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Pop Culture Power Rankings: Avatar edition

How would everyone’s favorite Team Avatar members fare on skates?

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It’s the end of July. There’s a pandemic. I have no idea when we’ll see a women’s hockey team (or teams) on the ice again. And judging by the show’s shiny new Netflix Top 10 record, I know I can’t be the only person who’s spent a good chunk of time this summer streaming Avatar: The Last Airbender.

So, for absolutely no reason other than what else am I doing around here, I present to you a comprehensive ranking of Avatar and The Legend of Korra characters as hockey players/hockey-adjacent people.

24. Varrick

Gross capitalist who has directly contributed to the discriminatory systems barring women’s hockey players from access to equitable playing conditions or livable wages for time immemorial. Nowadays he’ll probably slap a Varrick Global Industries logo on a few jerseys or rink ads and think that counts as lending real support to women’s athletes, but it is several decades late, can’t undo the damage that’s already been caused, and is entirely not enough to level the playing field.

23. Prince Wu

Just here because he comes from a long line of hockey players, but that doesn’t mean he’s any good himself. Solid bet for the All-Hockey Hair Team, which means more to him than any on-ice accolade. If you asked him why he wanted to play college hockey he would tell you for the girls.

22. Cabbage Merchant

Fulfills one of the most important roles at any rink: that of the snack stand seller. His cart keeps getting hit by pucks flying out of play, though. In my dream Avatar/hockey crossover universe he’s at every game I attend with a fresh stock of Little Caesars’ Italian cheese bread.

21. Asami Sato

Never super into playing hockey herself, but she’s the absolute best ops director/equipment manager/team owner you could possibly find. The whole operation is one stick length away from falling apart without her. She’s always designing and/or bringing in the most cutting-edge technology, equipment, you name it for the team. If the bus ever broke down and got stuck in a snowbank on a road trip, she’d just build a new one on the spot.

20. Kya

Probably underrated by most scouts, but really good in one-on-one battles. She’s a very perceptive player and notices things on the ice that a lot of others wouldn’t. After her playing career ends, she becomes one of the most sought-after athletic trainers in the game; there are very few injuries she can’t heal easily.

19. Iroh

The best coach you could ever really have. He makes players figure stuff out for themselves, which is frustrating when they’re struggling but doubly rewarding when their perseverance pays off. He has a truly endless supply of quirky adages and he’s also the go-to companion when it comes to finding the best tea (or coffee) shop on the road. You just can’t measure that kind of value to a team.

18. Mai

Mai is a bit of a wild card. One the one hand, this game is played with knives on the bottom of players’ feet; seems like a bonus for her. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine her being remotely invested in something as bland as sports.

17. Eska and Desna

These two can expertly slice down an icy mountainside and sail over an entire ocean with their bare feet, so skating is zero problem for them. More importantly, though: have you ever seen them and Letterkenny’s Skids in the same place? No, you haven’t. Because they’re the same people. Do not underestimate their small-town Canadian prowess. I’m just not entirely sure how much they care about hockey.

16. Bolin

Very lovable and loyal teammate. Will never give up on the team. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the best hockey IQ but he has some truly rare and astounding abilities to make up for it. He’s a stay-at-home type of defender who gets his first goal of the season in overtime of a major playoff game. It’s the feel-good story of the year and rumors are flying a major studio has snapped up the rights for a mover—er, movie.

15. Zhu Li

Excels at getting in behind opposing defenses. Never makes mistakes. It takes a bit for her to know her own worth but she’s a very valuable player and teammate once she does.

14. Azula

Child prodigy. Probably the most pure talent of any player you’ve watched. However, she tries to do everything herself, doesn’t have a team-first attitude, and clashes constantly with coaches and teammates. She needs lots of time to develop (maybe an eternity, maybe several eternities, it’s really unclear) but I guess there’s still a spark of hope for her.

13. Tenzin

Has spent years and years training and perfecting his abilities, and he’s uber serious about it. He may be a little bit too tied to traditional hockey customs at times but he’s learning to be open to newer styles of play. He will preach patience with the puck until his dying breath.

12. Bumi 2.0

Much like his namesake, he’s off his rocker and absolutely is a goalie, probably a very good one. He definitely has a story about the time he accidentally filled his car up with race car fuel, weaved his way through a series of mishaps that are barely believable but somehow all incredibly real, and made it to the game in time to win in thrilling fashion.

11. Ty Lee

Extremely elusive herself and a very good two-way center option. She’ll win whatever Best Defensive Forward award exists year in and year out; she’s an expert when it comes to neutralizing opponents’ top players.

10. Mako

Actually a decent player. His mysterious, too-cool-for-you attitude is very off-putting but he’s somehow clear-headed and composed enough to bend lightning, so I guess that brings some balance to what can be an otherwise hotheaded sport. He’s also really freaking good at scoring hat tricks—basically the Boston College of the pro-bending world—and that kind of ability has got to translate to something on the ice.

9. King Bumi

Off his rocker, definitely a goalie, probably an excellent one. My dude was trapped in a steel cage for a very lengthy period of time and waited until the perfect moment to escape. No chance your average shooter coming up the ice is going to get him to bite and overcommit.

8. Suki

Flawless character. Flawless player. She has textbook technique and is a natural-born leader. She’s the captain of the all-girls team that shows up to the tournament of mostly boys and dominates them all. You love to see it.

7. Zuko

Bit of a rocky road to his development. He takes some time away from hockey for a while and when he first comes back, he’s somehow even worse and more maddening to watch than before. Once he switches from forward to D, though, he becomes an absolute star. Teammates may have to hear about his honor an inordinate amount but he blocks a big shot with the championship on the line and more than redeems himself.

6. Toph

Very small. Can get very angry, very quickly. You will underestimate her and you will regret it. As a small aside: I understand that based on the established rules of seismic sensing it’s debatable if she can see while she’s on the ice. However, this is Toph Beifong we’re talking about; she invented metalbending, she has metal blades on her feet, and so does every other player. The ice is not that thick. We’re going with it.

Anyway: she’s impossible to knock off the puck and she’ll check you into tomorrow without a second thought. She’s never afraid to get her elbows dirty in front of either crease and will probably do a murder if you touch her goalie.

5. Sokka

High hockey IQ. Flourishes as a leader and the team jokester. He’s an excellent defender, even when he’s outnumbered in odd-player-rush situations. You might not expect him to be such a catalyst behind the team’s possession game, but the puck just always has a way of coming back to him eventually.

4. Aang

Extremely agile skater. Extremely fast. Super shifty with the puck. He is clearly a master of evasive maneuvering. Coaches may have problems getting him to take his training seriously, but he’s very naturally gifted. When it really matters, he’s dedicated to his duties and he’ll always come through in the clutch.

3. Katara

A master waterbender and this game is played on ice, so that’s an automatic W. Also, she has no patience for gender inequities anywhere in society; can’t imagine she’d be thrilled to see them in sports. Katara would 100% have boycotted USA Hockey in 2017 and helped call up every single player in the program to get them on board, too.

2. Jinora

Just a very good and pure soul. Anointed a master of her craft when she was just a child. She understands the true value of a team working in sync is greater than just the sum of its parts. And she literally always saves the day at the very last minute when all hope is practically gone. If you’re getting major Marie-Philip Poulin vibes here, it’s for a reason.

1. Korra

Defeated the literal embodiment of darkness and chaos and that was only halfway through the series. Zero percent chance she isn’t good at shooting a puck into a net. As a hockey player I have to imagine she’s at her best with the puck on her stick. Think Jenni Hiirikoski style of play with an even higher ceiling.

What really makes Korra so good, though, is that she is just so prepared to be a women’s hockey player in the real world. She’s well-accustomed to suffering setback after setback after setback, gets absolutely no help from institutional powers and governing bodies, and is regularly tasked with performing at her best despite starting out several steps behind her male counterparts sworn enemies. She prevails anyway. This is a testament both to Korra and to pretty much any women’s hockey player in 2020 who excels at this sport despite society’s best collective efforts to keep them from doing so.