A Survivor’s Guide to the off-season

NHLHS Correspondent Christina Roberts understands where you’re at right now, what with the NHL season having officially ended. In this article, she gives you some tips on how to make it through the off-season.

If you’re reading this, then congratulations! You have made it through the onslaught of playoff games and the heart attacks and heartbreaks that come in tow and you are now looking at a solid three months without any National Hockey League games. You are asking yourself the same question as me and millions of others:

What the hell do I do now?

Hockey is part of your daily diet. Without those sixty-to-sixty-five-minute games, what are you supposed to do? It leaves you with two-and-a-half hours open in your evenings, and what good is that time now? Get work accomplished around the house? Please. Do homework? That’s what all-nighters are for. Catch up with friends? They know where to find you if they wanted to hang out (and chances are with your obsession, they stopped trying years ago). Go outside? It’s freezing out! Wait…unseasonable warmth…? Wait, it’s June?!

You’re wondering how you can face these next coming months with your chin held high and confidence built up in your chest.

Do you want the honest answer or the sugar-coated one?

The honest answer is: You can’t. It’s not possible. When you’re so immersed in the sport, living without it for three months is worse than torture.

The sugar-coated answer is: There’s help out there for you. We all go through this every year, and every year we don’t understand how we made it through the year before. Well, at least this year I was smart enough to create this helpful little survival guide to the off-season. It gives you different options on how you can make it through the next 90-odd days or so.

Plus, you would think with the league going on one hundred years old, they would understand the hockey grieving process in the off-season so that by this point, they would have an official Youtube channel with legitimate grief counselors helping us fans make it through the next twelve weeks or so. But I digress…

ITEM NUMBER ZERO

First, I have to ask if you completely shut yourself off from hockey for these three months. If you do this because you think it’s better to get rid of all hockey rather than hearing a vague mention and getting your hopes up that it’s closer to October than you think, then stop reading now. This will only make things much worse.

Or if your team just won the Stanley Cup, you’re not allowed to complain. You get a summer of bliss and partying. We all kind of hate you just a little bit. I say “a little bit,” but I really mean “definitely.”

If not, please continue on.

ITEM NUMBER ONE

Hockey timeline. Hockey is still alive and active for summer – there just aren’t any games. Space out all of the big hockey dates throughout the summer. Mark them on your calendar at home and at work. Think of them as benchmarks to get you to October. Case in point:

June 22 – NHL Awards

June 24-25 – NHL Entry Draft

July 1 – Free Agency Circus. Be prepared to constantly refresh TSN, CBC, Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times, The Winnipeg Free Press, ESPN, and any relevant apps on your phones every ten minutes starting at 12pm sharp.

Mid/Late July – Release of 2011-2012 Schedules

August 1-7 – Select Which Games You Will Be Attending

Mid August – Ken Holland ends up making a quiet signing that will more than likely lead the Detroit Red Wings to the Cup. But there’s only like a 90 percent chance of this happening.

Mid September – Training Camp Begins

End of September – Preseason

October – DROP THE PUCK ALREADY

Once free agency begins, it’s kind of a stretch. Hockey news gets slow and there isn’t much to digest. But you have to make it work or you’ll never make it to training camp in September.

ITEM NUMBER TWO

Stay away from Youtube. If you’re the kind of person who can make it through the off-season hearing about hockey without losing your composure, but completely fall apart if you catch even a second of a game, do not go to Youtube to watch any sort of hockey highlights from any time period. Trust me, you will just end up relapsing. And it gets ugly. That happened to me in the summer of 2009; I watched Darren Helm’s breakaway goal against Anaheim in Game Seven of the the semi-finals sometime in mid-July and I was lost for the rest of the summer.

Instead, find something else to watch.  Instead of watching Don Cherry rant about Matt Cooke, watch a video on how to cook a cherry pie from scratch. Just don’t look up “Panther Attack” or you might view a clip about the Florida Panthers.  Wait, scratch that.

However, if you’re the kind of person who can’t make it through the off-season without seeing hockey every single day, then set Youtube as your home page for the next three months. Watch a clip when you first wake up, watch one at lunch, watch one or more during the afternoon lull, watch one around dinner time, watch an entire game at night. Thank goodness for Youtube!

(And as an added bonus to the Youtube part, don’t forget about hockey movies, too. Those are pretty good cures for the hockey hunger pangs.)

ITEM NUMBER THREE

Open ice skating at your local ice arenas.

