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PORTLAND, ME… I have got to say that the National Hockey League has got IT all going on right now. With the regular season going full bore, the Winter Classic behind us, the Stadium Series kicked off this weekend and the greatest tournament of every four years right around the corner, surely the hockey gods must be smiling upon us, blessing us with a plethora of flying pucks, flying bodies, thrills, chills and spills! I have heard the opinion that the multiple outdoor game lineup this year would be the death of the aura of the outdoor game phenomena. Not so from this fan!
Yeah I know, those that know me say I would drive 100 miles to watch some squirrels play hockey on top of a frozen above ground swimming pool. And they are probably right, but hey, it’s hockey! So, I watched the entire inaugural North Star College Cup tourney, mixed in with the Duck-King tilt at Dodger Stadium, and the Wild-Shark tilt in San Jose. Today I saw the Ranger-Devils game from Yankee Stadium and tonight watched the Blackhawk-Jets contest from the Windy City. I loved every second of it. But just so you know I don’t watch much puck in the summer so I can refresh and avoid burnout. I love this game like no other. It is awesome.
So, what of this mega hockey week? To kick it off the NHL suspended the crazed Canuck Coach John Tortorella for 6 games for his actions in the prior weekends Canuck-Flame game. It’s a strange deal, it is. That the teams had a line brawl from the get-go wasn’t the big thing in this fracas, it was Torts charging the Flames room in between periods trying to do who knows what to Flame Coach Bob Hartley for starting his all enforcer line. You know, what was Torts supposed to do? I get it. So he matched the weasel Hartley and sent out his goons. It wasn’t hard to see what was going to occur.
But in the NHL it is ok to fight in some locations and not in others. Torts should have slapped on the blades and got hold of Harts out on the ice and knocked the snuff out of him. Then, presumably, it would be all good. But the league doesn’t like the visuals of crazy men in suits, going, well, crazy. Especially when a camera is going. So there Johnny. Take a little vay-kay and we’ll see you after the Olympics.
The North Star College Cup was interesting. The UMD Bulldogs may very well have been the best club in St. Paul over the weekend, but for them, unfortunately, the best goalie was on the eventual winner, Adam Wilcox and the Golden Gophers. But I’m not going to analyze the teams or games here. I like the idea of the tournament. The trophy, made from Minnesota grown woods, was a bit different. I would have liked to see it named the Herb Brooks Cup and perhaps been a bit more imaginative, spectacular trophy worthy of the greatest college hockey state in the country. It is ok, but not on par with what it is supposed to be for. Yeah, I know, there is only one Stanley Cup, but…
THE NHL STADIUM SERIES kicked off in grand fashion Saturday eve with the Kings-Ducks game at Dodgers Stadium. Tons of celebrities were on hand and it was awesome. I just watched the beginning so I could watch the end of the Dog-Goph’s game and then phase over to the Wild game. The game was kicked off with none other then classic rock act KISS, and the ceremonial puck drop with the Great One, Wayne Gretzky. Top that if you can! Today’s Rangers-Devils game may have. With the game delayed slightly due to sun glare on the ice, we were treated to some extra pre-game analysis.
But the climate was certainly more hockey like and when the players came out for warmups, the fans were ecstatic. When both teams came out for the game intro’s the NYFD bagpiper corps were playing and it would give you goosebumps. When I was a kid in St. Paul, at our grade school, not too far from Macalester College, our principal one day had us all suddenly assemble in the gym, which doubled up as our mini-auditorium but did not say what we were gathering for. She then asked for quiet, and then a half minute later the Drum and Bagpipe Corps from the College came marching into the gym and the hair on the back of my neck stood at attention! It was that awesome. Today brought back some memories.
The Rangers, after a so-so 1st period rag dolled the Devs and Martin Brodeur in goal, and Cory Schneider played the 3rd period for NJ. Marty didn’t look so good. But what I am seeing from all of this is some fantastic exposure for the league and the game. The league is all over the media right now. The buzz from the beginning of the season forward has been huge, there are celebs galore at the west and east coast games, the Winter Classic was a formidable event and with the stadium games kicking off, (there will be another Wed. eve at Yankee stadium) and the Olympics days away, the game is going to be at the media forefront.
Too much exposure you say? We’ll have to see. But when it comes to creating a brand name awareness and making it stick, there is no such thing as too much. And from my viewpoint, the venues, the events surrounding each game, the off-ice entertainment has all been first class. I’m not much of a KISS fan for instance, but when they ripped into “ I want to rock n’ roll all night, and party everyday” that moment had some real power attached to it. And that is a group that can still bring it. Kudos to the league and to their marketing people. I am smiling. I-I-I-I wanna rock n’ roll all night and watch hockey all day…. PEACE
MFAN NEXT WEEK; OLYMPIC PREVIEW ON THE WAY!!
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota.