Homeric Hockey Commentary

Homer and his Guide (1874)
Image via Wikipedia

An excerpt from an interesting blog post that crossed my jaded gaze this a.m.:

There is something Homeric about hockey commentary. Like in the Iliad, there are naming conventions that help us to remember all the players. Some guys are always given both first and last names (Pavol Demitra, Brooks Laich) some go only by their first (Henrik, Daniel, Sid) and some get descriptions (Big Joe Thornton, Little Joe Pavelski). There are long-running stories about the personality of the players, some of which have the true ring of Greek tragedy.

Take Montreal goalie Carey Price, for example. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the kid play, but I know that he was a prodigy put in a pressure-filled situation, where he showed flashes of brilliance, but not enough to satisfy the demanding fans of an ancient and storied franchise. Slowly his talent died away, leaving him nothing but a shell traded to a faraway land – namely the Western Conference, where perhaps one day he will recover enough to play starting goaltender for an expansion team. He’s practically Orpheus, poor guy. Who can say if this is an accurate description of the story Carey Price tells himself about his life, but it’s the story hockey fans know.

Thinking about commentators as storytellers instead of all-knowing sports experts probably explains why I like them so much more than most of the hockey fans I know. If you are looking to Don Cherry — who can barely finish a sentence most of the time — for clear-eyed analysis of the game, I can see why he might infuriate you. But think of him as an entertainer, and his appeal can’t be denied. He’s definitely the Homer of this metaphor, with his love of fighters and goons, while I prefer Ron MacLean‘s dulcet tones. He’s more of a Virgil figure – he keeps his language simple and has a bit of sympathy for everyone. The rest of the ‘HNIC’ team falls into various roles – soothsayers predicting doom for everyone (Kelly Hrudey), the reasonable older king (Scott Oakes) or the court jester, making everything into a joke (P.J. Stock).

Needless to say, I share these thoughts with you, readers of a television column, but I don’t mention them to the guys in my hockey pool. They already think I’m weird for liking more than one team at a time. I never did know who to root for — the Greeks or the Trojans. That’s the power of a good war story: it doesn’t matter who wins, the story is the point. (But just try telling that to a Habs fan after a defeat…)

via An Ode to Hockey Commentators.

A good analysis, but they forget the Bard-like presentation of the aging Bob Cole … he’s getting old and  doesn’t always get the description right (especially when pondering penalties), but the rhythms and intonation of his presentation is pure Homer. Here’s a ‘Classic’ battle description: