HOCKEY RETURNS TO ITS ROOTS             

 

I was going to start off this commentary speaking about attendance around the league but Iíll save the topic for a rainy day as this week we saw a huge resurgence in fans showing up at the games.  I donít know what it is, whether itís the weather getting colder, or the awesome deals the marketing teams of all the teams have put forth.  While not every arena is full tilt, itís great to see fans going to and enjoying a game.  Iíve taken advantage of a few of the deals myself, and even though they donít involve free hot dogs and drinks, they at least make it affordable. 

In any event, the premier hockey event of the year, and perhaps even this decade is about to take place Saturday, November 22, 2003 in Edmonton, Alberta.  There will be more than 60,000 fans in attendance as the Edmonton Oilers will take on the Montreal Canadiens in a regular season game, and prior to this, alumni from both teams will take to the ice in a legends old timers game. Weíre talking living legends like Wayne Gretzky, Guy LaFleur, Yvon Lambert, Benoit Brunet, Kevin Lowe, Craig Simpson, Grant Fuhr, and many more.  Itís all part of Edmontonís Heritage Classic as they celebrate 25 years of existence in the NHL.  Rumor has it maybe even Mark Messier and Patrick Roy will show up at this one, and the rumors could turn out to be half right, as Gretzky has all but confirmed ďThe MooseĒ will be there.  If you have to miss one hockey game this year, donít let it be this one.  If you canít be there or canít be in front of your television, make sure you read your VCRís ownerís manual and learn how to capture what promises to be a dandy on tape.  Iíve already reserved my spot on the couch.

Preparations have been happening around the clock as work crews of more than 100 people work on turning Commonwealth Stadium into one gigantic hockey rink.  Already there have been several layers of ice prepared on a huge bed of sand, and by the time Saturday rolls around it is expected to rival any ice surface in any arena, complete with the traditional Canadian Loonie ($1 coin) at centre ice.  Itís not easy turning a football field into a hockey venue.  Luckily for the 2003 Grey Cup Champion Edmonton Eskimos, the final game was played in Regina, otherwise they would have had to learn how to skate (now thereís a pay per view idea).

Of course, playing a game outdoors is a first for the NHL, but not a first for hockey.  In October of 2001, a world record crowd (for a hockey game) of 74,554 attended a Cold War game at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing between the home Michigan State University and their rivals from the University of Michigan.  At the time it was suggested the NHL adopt this concept for an All-Star or exhibition game, but I donít think anybody ever imagined they would stage a meaningful regular season game.  Then again, I figure if they can make a hockey rink on top of an Olympic sized swimming pool in Japan, why not Edmonton on a football field?  Thereís already talk the Detroit Red Wings are planning a similar event at Ford Field sometime in the future, perhaps as early as next season.  This may just what the game needs to inject some regained interest from fans.

So just whatís involved in staging an event like this?  To give you a visual on how theyíre transforming a football field into a hockey rink, check out the construction picture gallery at www.heritagehockeyclassic.com.  Youíll be amazed.  I know I am (and I canít wait).

 Quick Drills

Edmonton Oilers vs Montreal Canadiens a la Centre Bell Ė some fan in the stands holds up a huge sign ďWE WANT JAGRĒ in block letters.  Are they drunk, confused, did they take a wrong turn on Highway 20, or are they just your average misinformed Habs fan?  We all know owner George Gillett has money, but somehow I donít think he wants to part with the kind of funds needed to bring a player like Jagr to Montreal.  I do know this much, Washington doesnít want him anymore.

On the same night in Denver at the Pepsi Centre, Colorado Avalanche take on the Minnesota Wild, some dude in a painterís hat is wearing a Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux jersey?

No matter what game you watch, anywhere, youíre sure to see a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey somewhere.  Maybe itís Mike ďThe Cat In The HatĒ Myers.  Hockey fans are interesting people arenít they?

