by EVAN MATTHEWS, editor

The puck has dropped, so to speak.

Hockey is here again, and personally, I couldn’t be more excited about it.

The time in between the Pittsburgh Penguins winning the Stanley Cup back in June to the puck drop on opening night of the 2016-17 NHL Season in October — it feels like a long time to those of us who love the sport.

A lot of people talk about professional sports as being a distraction, people’s attention from more important things like, say, foreign policy or international affairs.

I think those people are right, to a degree.

But I love hockey too much.

Sure, it can be viewed as an escape. It can pry a person’s attention away from potentially “more important” things, but doesn’t every person need that in their life?

I speak for myself when I say, I do on some level, experience stress. I say this through a smile knowing so do you, or if you don’t, send me an email with your secret, please.

But here are a couple things hockey has brought for me lately.

Beer League Hockey, now happening on Wednesday and Sunday nights, has given me something to look forward to each week. Not to say I don’t enjoy other aspects of my life a great deal, but it’s very routine a lot of the time. Hockey has given me a place to go twice a week to talk to people I might not otherwise. It’s given me an additional form of exercise, and it’s just a lot of fun to gets the heart rate up.

The NHL started back in October and has been on most every night since. I invest in NHL Gamecenter, so it gives me access to every NHL game every night (other than Canuck games that don’t sell out). On a night I don’t have much planned, I can just throw it on and enjoy a game.

A night like tonight, watching St. Louis and Dallas really doesn’t appeal, but in the background? Sure, why not?

In Canada, we’re so fortunate (at least in my mind) that most people will watch a hockey game, or at the very least, they’ll sit and have a drink or a meal with you while a game is on the TV in the background.

Even if it’s just a game like St Lou and Dallas, to us fans, there is significance in it.

And you know what? Dallas versus St. Louis ended up being a really entertaining hockey game. Overtime. St. Lou won 4-3.

Don’t even get me started on Fantasy Hockey.

If you don’t know, the long story short with Fantasy Hockey is this: You draft a roster of 18 NHL players to fill what would be an actual NHL Roster, or Line-Up Card. They players you pick collect points, and you compete against other “team managers.”

I drafted a team, and it keeps me engaged in the NHL on an entirely different level, but it can also make me a bit obsessive.

I don’t want to be counter-intuitive to the case I’m building here (I say this through a laugh).

Balance is obviously a key. Nothing in excess, hockey included, is good for anybody’s life.

But the most recent reminder of how great hockey has been to me in my life, and on a weekend I wasn’t expecting, was a local bantam tournament here in Valemount.

Our Valley’s local boys and girls won the championship game over a team from Edmonton with a score of 5-2. Congratulations to them!

I took some photos for the paper and spent some time around the rink. It was a great environment.

It brought a lot of the community together, and not just our local communities, but from outside as well. From the smell of coffee and snacks at the canteen, to the sound of skates digging into the ice, the tournament was really nice to experience and to be a part of.

But I think my favourite thing about hockey is that it teaches people life lessons, and at times when you usually don’t realize it, you’re learning. Sometimes those teachings can translate into a real life situation.

Whether the lesson is how to persevere in a situation (or game) where you feel like there is no hope, or how to be a part of a team (whether you get along with every person or not), people learn things on and around the ice.

Even in reflecting on the last few weeks, and what hockey has brought back into my life: exercising and a being social. I didn’t really feel as though those areas of my life were lacking.

And just like in hockey, how a person reacts in those situations, those learning moments, is what dictates the outcome.

So I really look forward to continuing to play, and hope that if you’re reading this and wondering if you should try it, you decide that you should.

We’re short a couple skaters!