Monday, June 05, 2006

Stanley Cup Thoughts

Life isn't only politics. I have a secret passion. Okay, not so secret. I love ice hockey. Not the thuggish, "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out" style of hockey. I love the fast, flowing artistry that is the game at its finest.
Bobby Orr was the first great offensive defenseman. His end-to-end rushes were things of beauty.
I came by this love honestly. My father was born and raised in the Iron Range of northern Minnesota. Ice hockey is in the blood there. When I was young, my father introduced me to hockey and pizza at about the same time. Both became addictions.
Doug Harvey anchored the defense of the greatest dynasty in sports history, The Montreal Canadians of the 1950's.
I have wonderful memories of Saturdays eating pizza and watching the Toronto Marlboros junior hockey games on television. What they were doing on San Diego television was a mystery to me even then.
Gordie Howe was the greatest hockey player ever prior to Wayne Gretzky. This is Gordie in his prime. At the age of 51, he played in the NHL All-Star Game along side the 19 year-old Gretzky.

Fortunately, minor league hockey arrived in San Diego in 1966. The Western Hockey League was one step below the NHL. I didn't see the greats but I could watch some pretty damn good players.
The San Diego Gulls fed my passion for the game throughout my high school years.

Bobby Hull was the great goal scorer of the 1960's. His slap shot traveled nearly 120 MPH.

I began losing interest in the game when the goons took over. People who could barely stand upright on ice skates were going to the major league solely for their fighting skills. My interest returned with the coming of the Great One.
Wayne Gretzky was a magician. He was the Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan of ice hockey. He wasn't just the best that every played the game. He was so much better than second place that comparisons were impossible.
Every hockey team needs a goaltender. Gump Worsley may not have been the best to ever wear the pads but he is in the top half dozen. I just loved his nickname. Who couldn't root for a guy named Gump. Besides, Gump played when goaltenders didn't wear masks. They were a different, crazy breed of man back then.

During last year's labor lockout it seemed that the owners and players were conspiring to kill off the sport. I'm happy my cynicism was wrong. Major league hockey used the time off to study what the game had become. They changed some rules to reward speed and tone down the thuggery. The result is a game that appears the same to the unseasoned eye, but is faster, flashier, and better than it was before. My only regret is that Wayne Gretzky couldn't play under these rules. What he would have done.

I'll return to depressing subjects like war and politics next time.

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