Two Week Hockey Season?
One of my favorite aspects of the recently concluded Olympiad in Athens concerned the make-up of the various national teams. I enjoyed seeing NBA stars don the jersey of their native country and play the style of game they play at home. As the NBA gradually becomes more international, the flavor of the game improves.
Of course, the NBA has nothing on the NHL in terms of international flavor. The top pro hockey league may play in North America, and be the Canadian national pasttime, but no longer do the majority of players come from Canada. Europe contributes more players than the United States, and not mere role players, but superstars such as Peter Forsberg, Marian Gaborik, Jaromir Jagr, Sergei Federov, and Mats Sundin.
Prior to the fall of the Iron Curtain, Olympic hockey watchers knew they were seeing awesome teams from the Soviet Union, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia, but really didn't know the players. If you were a hockey fan watching Olympic play just 15 years ago, you were watching one set of flag-inspired jerseys skate against another, as the unknown American & Canadian amateurs skated against the unknown Soviet Bloc pros. Now there is an intimacy of knowledge of all teams, as generally the top two lines and the goaltender are NHL stars.
This would make watching this year's World Cup of Hockey exciting enough for the average hockey fan, but with the NHL and its players union lacking a collective bargaining agreement, the 2004-05 season is in serious jeopardy, giving the real possibility that the Cup series may be the only top-level hockey we'll see until September 2005.
All eyes are on Mario Lemieux, the player-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins who is the captain of the Canadian team. Now age 38, Lemieux has gone through a huge range of physical maladies, from hip and back problems to Hodgkin's Disease, and has persevered lately just to keep his team alive. Without a season ahead, Lemieux might call it quits for good after this Cup.
The games air in the US on ESPN2, and in Canada on CBC. The games run through Tuesday, September 14's championship game at 7pm (EDST).
One excellent aspect of this Cup is that games are hosted around the world- in Helsinki, Prague, Cologne, St. Paul, Montreal, and Toronto- reducing inherent home-ice advantages.
It figures that I am extremely busy with, well, everything right now, but I will be watching as much as can!