The usual line of questioning goes as follows:
"You're a big hockey fan? Did you play hockey?"
"No. Well not organized hockey, anyway."
"Where are you from?"
"Why do you like hockey then?"
Why do I like hockey then? As if it is not permissible to like something if you haven't played it or didn't grow up around it. I like Italian food and I'm not Italian, nor did I grow up in Italy. Okay, bad example but you get my point.
1) The Subculture. Hockey has a unique flavor that is unlike other sports. You can find a casual basketball or football fan almost anywhere, but if you love hockey, you love hockey. If you're trying to pose as a hockey fan you'll be outed as soon as they blow the whistle and you ask "What's icing?" It's almost like being a Trekkie or a Dog Show person. It's strange and goofy and intense and great.
2) The Regional Warfare. This is a love-hate reason. I hate that small-market, especially southern teams, get so much flack for even existing. Yet, I love it when the small-market team shuts up the haters, even if it's only for a little while. I love when Montreal fans make fun of Toronto for their losing history and I love it when Toronto fans tell Montreal to go celebrate by setting cars on fire. I love it when Sharks fans pick on the Kings for sucking and I love it when Kings fans make fun of the Sharks for always choking in the playoffs. The playing field on-ice might not be level, but off-ice there is more than enough fodder to go around.
3) The Jerseys. There is no other professional sports jersey that is less acceptable to wear in public than a hockey sweater. People wear baseball, basketball, football, and even soccer jerseys all the time. However, if someone wears a hockey sweater in public they look like a total dingus. Baggy sleeves, ill-fitting, over-sized logo on the chest. I loathe and respect that fan at the same time. They may look like an idiot wearing a giant Penguin on their chest at the bank, but man they love their team. Oh, and it just makes the jersey look that much better on the players.
4) The Names. Boogaard. Cheechoo. Tootoo. Sounds like gibberish but those are names. Then you have the obviously French-Canadian; Brind'Amour, Lecavalier, Gauthier. The obviously Finnish; Pitkanen, Jokinen, Laaksonen, Lehtinen. The Swedish players and their names that end in -strom, -sson, -berg, and -qvist. These are great names! Pick any team in the NHL and I'll tell you a name that makes milk come out of you nostrils.
5) It has everything. Speed, physicality, intelligence, skill. Both strategy and the lack thereof. I would love to describe the sport to an alien just for the reaction.
"So we put 12 guys on ice and they skate around."
"Then we give them sticks and they have to pass around a little puck that's the size of a coaster and try to put it into a goal."
"The puck is dense as a rock and can be shot at up to 100 MPH."
"And the players can ram their bodies into each other at full force."
"Wait, 100 MPH? Go back to that."
"And if they feel up for it, they can take off their gloves and fight."
"This sounds made-up."
No, my dear alien, it is not. It is very real and very great.