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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Basic Biittner : An obsessed fan ... every other decade

Monday, April 23, 2012

"The Coolest Game on Earth!" is one of the National Hockey League's advertising slogans.

My daughter and son-in-law have access to season tickets to the Washington Capitals games, and they would agree with that assessment, as they have become dedicated Capitals fans.

I just discovered that NBC (and NBCSports and other NBC-owned stations) are covering "every game, every night" of the Stanley Cup playoffs this year. Well, somehow I wound up watching 3 or 4 Stanley Cup quarterfinal games over the weekend (starting with the Caps-Bruins game, of course). And of course, I'm now hooked. Say what you will, ice hockey is a fast-paced exciting game - even if you don't understand the rules (I've got "Hockey for Dummies" to remedy that). It's also a perfect sport for the many angles of instant replay of which TV sports coverage is now capable. I mean, it's easy to miss a goal being scored - and there aren't that many of them. But thanks to instant replay, one can see just how the goal was scored - over and over and over again.

As I came to the conclusion that I was hooked on hockey, I realized that this is not the first time I've been here - and in thinking it over, I realized that it seems to happen to me about every other decade.

The first time was around 1969 or 1970, when the playoff games were on network TV (can't remember which network), and Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins captured my interest. After a year or two of following Orr, Phil Esposito, his brother Tony Esposito (goalie of the Chicago Black Hawks) and Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull of the Black Hawks, my sports-viewing interest drifted back to baseball and football.

One of the reasons my interest drifted, I'm sure, was the lack of regular national television coverage of the NHL, and another was the expansion of the NHL from "the Original Six" teams (Chicago, Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit and New York). Several league expansions took place over the years, leading to such things as major league hockey in warm-weather locales like Phoenix and Fort Lauderdale. "Hot 'Lanta" proved to be too hot for hockey, I guess, as Atlanta had expansion teams on two occasions and was unable to make a go of it either time. There was an expansion team in Minnesota, where hockey is big, but they moved to Dallas, and Minnesota got a new franchise in the 1990s, in the league's latest expansion (there are now 30 NHL teams).

Part of the expansion came about because an upstart league, the WHA, was created and began competing for players and signing away a few big NHL stars like Hull and Gordie Howe - a situation very similar to that of the NFL and AFL in the 1960s. As in that situation, the pro hockey war ended with the merging of the two leagues, and the subsequent addition of a few of the stronger WHA teams, like the Edmonton Oilers, into the NHL.

Not being all that interested in hockey by that time, I subsequently missed the years of NHL domination by "The Great (Wayne) Gretzsky" and his Oiler teammates - not to mention the memorable (for others) "Miracle On Ice" game between the USA and USSR in the 1980 Olympics.

My interest in the NHL didn't spring up again until around 1999, and I'm not really sure why it did then. Maybe it was curiosity about Gretzsky and company as their careers wound down, maybe it was a down time for the other sports, I don't know. I just know that I purchased a Hockey Encyclopedia and other books and magazines about the subject at the time, and learned a lot about hockey greats of the past and present.

Of course, in a couple of years the feeling again passed , and it didn't surface again until this spring. The strangest thing about my periodic obsession with hockey is that I have never attended a single hockey game in person - not an NHL game, not a college game, not a Sioux City Musketeers game - nada.

Oh well. I have a standing invitation from my daughter to go to a Caps game with her family the next time I'm out there (if it's during the season, of course), and I'm looking forward to it - she says it's a wild, fun atmosphere. Of course, if I'm out of my NHL phase again by that time ...

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner