December 14, 1997

In Praise of Hockey

The more I watch it (and I watched some in person this weekend, and am looking forward to seeing more later this week), the more I’m convinced hockey is the coolest sport around.

Of course, hockey only serves to tide me over between baseball seasons. I’m really not interested in football or basketball. Baseball is by far my all-time number one, but hockey has made some impressive gains in the last couple of years.

Sure, it was easy to be a Los Angeles Kings fan when the team had Wayne Gretzky and was going to the Stanley Cup finals. Normally placid and unflappable LA even came down with a brief case of Hockey Fever.

Now, Gretzky is gone, but the Kings have rebuilt well, and fans who’ve stuck with the team are being rewarded. This year’s edition of the Kings looks likely to make the playoffs.

Down the road in Anaheim, Disney tried its best to squander all the good will and excitement which built up last spring following the Mighty Ducks first trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Ducks made it to the second round, losing three overtime games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings before bowing out. What did Disney do? Fire the coach, and create a prolonged stalemate with league Most Valuable Player Runner-Up Paul Kariya. Kariya just returned to the Ducks the other night, more than 30 games of this season already gone by. That’s 30 games of his ascending career that we, the fans, missed, not due to injury or other circumstance, but because Disney was willing to throw money at injured relief pitchers for the Anaheim Angels ($5 million a year to a guy who had a terrible year) but wouldn’t cough up just a little bit more to keep the second best player in hockey. Grr.

So why should you care?

Well, I just think hockey too often gets bad press. Yes, sometimes the game turns violent. But played correctly, it is a game of brilliance and skill. Next time you’re channel surfing and you see a little hockey, do me a favor, and hang out for a second, just to see if the speed, grace, and power of the game appeals to you at all. Now that Kariya’s back, I’ve got two local teams to root for again (but the Kings are number one in my personal rankings, always!).

Ah, a love note to hockey. You never really know what’s going to turn up in this column, do you?

Neither do I.

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Colin Campbell - jenolen@earthlink.net
Last updated December 14, 1997