I make no secret that I'm a hockey fan. Living in Wisconsin, which is, was and always will be Packer country, being a hockey fan is something of an anomaly. Granted, we have the University of Wisconsin, which pulled off an unprecedented two-fer this year by winning both the men's and women's NCAA hockey titles, but college hockey just isn't the same as the good old NHL.
I grew up in Philadelphia, which is Flyers country. I stopped rooting for the Flyers a few years ago when I finally realized that their GM, Bob Clarke ("Bobby", in his past life as a dirty hockey player) was ethically challenged on many fronts, and unapologetic about it. The Flyers haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1975, when Clarke was their captain, and they never will as long as Clarke and Ed Snider, their president-by-proxy courtesy of the Comcast Corporation, are pulling the strings.
It's been a relief being a fan of ice hockey in general, instead of being a fan of the Flyers and believing anything their marketing people spit out at their fan base. Thanks to the NHL Center Ice package, I hear a variety of announcers and see many more players play in the span of a year than the good ol' days of just watching Flyers broadcasts.
Which brings me to today, the eve of the most wonderful time of the year for a hockey fan. The NHL playoffs start tomorrow.
Due to a lockout by the NHL owners last year, I haven't seen an NHL playoff game in 22 months, when the Tampa Bay Lightning walked off the ice with the last Stanley Cup championship. The NHL is a different animal now. Once bogged down by defense-first trapping hockey that made the typical game look as slow and as painfully uninteresting as a soccer match in American Samoa, there are now two-line passes, limited handling of the puck by goalies, and a premium on skating, passing and scoring, which is what hockey ought to be in the first place.
While Tampa Bay is in the playoffs again this year, they are not a favorite to repeat. Their goaltending has changed, and they made it into the playoffs after the 81st game in an 82-game schedule. My favorite to win it all has to be the Detroit Red Wings. With new coach Mike Babcock, the Red Wings crushed just about everyone on their way to the best regular season record in the league, and they shows no signs of letting their foot off the gas. I personally will be routing for any team from Canada, a country I hope to live in one day after America gets through destroying itself under the policies of George Bush.
If you can find a bar that carries the NHL, this is the time of year where you see the best the NHL has to offer. If you can't, drop by my place and explore the magic world of commercials for Tim Horton's and Canadian Tire without ever leaving Milwaukee. If we're lucky, we'll get a quadruple-overtime game that ends at 2:30 in the morning as I'm finishing my 7th dark beer of the evening (one for each period).