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The NHL postseason is here.
How will the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs shake out? Is this the year the Toronto Maple Leafs end their championship drought? Can the Pittsburgh Penguins repeat? Will the Chicago Blackhawks keep their decade-long dynasty going? Keep reading to find out.
The NCAA regionals have been over for two weeks, and even though the Frozen Four begins on Thursday, I’m still thinking about the past.
The crowd slowly filed into the old but refurbished arena last Tuesday night, eager for the main event. They had been anticipating it for months and after a long process, the big game had finally arrived in Marquette, Michigan.
Most of those fans had been in Lakeview Arena before, some back during its glory days of the eighties and nineties where the thin tin roof held in the noise of the raucous crowds that made opposing teams nervous to face Northern Michigan on the road.
However, Lakeview had seen better days since then. The roof was rickety, the compressor didn’t work properly, the Zamboni needed to be upgraded and then there was the smell. It was the foul stench of sweaty hockey gear that lingered around the rink, surrounding it like an invisible cloud that was inescapable no matter where you ventured.
Improvements to the arena had been needed for years, but money is hard to come by in an isolated small town located in the heart of the Upper Peninsula. To be able to complete all of the tasks that the city hoped to accomplish, it would take years unless it received a massive donation to speed up the process. Last April, that’s exactly what Marquette got.
Alaska is known for many things, including an excessive amount of oil and two Division I college hockey programs. Unfortunately for hockey fans, the former could have a dramatic effect on the latter.
There’s an unconfirmed theory around San Jose that Joe Thornton began growing a beard when the Sharks played their first game in 1991, and he refused to shave until the team won its first Stanley Cup. If true, the theory would explain a lot.
The Silicon Valley is a region populated by immigrants, some of whom were born elsewhere in the United States, many of whom were born abroad. Many are too young to remember a time when the San Jose Sharks didn’t exist or when agriculture, not silicon, was the backbone of the local economy. That’s why I like the Thornton Beard theory, tall as it is. It’s a useful illustration of how something magnificent can sprout up out of nowhere and blossom, like a tech industry from orchards, or an ice hockey tradition in Northern California.1
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Fresh blood: that’s the easiest way to describe the four teams remaining that still have Stanley Cup dreams on their mind. The San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins represent impressive turnover in the NHL’s final four playoff slots with three new teams for 2016.
They are a true representation of the league’s Salary Cap era, but the Conference Finalists in the 2010s were rarely made up of fresh faces. The usual suspects, near dynasties Chicago and Los Angeles, and perennial favorite the New York Rangers in the East, bowed out in the first round.
Replacing Chicago and Los Angeles in the West are two of the most star-crossed franchises in the NHL.
Emerging from the Central Division was the usually disappointing Blues, a squad that has been stuck in neutral over the past few years trying to outlast the Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators in easily the league’s toughest grouping. However, this is St. Louis 2.0, a retooled team that combined its prior size, grit and outstanding blue line with new skilled young offensive weapons.
TORONTO — My knowledge of the Hockey Hall of Fame prior to today consisted of two facts: One, it’s in Toronto; two, it’s where the Stanley Cup stays when it isn’t out on the road (which is rather often). Safe to say I carried an open mind into Brookfield Place.
So, about Brookfield Place. Let’s start there.
Grand Forks is a reasonably small town (about 55,000 people) on the eastern side of North Dakota. It sits along the Red River, which is good for one flood every year that ranges from slightly disconcerting to massive destruction. Grand Forks has the typical eating fares one would expect from a town of its size. The people are friendly, even to outsiders.
Home to the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks has firmly attached itself to the school and its athletic programs. It’s no different from other college towns like Ann Arbor, Bloomington, Madison or Iowa City. While those towns embrace football or basketball, Grand Forks loves its ice hockey – and not just as something to do on a Friday night. It’s the thing to do on a Friday night. Fans pack the Ralph Engelstad Arena, almost all of them clad in green, white or black, and loudly support their favorite team.