Monday, June 8, 2009

What's a Canadian Farm Boy To Do?

At some point this week - perhaps as early as this evening - the 2008-09 NHL season will finally come to a close. Nothing makes me think of ice hockey quite as much as the crowning of a champion at some point between D-Day and Father's Day. I love ice hockey. In fact, among my fondest memories of my childhood are the pilgrimages my father and I would make once or twice a year into Madison Square Garden on Sunday nights to see the New York Rangers play. We would take the train from New Brunswick into Penn Station, stop in the terminal for a Nedick's hot dog and an Orange Julius on our way into the game and - if the game did not end too late - on the way home as well.

My father was at times a difficult human being with whom to deal. But never was he easier to talk to or to interact with than when we sat side-by-side in the Garden watching the Rangers. We were in the building the night that goaltender Eddie Giacomin returned home as a member of the Detroit Red Wings, having been traded away by then-public enemy #1 Emile Francis only days earlier, and were two of the thousands of voices screaming "Eddie! Eddie!" as he led the Red Wings to an easy win. It was the first time that I had ever been in the Garden and openly rooted for the opposition. Had my father not been there beside me, roaring his approval for the beating that the Blueshirts were absorbing with full-throated enthusiasm, I might have felt somewhat ashamed for conspiring with the enemy.

In the spring and early summer of 1994, as I was preparing for the bar exams of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I enjoyed watching my Rangers win their first (and still only) Stanley Cup since 1940. Yet, even while basking in the glow of their triumph, it struck me as more than a bit bizarre that the ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes took place on a hot,broiling New York summer day. Professional hockey wonders why it has such difficulty gaining any traction in this country in terms of its status among the people who watch and attend professional sports. Perhaps ending a season that drags on interminably for months - only to have approximately 50% of the NHL's membership "qualify" for the "post-season", which can last for up to an additional eight weeks - at some point prior to the Summer Solstice would be a first step? And while they are at it, perhaps putting franchises in towns whose residents might have seen ice somewhere other than their freezer might be a logical second step.

If you missed the 08-09 season, fret not. Right around Columbus Day the 09-10 season will start in earnest. And til then, if you are still Jonesing for winter sports, cheer up. As of this morning, as many as five games remain to be played in the NBA season.

-AK

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