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Save hockey now

I'm having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that the Stanley Cup will call Tampa its home for the next year. Hockey in the south -- especially Florida -- will never cease to amuse me. It's like football in Europe.

What will be even weirder is if the NHL shuts down next season like it's been predicted. In some ways, hockey was the first sport I followed religiously, if only for a couple years. My best friend in 8th grade was from New York and a rabid Boston Bruins fan. I picked up a lot from him, who had played when he was younger. I, of course, was terrible.

I adopted the Chicago Blackhawks as my team. I was even fortunate enough to see a Hawks game in person when our family was in Chicago during high school. One of the things that you always hear about hockey is that it's better in person than on TV. This is absolutely true. For one thing, the puck is pretty hard to see on TV. Most of the time I find myself following movements and reactions from the players rather than the puck itself. Of course, this may also be because I have the eyes of a 75-year-old man. Still, watching hockey on TV is immensely entertaining.

So as you can imagine, all of this talk about the NHL disbanding or contracting makes me a little sad. There are too many positives surrounding the game for it just to disappear. For one, the Stanley Cup is singlehandedly the best trophy in all of sports. No contest.

In which other sport is the championship trophy so revered and so desired? In other sports you hear players say that they want a ring to signify their accomplishment. But in hockey, it's a cup. It's something all the players share. They take pictures with it; they even take it to their homes to revel in their newfound glory. There's even the story that Mario Lemieux kept the cup at the bottom of his pool for a few days.

Of course, there are probably too many teams in the NHL, and they need a salary cap. I hate to say it, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the southern cities lose their franchises -- Charlotte, Nashville, maybe even Miami. But if that's what's needed to save the sport, than so be it.

Think about it: hockey has everything. It's exciting to watch, hard to play, and it's mean. Players beat each other up; it's bloody, and there's passion. Players care about winning.

So whatever happens, happens. If hockey goes away for good, I'll be a dark day in the history of American and Canadian sports. If it stays, which means, hopefully, it's been improved in some way, I'll be very happy. I never got the hang of ice skating, but an NHL rebirth just might make me lace up the skates for another go at it.

Web posted on Friday, June 11, 2004

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