The L: Rats, everyone knows that following a kind of nadir in the public consciousness, the NHL experienced a renaissance last year. Great young stars like Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin stepped to the fore and the entirety of the playoffs were vibrant and exciting. But... wasn't that like several days ago? Is it really time to expect anyone to pay attention at this point with the baseball playoffs beginning and the NFL season in full swing?
Ratso: The average Joe on the street doesn't care about hockey, doesn't understand it, and can't follow the game, so what difference does it make if he's tailgating in a parking lot in subzero weather on any given Sunday morning or if he's wearing three layers of thermals and watching a baseball game close to midnight in the Rocky Mountains instead of chomping on a hot dog at the Nassau Coliseum taking in the hapless Islanders home opener? Hockey's a deviant sport. Its cognoscenti get off on a feeling of exclusivity, like foodies who've just discovered the newest Asian fusion restaurant in Flushing. First of all, it's hard to watch and comprehend a hockey game unless you've actually played the sport. And to play hockey means a substantial investment in equipment: skates, helmets, shoulder pads, shin guards, garter belts...
The L: In our private discussions, you have suggested with customary subtlety that you have slightly diverse opinions regarding the young NHL flagship stars Crosby and Ovechkin. Would you, for the benefit of out readership, elucidate your views on both and what we might expect for the remainder of their careers?
Ratso: Crosby is a whiner. He's been anointed by the NHL brain trust (and I'm using that word extremely loosely) as the "face" of the game, so I guess he feels that that designation mandates that every referee's call should go in favor of the alpha Penguin and his arctic brood. He's also a sourpuss who seems to go about his business on the ice like a robot, devoid of emotion. Contrast that with Alexander Ovechkin, a much more dynamic and complete player who can bowl you over, strip the puck and deposit it behind your goalie before you can raise your 32 ounce Bud Light to your lips. And Ovechkin is extremely lovable, each goal occasions an outpouring of emotion, frenzied leaps up against the glass, chest bumps with linemates, etc. He's been criticized for his outlandish celebrations by none other than the Prince of Xenophobia, loudmouth Canadian sportscaster Don Cherry, whose own sartorial excesses would make Iceberg Slim blush, so it's obvious that Alexander's on the right track.
I was actually expounding on my distaste for Crosby and my preference for Ovechkin at the opening night party for my friend Sean Avery's new sports bar, Warren 77 in Tribeca. It was near the end of the night and I was pretty soused as I regaled Hank Lundqvist, Aves, and Avery's close friend from the Dallas Stars, Brad Richards, expressing my disappointment that the Penguins had ousted Ovechkin's Capitals from the Stanley Cup quest. I was going on and on about Crosby's whiny nature and contrasting it with Ovechkin's joyfulness when I registered a pained expression on Richards' face that was independent of the bar food and alcohol that he had consumed. "Wait, don't tell me that Crosby's your best friend?" I suddenly surmised. "We grew up with each other," Richards confessed. Just my luck, I was trashing one of the two Nova Scotians to play professional ice hockey to the other! The Dallas pivot then informed me that Crosby was really a swell guy, that he had taken on the mantle of being hockey's messiah since he was a teenager and that he was doing a great job as the sports ambassador to who-knows-what important audience. I didn't buy any of it but Richards is a lot bigger than me so I humbly retreated off my soapbox. I have to admit that Crosby did come up big in game seven of the Cup finals last year. Maybe having his name embossed on the cup will make him a little more personable this year.