A Friend of the Hockey Court

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Mark Mainz / Getty

Kevin Smith

On June 1, I start shooting the biggest movie of my career. It's called A Couple of Dicks and stars both comic genius Tracy Morgan and one of my longtime heterosexual crushes, the pride of Penn's Grove, N.J., himself: the Yippee-Kay-Yay-ster, Walter Bruce Willis.

And that's nice.

On June 17, I'm gonna step out onto the famed Carnegie Hall stage in New York City and do my usual foulmouthed brand of stand-up Q&A for a mix of society swells and bridge-and-tunnel stoners at the most well-known theater on the planet.

And that's O.K.

But the other day I got an e-mail from this guy Ron Finucan, who's a friend of Walter Gretzky — the guy who taught hockey legend Wayne Gretzky everything he knew, both on and off the ice. Walter Gretzky: the Father of the Great One (and, as most Canucks will tell you, Canada's Dad).

And that was nothing short of amazing.

Honestly, I was so nervous and excited I threw up and pooped my shorts (quite a trick, as I was lying on my stomach at the time). But hockey'll do that to you. It takes the mild-mannered and turns them into screaming soldiers of shinny. With its speed, agility and even beauty, Lord Stanley's favorite sport has always made the heart soar and the pulse race. Nobody who's ever attended a hockey game has opted against a second viewing because they found it boring. (Read about Joel Stein's quest to write about hockey.)

But blasphemously, in most U.S. states, it's an also-ran: the sport only obnoxious, bloodthirsty goons follow. You won't find matches televised on ESPN anymore, since the ratings outside of the playoffs were apparently underwhelming. (The underdog upstart Versus network carries most National Hockey League games now.) And the chances of happening upon a pickup game at the neighborhood rink? Unless that neighborhood sits squarely on the 49th Parallel, the chances are about as high as the score of an average hockey game.

This is what NHL commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't understand. You can't put hockey into every major city in America, because hockey isn't woven into the fabric of the American quilt the way it is woven into the Canadian toque. Canadian billionaire and hockey nut Jim Balsillie knows this — which is why he's making his third attempt to purchase a NHL team ... seemingly against the NHL's wishes. (Read "Why No One Is Seeing the NHL's Great Game.")

Balsillie wants to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes — the Artists Formerly Known As the Winnipeg Jets. The cash-strapped Jets left Canada for Arizona more than 10 years ago — when nobody (with any degree of intelligence whatsoever) could've guessed that people who live in a desert might not dig hockey (especially if their team doesn't win regular-season games, let alone Stanley Cups). When the 'Yotes' owner filed for bankruptcy protection last week, Balsillie offered a win-win proposition: He would buy the club and move it to the richest and most ardent hockey market in the NHL — southern Ontario. There, the team would not only most assuredly pack their arena nightly, but with constant fan support, they might be able to realize the dream of those two words that're music to any league owner's ears.

No, not Stanley Cup. I'm talking financially viable.

See the top 10 sports moments of 2008.

See sports pictures taken by Walter Iooss.

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