Entertainment and Sports

Talkin' Hockey

Jim Balsille, a brilliant billionaire, wants to put an NHL team in Hamilton, but the league, led by Gary Betteman, says no, as they consider Las Vegas and Kansas City.

By Kevin Somers
Published November 26, 2008

It's often said Canadians are passionate about hockey and, in my case, at least, I'd say it's true. I've played hockey in one form or another, watched hockey and pondered hockey my whole hockey life.

I still play old-man floor hockey twice a week. I get up an hour early during hockey season to enjoy TSN's hockey coverage. I listen to Bob McCown on the drive home and hope he talks hockey. More than just about anything, I'd rather watch hockey highlights.

My wife won a scholarship to Queen's, but I maintain she has a learning disability because, after all these years, she still endeavours, sometimes, to talk to me during hockey.

She gets mad when I put a finger to lips and look back to hockey. She tries to make me aware of her outrage, but she's been tuned out by then. Her and daughters complain incessantly about hockey on the living room TV.

Superior physical strength allows me control of the converter, however, so it's hockey night in Hamilton, again and again, ladies. They mumble bad things about me while shuffling off to the bedroom to watch Desperate Housewives on an inferior set. Oh, the ironing.

The people in my life can be discussing dire situations or failing health, but if there's a monitor within eyeshot projecting a hockey game or hockey highlights, I'm lost and even Dr. Phil couldn't find me.

I watch endless hockey fights on YouTube. Boxing is sweet science, but hockey fights are lovely, too. Fisticuffs on skates require skills and a psyche few people have or are willing to prepare for.

Despite the backup on life's to-do list, I spend hours and days watching Darcy, Wendel, Tootoo, Laraque, Milan Lucic, Bobby Probert, Clarke Gillies, Stan Jonathon et al. chuck knuckles. With equally obsessed friends and relatives, I like discussing the battles.

As with any sport, hockey is a series of smaller battles fought in order to win a war. There are mental battles and physical battles and they're all intertwined. Like practice and skill, knowing one can win is necessary - confidence is everything.

The battles never end. From the battle to win the opening face-off to ultimate battle of having the most goals when the final siren sounds, hockey has unequaled demands. The athleticism, artistry, creativity, reaction, timing, and violence of the sport are infinitely fascinating to me.

Hockey requires skill with two aliens: a stick and skates must be mastered before one can make effective contact with the puck, which is a lot more than most sports demand. Hockey is a lot faster than other games, too, and it's full contact.

Goals may be hard to come by, but good, clean open-ice hits are even more rare. Much like fighting, hitting is an unappreciated art that requires untold practice and precision.

I like the skill and speed of the new NHL, but hate the constant parade of blows to the head the league encourages with non-action. It's awful having two referees, too. Referees are generally egocentric, control freaks and having two compete for airtime means penalty after penalty.

It's still pretty good, though.

As much as I like the game, I'm not alone; hockey fanatics pollute this country. To suppose that the good folks in the (southern) US would ever embrace hockey like Canadians do is ridiculous. Like me following NASCAR, it will NEVER happen. Hockey ain't in their blood.

In a rapidly contracting economy, the NHL is doomed in many of its markets. A lot of teams were barely surviving during good times. Hockey is an increasingly expensive sport to maintain, especially in the heat. Teams travel a lot with dozens of personnel and tons of equipment. Huge arenas have to be cooled and big sheets of ice kept frozen. Players, coaches, and executives get paid too much. When their money melts, ice hockey is a frivolity Americans will drop like it's hot.

Numbers don't lie, but the people who put forth numbers often do. Hockey belongs in Hamilton, yet Hamilton, surrounded by millions of other rabid hockey fans in neighbouring cities and towns is chronically shut out of expansion or relocation talks.

Jim Balsille, a brilliant billionaire, wants to put an NHL team in Hamilton, but the league, led by NHL Commissioner Gary Betteman, says no, as they consider Las Vegas and Kansas City.

Now, there's talk of a second and third NHL team in Toronto. Adding to the insult, Hamilton has been disparaged by NHL governors as not worthy of their lousy, mismanaged, money-haemorrhaging, money-grubbing, fascist, dictatorial, headhunting league.

Where's the outrage, Hamilton? Where are the Guillotines? Why aren't we stopping traffic on the QEW? Why hasn't the mayor called in the army? This is more than a snow job, after all. We're talkin' hockey.

Kevin Somers is a Hamilton writer.

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By dacostan (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 17:43:55

McCown just launched his own web site:

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