SUN Hockey Pool

The good old hockey game

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

The buzz, at least in these parts, is quickly building into a roar.

Hockey isn't just back, it's hot again.

Maybe hotter than it's ever been.

"The Canadian public's thirst for hockey is greater now than it ever has been, in part because of the year off," TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie opined earlier this week during a visit with the Sun at the Westin Hotel.

McKenzie and TSN's No. 1 game crew, Gord Miller and analyst Pierre McGuire, are barnstorming their way across Canada, hitting all six NHL cities as a prelude to the league's first opening night in two seasons.

The puck drops for all 30 teams next Wednesday, with TSN featuring five of the six Canadian teams in four telecasts -- two national, two regional. The message the TSN trio is getting throughout its cross-country tour comes through loud and clear: Let the games begin again. Finally.

No doubt, the return of the NHL is good news for broadcasters such as TSN, the CBC (assuming it gets its labour house in order in the next week) and Rogers Sportsnet, which has regional deals with five Canadian NHL teams, including the Senators.

Ratings for the sports highlights shows should boom again. Initially at least, game audiences should be strong, too.

STOCK ON RISE

"If I were a stockbroker and the NHL was a stock, I'd be telling my clients to buy," said McGuire. "I don't think our sport could ever have been perceived at a lower level than it was (during the lockout), and now I think it's on the ascent, and that's good.

"I think ratings early on are going to be very substantial in terms of growth."

McKenzie agreed, but with a cautionary note.

"It's hard to predict the Canadian viewing public's habits but I would guess that early on, the ratings will be pretty significant. I can't imagine that they wouldn't be," he said. "Whether that holds ... a lot of it will have to do with the product. If the league does as good a job of enforcing the rules as they say they're going to do, and the games are exciting ... I think there's a chance for them to stay high. If after a month, it's the same old, same old, I think we'll lose some people."

What's clear is that the dark days of the lockout are long in the past, along with the angry feelings it generated.

"I really thought people would see through all the nonsense that took place a year ago and they would still have their passion for the game," said McGuire. "We're seeing an amazing amount of passion for (Canadian fans') local teams."

And hope, too. The NHL's new economic world order gives every Canadian team plenty of that, Miller said. "It's energized fans in a lot of communities," he said. "In Canada, especially, there are a lot of markets and a lot of fans that wanted the thing solved (the right way)."

Added McKenzie: "In my mind, the worst thing that possibly could have happened (last season) was if they cobbled together some half-assed deal so they could come back on ice to play a 20-game schedule and the playoffs.

"We saw how long it took to actually draft and finish off the CBA. If they tried to do that under the duress of having a season, it would have got screwed up. I think (fans) appreciate it had to take the time that it took. Hopefully, the game will be better for it."

Now, it's game on again for real.

Finally.


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