Speaking of the Oilers again, I recently spotted Jason Chimera mingling with family and friends directly behind me.  Unfortunately, before I could get an opportunity to get his autograph he was off to bigger and better things.  Talk about dropping the ball, or in this case, the puck!  You would have thought I of all people would have been able to recognize a millionaire dressed in spiffy threads.

If checking the NHL standings makes you do a double take, you arenít alone.  While elite teams like the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars look for answers, teams like the Boston Bruins, Atlanta Thrashers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Edmonton Oilers and even the Los Angeles Kings are riding high.  The Avs play has improved of late, but not to the level we all thought they would, with too many of their wins coming in overtime.  I originally was going to mention Anaheim on the list of teams not meeting expectations, but they have been one of Novemberís most improved teams.  While itís too early to go into panic mode for the teams who arenít meeting expectations, you have to wonder how long their respective general managers will tolerate their lackluster play.  What is it they say?  When youíre number one, everybody wants to be like you?  Clearly this is the case in todayís NHL.

Can San Jose buy a win on home ice?  They could very well become the first team ever to make the playoffs by virtue of ties.  As of this writing they are only two points out of first in their division, with ten of their points coming from ties or overtime losses.  Further proof as to why a point shouldnít be awarded if you lose in overtime.  Mind you in the Sharksí case this would only cut their point total by two, but at the end of the season two points could mean the difference between playing for the Stanley Cup and watching the playoffs on television.  Either we do away totally with the extra overtime point, or we make regulation wins worth 3 points, overtime wins worth 2 points and ties/overtime losses worth 1 point.  One of these days the NHL will listen to me.

Most interesting fight so far this year Ė Sergei Zholtok of Minnesota chucks the knuckles with Jarkko Ruutu of Vancouver Ė What was Zholtok thinking?

Comeback of the year Ė Alexandre Daigle seems to have found a home in Minnesota.  Funny how he couldnít fit into the same system Jacques Lemaire plays in Ottawa when he played there, but I think we were looking at a young player with lots of money and now weíre seeing a player whoís fighting to survive in a competitive league.  Well, good for him is all I say.  At least in Ottawa they can take solace in knowing Daigle wonít be scoring any important playoff overtime goals against his former team, unless of course they happen to meet in the finals.

What is it with teams taking exceptions to a good hit along the boards?  Iím not talking about nasty cross checks head first, or bone breaking slashes, but when a good hit is made in the neutral zone or along the boards, all of a sudden some goon from the other team wants to start a brawl!  News Flash to these players (no names mentioned to protect the pansies from ridicule): Hockey is a physical sport, and if you canít come and play with the big boys, take my advice and get off the ice!  I see nothing wrong with sending a message to the other team, and if exception needs to be taken, play hard and take it to the scoreboard, if you dare.

With Adam Oates now putting on an Edmonton uniform, look for Kevin Lowe to pull the trigger on a trade which will unload Mike Comrie to the highest bidder, sooner rather than later.  Iím not one to start rumors, but my thinking is perhaps John Muckler in Ottawa could be working on a deal which may send a player like Radek Bonk packing.  Lowe is in a unique situation right now, as he currently has three rookies playing well:  Ty Conklin, Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll.  It would be better for everybody (Comrie especially) if this just gets done.

Speaking of Comrie, can somebody please tell me what heís doing on the All-Star ballot?  Not to mention Dany Heatley and Marc Denis?  Talk about your pity votes.  The scary thing here is they will all get fan votes, even though two of the three players arenít playing and the other plays for a team sitting in the basement.

Another trade which accomplishes nothing: Dallas sends defenseman Stephane Robidas to Chicago for another defenseman, Jon Klemm.

And finally, look for the Kerry Fraser show, coming soon to a hockey rink near you, and donít count on him doing your home team any power play favors!  Iím out of here for now, enjoy the Heritage Classic, and Iíll talk to you all soon.

 

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