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Greatest hits

Kyle Cassily | Tuesday, September 27, 2005

When Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler first saw the Stanley Cup in person, he couldn’t help but be amazed at its pedigree, quipping, “This is the only thing that has seen more parties than us.”

The National Hockey League’s glorified drinking cup, first awarded by Canada’s governor-general Lord Stanley in 1892 to the country’s top hockey team, has been handed out all but two years in its lifetime.

The first absence came in 1919 when the Spanish flu epidemic made it impossible for the top two NHL teams to field an entire team; the flu even killed the contending Montreal Canadiens’ captain “Bad” Joe Hall. The second, regrettably, came about from less dire conditions in 2004-05 with an owner-induced lockout.

Many supposed pundits labeled the eventual season-long lockout the demise of what had been a league already in decline. They threw the NHL and its iconic trophy onto the dirty jersey pile in the corner of the national sports scene locker room.

Hockey was soon forgotten in the national consciousness; the Cup left dry of ice shavings and champagne.

The memory of national unity forged by the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ upset over the invincible Red Army was lost in a sense of apathy for the sport.

While the analysts were busy bashing the greediness of the players and the stubbornness of the owners, the images of Bobby Orr’s Cup-winning goal, stretched in a Superman pose, teeth beaming, were filed away in a cabinet few bothered to check.

Wayne Gretzky’s 92 goals in 1981-82, a single season record comparable only with Chamberlain’s 50.4 average points per game for the 1962 season, DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak and Gretzky’s own 215 point season in 1985-86, is incredible when a 50 goal scorer is labeled one of the best in the league, but is rarely mentioned in ‘Best Of…” compilations anymore.

And who could forgot Super Mario Lemieux’s performance in the 1995-96 season that led to his capture of the Hart Trophy, the hardware awarded to the season MVP, less than a year after he overcame the crippling effects of Hodgkin’s Disease? Well, evidently the majority of the sports world could, no problem.

Now with the NHL’s return, many cannot help but wonder where the League is headed and who will tune in. Baseball faced the same problem over a decade ago but found saviors in Cal Ripken’s Iron Man record and the titanic McGwire-Sosa home run race.

The NHL is primed to embark on a rise back to international acclaim. It looks to rookie Sidney Crosby, the most highly touted prospect since Gretzky, and a laundry list of rules changes meant to open the game back up to the mix of offense, speed and no-holds barred fighting characteristic of the Old-Time Hockey favored by the Hanson Brothers.

But until the game can re-ice itself back into the national sports lexicon, let the puck drop, the gloves fly and the Cup ride high over a horde of playoff beards and Barry Melrose mullets.