• By: Dave Gross

NHL gets it right in bright return

It’s rare that National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman lands any kind of praise from this corner.

As rare as the steak my step-mother orders (Hi Marion!).

Poor, far-reaching similes aside – kudos for the long-time head of hockey don’t come easy.

This is a guy who thought a glowing puck was a great notion; that, stubbornly, hockey would flourish in Phoenix and Sunrise, Fla.; and the all-star game was anything but a colossal waste of time.

But Gary got it right this time around.

In fact, all of hockey – so far – got it right this time around.

Much more so than (especially) baseball, basketball, the NFL and the CFL.

Golf has been pretty good as well but understand that’s a sport where crashing-and-banging body parts rarely exists, unless you’re talking about Patrick Reed’s gums.

First, the facilities.

I had my doubts when thinking hockey in empty arenas would be any decent follow.

But credit the league for covering the stands in tarps that would make Bouclair blush with pride. It’s a colourful, warm mix and brings a sense of intimacy to the games (. . . and I will soon be taking over as Ottawa Life Magazine fashion editor . . .).

The pumped-in crowd noise is not overdone. It works.

The health issue?

Hockey, unlike baseball, is absolutely clean. The bubble is being followed to a tee, so we think. Again, this in a game with as much sweat and contact, it’s a necessity.

Hockey people are generally the most approachable and down-to-earth in pro sport. They’re also very responsible as evidenced by the clean sheet.

Most topical though is the game itself.

The last time the NHL held competitive games was 142 days ago.

Rust, and we’re not suggesting Pittsburgh’s Bryan, has indeed slept.

We take you to Game 1 on Saturday afternoon: The New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes. From the drop of the puck the pace was incredible. The hits were huge. The players from top to bottom were prepared for the playoff war.

Four-and-a-half months between games? No problem.

This will be something worth monitoring. Fatigue will come fast for all. Layoffs do that, speaking of which, my gym opens this week so that will be the true test. Ugh.

And what did we say in last week’s space-filler?

Calgary and Winnipeg would be the best series to watch if you love hate. As Senators’ long-time play-by-play voice Dean Brown is fond of saying: Hockey and hate make terrific partners.

If you stayed up late into the night Saturday, the Jets and Flames brought what Dean-o was speaking of, buckets of furious spit.

The highlight (or lowlight) had Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk taking out Winnipeg star Mark Scheifele along the boards. There’s some debate whether Tkachuk intentionally levelled his skate at Scheifele’s Achilles tendon (does this sound remotely familiar Ottawa fan?).

Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice was not surprisingly strongly on one side of that debate.

"It was intentional, it was a filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg.” Maurice said after the game. “You can’t see it on the program feed, but take the blueline feed and you zoom in, he went after the back of his leg. Could’ve cut his Achilles, could’ve ended the man’s career. It’s an absolutely filthy, disgusting hit.”

Jet captain Blake Wheeler agreed with his coach, quite apparently, when he challenged Matthew to a fight minutes later. Meantime, Scheifele’s season could be over. As of press time (I’ve always wanted to write that), no word on the extent of his injury.

So then, game on folks.

This is a series ripe with bad feelings.

Please sir, I’ll have some more.

THOUGHTS AND POSTULATIONS: Man oh man, whatever happened to Ron MacLean? He’s gone from smart and incisive hockey man to yet another virtue signaller; another Muppet. The societal-conscience pablum he serves up now on a continual basis (coincidentally since Don Cherry was gas-canned?) is embarrassing . . . The Ottawa Senators are missing from this column. Actually, they’re MIA period. If anyone has heard or seen from the local hockey club in the past couple of months, please let us know . . . How about the slew of upsets in Game 1’s? Montreal, Arizona, Philadelphia and Chicago all scored unexpected wins . . . Is it me or does Toronto centre John Tavares suddenly look, um, aging? . . . Is it me or does Toronto star Auston Matthews look like a guy who, if adding a bit of a physical element, might-just-might evolve in to one of the top five skaters in the game? . . . If and when Zdeno Chara retires, I’d love to be the first person in line to shake his hand. The man is an inspiring figure. A true gentleman.

Courtesy NHLI via Getty Images