It’s not the same thing in the least. But hey, hearing the sound of skates on ice, seeing the boards, the benches, the penalty boxes, the lines, the creases, the faceoff circles…you will definitely feel at home. It may just bring tears to your eyes reminiscing about the highs and lows of the year.

On the same note as this, you could also join an intramural league. Or if you’re not one for playing the sport, go to your local arena and watch random games. It may be pee-wee, it may be teenage girls, it may be fifty-year-old men, but it may just fulfill your desire to watch a game of hockey again. And hey, there’s a fight no matter what league you’re watching (trust me, my fourteen-year-old neighbor started a full-out team brawl on her hockey team. Twice).

ITEM NUMBER FOUR

Baseball. It’s America’s pastime. And it always seems to be on television, so why not give it a chance?

And hey, it’s a sport. And it’s better than basketball (which just ended anyway). Baseball has always been that backup-channel staple. You’re reading this section of the guide and giving your computer screen one of the two following looks:

1. Baseball is a given temporary solution to a lack of hockey.

2. Baseball is even more boring on TV than it is in real life, and it could never compete with hockey.

So this option can be a hit or a strike for you.

If it’s a strike, and you’re lucky enough to either live in Canada or live close enough to get some of their channels, start tuning in to the CBC at random times. Whether you want to catch a curling match or just the soothing sound of a Canadian accent, the CBC fulfills those needs. And if The Red Green Show just happens to be on, you’re in for some excellent entertainment.

ITEM NUMBER FIVE

Video games. Specifically hockey video games. I’ve been told that NHL ’11 for XBox is absolutely amazing. This virtual hockey can easily fulfill your hockey needs. Pick your favorite team, start the 2010-2011 NHL season all over again, and play the next three months away.  Just don’t freak out when you can’t pull that monster trade off in the game like your team did in real life.

Unless, of course, you’re that person who can’t watch hockey over the summer and you still continued reading this. Thanks for that. But if that is the case, then hockey video games don’t work. Instead, play anything non-hockey related. Super Mario Brothers Wii is terribly addicting when you play with two or more people. There’s always the new-ish Portal 2. Or really any games that don’t involve hockey.

ITEM NUMBER SIX

Spending time in the summer weather. It is, in fact, now summertime. And it always arrives around this time of year, every year. There’s much less reason to stay inside now that it’s in the eighties outside (or hotter/colder, depending on where you live) rather than in the heat of the NHL season when, on a good day, it’s somewhere around 20F.

So go out to the nearby park and do stuff. Go swimming in your neighbor’s pool whether they like it or not. Bask in the glorious sunlight we don’t see for weeks at a time come six months from now. Do things that take your mind away from the sport you’re missing.

Just try not to be too afraid of natural light, or bees, or your crazy neighbor down the street whose team just lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Don’t forget, too, that you can always start playing roller or street hockey. If you’re in desperate need for any sort of hockey fix (and this goes along with the open-ice skating option), this will do the trick. Trust me – I’m quite thankful all of my neighbors are home this summer so we can set up the tarp and net in front of their garage and practice our shootout attempts on a goalie whose pads are pretty much the size of shin guards.

ITEM NUMBER SEVEN

Shopping spree. Specifically, a hockey shopping spree. I’m not one for shopping (at all), but I have found that in my times of desperation (or severe depression), buying any sort of hockey-related items makes everything seem a little bit better. Head out to your local mall, go directly into the sports store and surround yourself with the familiar memorabilia. I can’t tell you how elated I feel when I walk out of that store with a new shirt or blanket or puck with that winged wheel imprinted on the front.

And this works for the non-hockey-watchers, too, because you’re not watching hockey. You’re just facing the logo of your team; you’re not actually watching them play. It gives you that little connection to them to add that spark of happiness into your day. And that little spark can easily fuel you through the following days and bring the official puck drop that much closer.

ITEM NUMBER EIGHT

Lots and lots of beer. I won’t lie to you – I had to ask for help from people on this article. After about Item Number Three, I was all out of ideas. It’s hard to survive the off-season. So I turned to friends and Twitter followers and one major consensus was beer. We are hockey fans after all, and there’s always beer at games. Why not indulge in it during the off-season as well? Heck, maybe the days will go by a little faster, too.

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If you’re still lost after reading all of this article, I really can’t do anything else for you. Just know that there is help out there for you in the most unlikely places.

Never forget that you’re not alone. We’re all in this off-season together.

Christina Roberts
NHLHS Detroit Red Wings Correspondent
Twitter: @franzenmuth
Email: christina.roberts@nhlhotstove.com