CHICAGO - Greetings from the road!
Have you ever had a moment when one of your experiences jogs an old memory that seems to be a non sequitur, but actually makes some sense after thinking about it for a while? That sort of experience happened to me on Opening Night, the historic occasion during which all 30 NHL teams played for the first time ever.
With 11 sellouts, a record attendance, and loads of excitement, the race is officially on for bragging rights around the thirty NHL cities. The games showcased speed, skill, action and drama, right down to the final buzzer in the Sharks-Predators game and to the first shootout in League history in the Toronto-Ottawa contest.
In the middle of it all, I kept on hearing people refer to the new rules, and another phrase was morphing in: "the new NHL." Hearing that phrase immediately set my memory banks into motion, and all of a sudden, I was transported back into that twilight zone of recollections that didn't seem to connect to the sensory experience at all.
I found myself in a parking garage near Madison Square Garden, circa 1990, reading an automated parking receipt just before a New York Rangers game.
It was one of those off days on the road when I was within striking distance of 7th Avenue and 33rd Street, the Rangers happened to be playing, and I happened to have the opportunity to see the game. It was also a rare day, in that I was in a car instead of a train, taxi or subway, on my way to MSG.
I don't really remember exactly when it was, although it was at least 25 years after Madison Square Garden was built in 1968. I don't really remember exactly which parking garage it was, although I know that it was around MSG somewhere.
However, I do remember reacting to the name of the parking company that was printed on the receipt: "New Garden Parking." It brought a laugh, because the Garden was far from "new" on that night. I'm sure that even today, 37 years after the opening of the fourth Madison Square Garden, the parking company probably hasn't bothered to change its name or its parking receipts.
This thought immediately brings us back to the present, and I'm suddenly sure that 37 years from now, someone will still call it the "new NHL."
But I'm not seeing a "new" NHL, I'm seeing hockey the way it was really meant to be played. It is a game when defensemen don't interfere, but try to use their skills to legally check an opponent. It is a game when a second period lead isn't a synonym for "mailing in the two points," but is something surmountable.
It is a League that showcases speed, skill, action and drama, and it takes many of hockey's recent conventions and tosses them over the glass into the Zamboni tunnel, waiting to be discarded by loyal arena crewmen. It's nail biting, intense, fast and fun, from the opening face-off to the closing buzzer.
The fans are on their feet, screaming at the top of their lungs. The arena has a pulse and there doesn't seem to be a need to prompt the people in the seats to "make noise." Cheating is punished, excellence is rewarded and mediocrity just isn't supported.
The only things that are predictable are excitement, drama and, yes, unpredictability. It's what some are calling the "new NHL," but to me, "This is hockey."
For Seagate Technology's In The Crease, I'm Dan Rusanowsky.