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The Rinks Robbery
Steve Rushin
October 04, 2004
If your favorite sport will Not Halt its Lockout and your hero's New Home is Lapland and you're Now Hating Life 'cause there's No Hockey Left and you'll Never Have Labatt's again, you might be a fan of the NHL.
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October 04, 2004

The Rinks Robbery

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If your favorite sport will Not Halt its Lockout and your hero's New Home is Lapland and you're Now Hating Life 'cause there's No Hockey Left and you'll Never Have Labatt's again, you might be a fan of the NHL.

If so, you know that everyone in hockey is grinding his tooth over the league's "work stoppage," in which NHL owners have locked out NHL players. As a result some 170 NHL veterans are now abroad playing hockey, while the rest--roughly 450--are at home playing hooky. Hockey has never been on thinner ice. Once we watched Lemieux-Gretzky; this winter we can watch Lemieux Jet Ski.

The NHL will not play this fall, nor very likely this season, and perhaps not even the season after. The salary-cap-seeking owners are fiddling while Rome, or at least Roman Hamrlik, burns. Players are already feeling the league's absence--physically so, like when you step in the dark for a top stair that's not there.

"It's almost become a body-clock issue," says Canucks center Trevor Linden, a 16year veteran of the league. "After Labor Day the air temperature turns cooler, the sun's a little lower in the sky, the leaves are turning, the World Series is around the corner. And for me, that also means NHL training camp." But instead of going top-shelf, Linden's putting up shelves, doing "a little renovation project" at his house in British Columbia. Which is a little like Mozart moving pianos instead of playing them.

Likewise, the 112year-old Stanley Cup might have finally retired to South Florida, where it was recently seen dining at the Turtle Club Restaurant in Naples, surrounded by other centenarian snowbirds. "It wassupposed to be at exhibition games in Montreal, Carolina and Atlanta this week," says Kelly Masse of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, the Cup's caretaker. Instead, Stanley's only upcoming engagement is its annual engraving, beginning this Thursday in Old Montreal, where the delicate hands of Louise St. Jacques will add the wonderfully Francophonic names of Lightning stars Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier to those of Maurice Richard and Jacques Plante and Jean Beliveau.

And then we'll be left with a five-hole where our hockey used to be.

In the U.S. it's already gone. "They know all about the lockout up here," says Jonathan Weatherdon, Toronto-based spokesman for the NHL Players' Association. "But I doubt it's getting coverage on CNN."

It's not getting coverage on ESPN. Even before the lockout was announced, the network planned to cut back to just 40 games, all on ESPN2, from a high of 128 games in the 1999--2000 season. Can you blame it? No Nielsen family has ever watched the NHL on TV, and that includes the Roger Neilsen family.

Except in Canada. Oy, Canada. Peter Mansbridge, anchor of CBC Television's The National, is the Canadian Peter Jennings (or rather, the even more Canadian Peter Jennings). Last week he hosted two hourlong town-hall meetings--one with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, one with NHLPA head Bob Goodenow--in prime time, on national television. "Imagine Tom Brokaw doing that," says Linden. "It's the top story in Canada."

For 52 years Saturday nights have been sacrosanct as the home of Hockey Night in Canada. Until this season, that is, when the CBC will begin showing, in its place, a movie tripleheader. (Bedtime for Boom-Boom?) The Ceeb last week also premiered a reality series called Making the Cut, in which more than 4,200 people--including one Mountie and a 58-year-old woman--showcase their hockey skills for Mike Keenan and Scotty Bowman, hoping to be one of the six hockey boot-camp finalists who have been promised NHL tryouts should the league ever resume play. It's like Canadian Idol.

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