I'm somewhat of a hockey purist, laced with nostalgia, so some of this past week's player news could have put me into a wistful mood. But instead, I find myself enlivened, invigorated, and excited about the coming season and what is clearly a new era in the history of the National Hockey League.
The retirements of great players such as Mark Messier, Al MacInnis, Ron Francis, Vincent Damphousse, James Patrick and others will definitely change the familiar makeup of the National Hockey League this coming season. However, as has happened in earlier years, the game will not only move on, it will thrive.
It's a little like the evolution of a great university. The senior class graduates and moves forward, the juniors become seniors, the sophomores become juniors, and a new class of freshmen fills the dormitories. Some great professors retire, and other new ones excite their students with new challenges. At the end of the day, the university is still great.
Even though the two-line pass has gone the way of the rover, the blue lines and goal lines are in slightly different places, and some of the faces have changed, hockey is still great, and the NHL is still the greatest hockey university in the world.
It has great professors like Ron Wilson, Marc Crawford, and Andy Murray, with new associate professors like Trent Yawney, Peter Laviolette, and Mike Sullivan who are sure to make their mark. It has exciting students like Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Scott Hannan, Marian Hossa, Mattias Ohlund and others who are moving forward in the ranks, while Sidney Crosby galvanizes the imagination of an entire continent.
It has old pros like Rod Brind'Amour, Scott Niedermayer, Joe Sakic, Scott Thornton and Peter Forsberg, who still have many miles to go before they sleep. It has goalies like Evgeni Nabokov, Miikka Kiprusoff, Nikolai Khabibulin and Marc-Andre Fleury to act as the last line of defense.
It has a conscience. Its players and executives really want the best game to be available to the fans, and action has been taken to move that process forward. Because of that, there will be drama, tension, action, and just about everything for everybody when action resumes.
Most importantly, the game of hockey has its fans, whose pent-up enthusiasm will never be more evident than when the NHL returns to action. There are so many who have been waiting so long for its return.
I just looked at today's sports scoreboard, and there are hockey games among the featured items. Calgary is playing Edmonton. Washington is playing Carolina. Minnesota is playing Phoenix. The Sharks are playing Los Angeles at HP Pavilion on Sunday.
Yes, it's "only" pre-season, but hockey is here. My heart is racing, my imagination is fired with enthusiasm, and life is great again.
Drop the puck. Let's play hockey!
I'm Dan Rusanowsky, "In the Crease."