Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Join Me in the New Fun of NHL Hockey

I was fortunate to rediscover the joys of watching and following NHL hockey as football ends and before baseball begins. I used to be a great NBA fan, but what they call basketball today has lost all appeal to me. The new rules of hockey have opened up the game, increased the scoring and ended the frustration of a tie after two and one-half hours of up and down play. There is no question in my mind that the game of hockey is the fastest and most demanding of all major sports and also requires the greatest skill set of the players.

The new rules allow two-line passes and prevent checking of a player who doesn’t have the puck; they also don’t permit a line change after icing by the icing team. This has opened up scoring, minimized the defensive line-up at the blue line, and also reduced the number of dump-ins. Games that end in a tie go to four on four, sudden-death overtime and then to a series of shoot-outs until someone scores the winning goal. Very satisfying. The only thing better would be a permanent four-on-four, which I love.

Back in the late sixties and seventies, during the reign of Bobby Orr, the greatest hockey player of all time (and the classiest gentleman of all pro sports), I was a rabid Bruins fan. Four things happened to sour me on pro hockey: Orr retired; Orr seemed to be badly mistreated by the new owners of the Bruins (a situation misreported and misunderstood at the time); league expansion together with the formation of a new league substantially lowered the quality level of the available players; and helmets were adopted so you couldn’t see the players’ heads and faces as before.

For twenty years I didn’t go to or watch another pro hockey game until I moved to Florida and, for some reason, tuned in the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time. The new rules weren’t in place yet, but the addition of so many European players had so raised the talent level that exciting hockey was obviously back. It was just my good fortune that I started following the sport again just as the Lightning began to make their move, and, the following season (2004), won the Stanley Cup.

This year’s Lightning team badly needs a great goalie, but I’m loving the sport again, anyway. Perhaps, with the new rules and the incredible talents of players like Jason Spezza, Danny Heatley, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, you will too. Better hurry before Global Warming makes the sport of hockey obsolete.


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