Coolest Game on Earth (Part 1)

PARKLIFE October 19, 1996

Howard Fienberg

Not to discount ice-fishing, but we're talking about ice hockey here. Even that concept means something different in many places than it does in Britain. For instance, someone decided that the ice rinks here should be seemingly a mile or more wider and longer than those in North America. Add to that a variety of pointless rules and strange regulations, and you have the Nottingham Panthers stumbling their way to the top of the Superleague here. These fellows make me feel good about my miserable skating ability, and most of them don't even have the excuse of being British!

But I digress. The amount of violence in the game here is significantly less than in the rough and tumble of the North American National Hockey League (NHL), where brutality can take you to the top. That is because they found that there were too many talented skaters trying to zip from one end of the ice to another. As I can attest to from personal experience, if you can't outskate him, what are you supposed to do, let him past? This violence is also a bigger problem due to the regulation by NHL officials. In their efforts to make the game run more smoothly, they wanted to cut down on the number of fights by making penalties for them much stiffer. So players cut down on their scrapping. Ice hockey is an emotional game, however, so instead of dropping the gloves for a good knock-around, which tends to do no more damage than a few lost teeth, nowadays sees most players going for hard hits during the game. This has systematically lessened the average icespan of most players, as we see people like Claude Lemieux, nasty boy for the Colorado Avalanche, smashing Detroit Red Wings' Kris Draper into the boards, face first. Draper literally had his face reconstructed. Similarly, these knockabouts sent San Jose Sharks' Tony Granato in for brain surgery this summer.

We are about a month into the NHL season, and nothing seems to be going as planned. The Pittbsurgh Penguins, who have been desperately trying to claw back to the coveted Stanley Cup (the Championship win) since the 1990-1 and 1991-2 seasons, were picked as one of the favorites to take th cup this year. Someone seems to have forgotten to tell them, and they have won only a few games so far this year, still stuck at the starting gates. Another hot pick, the Philadelphia Flyers, have also come up wanting, a result tied to the fact that their captain and star Eric Lindros is still suffering from a groin injury suffered playing for Team Canada during September's World Cup of Hockey. The New York Rangers, having pinned their hopes on their acquisition of the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, have yet to show that his price tag was woth more than just some entertainment value, as they struggle through this first month as well.

At the other end of the spectrum lie Dallas and Florida. The Dallas Stars, with a few new acquisitions over the summer, and the lift for offenseman Mike Modano and defenseman Derian Hatcher of having played for the victorious Team USA in the World Cup, are looking at what could be their best performance ever. The team has gelled, and have hardly failed to win a game yet. The Florida Panthers, who made a fairy tale run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year (incidently, running over the Flyers and Penguins), only to be trounced in four games by the Colorado Avalanche, have again made a strong showing at the beginning of the season. Not having had any players to be injured or worn out by the World Cup (there are no stars in the usual sense on this team, except the goalie, John Vanbiesbruck), the Panthers are well on their way to breaking the record for the longest unbeaten streak at the start of the season (the Stanley Cup winning Edmonton Oilers hold it at 12 wins and three ties for the 1984-85 season). The "rat pack" may surprise once again by crashing their way into the finals...

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