Oh Stanley…

by Steve, June 7th, 2007

I watched the last 18 minutes of the Stanley Cup Final last night, and watched Ottawa sputter to a 6-2 game 5 defeat. All told, I watched probably six total periods of the series. Am I a bad hockey fan? Maybe. But I just couldn’t get behind either of these teams. As in the past two Stanley Finals, I defaulted to rooting for the Canadian team. (Yes, this year was déjà vu all over again, with a southern US team beating a Canadian team.) But unlike years past, the US victors didn’t win me over with veterans like Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour or Tampa Bay’s Dave Andreychuk, or with hot (relative) youngsters like Cam Ward or Brad Richards.

Sure, Anaheim has the Niedermayer brothers, and Teemu Selanne finally gets his name on the cup. But they’ve also got serial head-hunter Chris Pronger.

For me, the whole series comes down to what happened in game four. I was already having a hard time liking Senator’s captain Daniel Alfredsson, when at the end of the second period he whipped a slap shot directly at Ducks’ captain Scott Niedermayer. It was clearly intentional, and completely absurd.

Sadly, the highlight of the series came just after this ugly affair, when intermission report anchor Bill Clement hosted Don Cherry of “Hockey Night in Canada” fame. Cherry took the opportunity to go on an extended rant about how the NHL is making a “big mistake” by reducing fighting in the game, and if they want to save the game they need to bring back the rough stuff. Cement-head co-host Brett Hull piped in with his own troglodyte idea that visors should be eliminated from the game, and that fighting is the most “honorable” part of the game. He said this a few times before changing it to “honest”. Somehow or another, the avuncular Clement managed to keep a reasonably straight face through all of this.

Of course, this all goes back to a discussion on this blog a while back. There’s an assumption (not shared by our neighbors to the north) that the game is in trouble, and something must be done to save it. There’s the “old time hockey” school, led by Don Cherry and his ilk, who maintain that we need more blood to sell the game. Then there’s the Gary Bettman approach of expanding into the southern US, where the ponds don’t freeze and most kids don’t have the opportunity to play the game.

Both approaches are way off the mark, and both are based on the faulty assumption that hockey should have the kind of broad appeal all across the US that basketball and NASCAR have. It never has, and it never will. It will always be a niche sports market, and I don’t see a problem with that. Hockey is best watched live, and it thrives on home-town tradition and local rivalries. Hockey will never be in crisis in Canada or in the Midwest and northeast United States. If it’s in crisis in Nashville or Dallas or St. Louis or Washington D.C., I don’t give a shit.

But I digress. Let’s put a wrap on ’06-’07 by saying anybody who was on the fence about the game of hockey and tuned in to see Alfredsson’s antics at the end of game four’s second period, followed by Cherry’s and Hull’s rants, would find it hard to take the game seriously. Maybe it’s just sour grapes with me, since my favorite, the Sabres, were eliminated in the conference finals. But I think this is a particularly ho-hum year for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

How many months till hockey season starts?

4 Responses to “Oh Stanley…”

  1. Comment from Kate:

    Hello. I can’t remember how I stumbled upon More Hockey Less War, but I sure like your angle! I’m a new hockey fan but a long time fan of peace. I totally agree that hockey is best on a local level. I live in Buffalo where hockeymania completely consumed the entire population this spring. (I have to admit that I kept myself interested in the Stanley Cup by actively cheering against the Sens. Sour grapes, indeed. Chris Pronger is a goon, but everyone can cheer for the Niedermayers and Teemu, right? Once Alfie turned bitchy, it was “Go, Dicks Go” without reservation at my house.)

  2. Comment from Kate:

    Ha! I meant “Go, DUCKS Go!” Hee…….paging Dr. Freud.

  3. Comment from Himself:

    I was really sorry to see the Sabres (ahem) peter out early.

  4. Comment from Kate:

    Thanks for your condolences. It has been a rough few weeks for Buffalonians.