pettersson interaction is early on, at 0:09, and is part what seems to be an ongoing little friendly rivalry between himself and another great youngster, defenseman Quinn Hughes.

EP: How do you feel?

QH: Tired.

EP: Tired? *Sends Hughes sliding down the ice by pushing his butt*

Possibly even more delightful is the banter of Nate Schmidt, who’s just a goddamn puppy dog out there with his new team. He makes odd noises when surprised or wanting the puck, awkwardly tries to bond with other players over their gear, talks about how hungry he is all the time, and half-heartedly tries to get out of tomorrow’s practice. Based solely on these 4 minutes and 42 seconds of footage, he seems like a good buddy.

What makes me happy about these videos, I think, is how they open a window onto everything I’ve been missing since March. I miss actually seeing my co-workers outside of virtual meetings, for one. I miss actually hearing the reaction to hilarious moments instead of just reading them. I miss dumb little casual remarks that don’t get magnified and overcomplicated by the nature of technology. I miss having acquaintances in my life—people who I’m happy to see if I’m buzzed at a bar, which is also another thing I miss now that I’m listing them. And I miss getting to know new people.

Even if it’s ultimately a cynical and ill-advised money-making effort, the fact that all around North America, groups of dozens of guys are getting together and ragging on each other and learning about each other and enjoying playing hockey again in their own goofy ways offers some warmth at a bad time. Hockey, in itself, doesn’t begin to fill the void created by so many difficult, lost months. It’s hard to see how it could. But what else can you do right now?