SUN Hockey Pool

Hockey still matters to us

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

The NHL's regular season would have ended Sunday.

This morning, the vital energies of workplaces across the nations would have redirected to the annual act of subversion that is the office pool.

I know exactly what I would be doing had, by some miracle, the NHL season been convened on schedule.

I would be writing about how this could be the post-season Nik Antropov breaks through. He would have been fresh, having lost 48 games to assorted injuries.

Bryan McCabe would have been flashing his annual playoff haircut to the media today, something blue and mohawky for the season. Actually, in view of his play against the Philadelphia Flyers last spring, maybe he would have stayed shaggy.

Pat Quinn would have been in turns grouchy, irascible and inspired. He would have filled reporters' notebooks with invented slights which would stand in until the first five minutes of the opening series when whoever he was playing would suddenly become the most beastly collection of skaters since the Flyers went soft.

It was always such lovely theatre.

Ed Belfour would not skate, thus prompting speculation on his back. We would wait three hours in the Leafs' airy dressing room, interviewing each other, only to have Ed come out and say "I am fine," only not in so many words.

We would be writing about Gary Roberts' protein milkshakes and about the last roundup for the elegant Joe Nieuwendyk. Brian Leetch would be at turns marvellous and suspect.

Canada is the only country on earth where warm weather prompts thoughts of a cold-weather sport.

We are married to hockey through the winter.

Curling is nice but really no alternative and many of us lack the constitution for prolonged bursts of alcoholism that passes for daily life in many of the Scandinavian nations. If we are to insist on sobriety, then we'll have to have hockey.

Until this year of course, where repeated viewings of Bob Goodenow and Gary Bettman irradiated the game from our souls.

But they have gone away, at least for a while, and at this time of year, you can spend time with hockey players as they stand around their bus after practice. Like you, they are parched for sun and for resolution to the season. They are as excited to be there as you are.

A hockey season is actually a terrible thing in February. The standings are all but decided and the real play is still months away.

It is escape on Saturday and Wednesday night, a carnival to light up the bleak mid-winter. It is not truly eventful in February, but entertainment is at a desperate premium.

But by now, the teams that truly don't belong have been pared off. The first round brings a surprise or two, like March Madness, it is best savoured early and then returned to at the end.

The Leafs would have played Ottawa and I think this year, buoyed by Dominik Hasek, the Senators would have prevailed. Unless, of course, Hasek self-destructed which would have also been, entirely, wonderfully possible.

I do not believe for a moment the dire predictions of a lasting estrangement between Canadians and their six NHL teams.

Every element of the seasonal biological clock is shouting spring and, thanks to years of programming, hockey.

Our friends at Canoe ran a poll this weekend. Which of the proposed rule changes would fans like to see? Of the respondents, 13% said they would reduce goalie equipment. Another 13% said no-touch icing.

Only 5% said they were no longer fans.

More than 31,000 people gave their opinion.

Hockey still matters.

It will as long as there is endless winter, and merciful sprightly spring.


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