A Friend of the Hockey Court

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Mark Mainz / Getty

Kevin Smith

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Now the whole of Canada — the birthplace of hockey — patiently waits to see if they'll finally be able to Make It Seven (teams up north), and Winnipeg crosses its frozen fingers in the hopes that their prodigal sons are finally coming home. And smack-dab in the midst of all this is, as always, Wayne Gretzky.

Coach and part owner of the 'Yotes, hockey's messiah has made it clear that he'll live and die by Phoenix. But for those who've been lifelong followers of the soaring saga of No. 99 — the boy-king whose almost supernatural insight into the game and how it was played changed hockey forever and permanently ensconced the always humble pride of Brantford as the game's Luke Skywalker and Jesus Christ — this potential move would represent a welcome twist and fitting conclusion to the Gretzky narrative. (See pictures of shoes worn by Olympic athletes.)

If Balsillie's allowed to buy the Coyotes and move them to, say, Hamilton, Ontario, the stage would be set for the most poetic and epic Act III that's ever been written: decades after Oilers owner Peter Pocklington sold a country's pride and legacy to a U.S. team, Wayne Gretzky — Canada's living national treasure, whose face will undoubtedly grace currency one day — could be returned to the province of his birth, where a rabid fan base would perpetually pack his team's stadium and the resulting furor would inspire new passion for the game ... and maybe bring home a Stanley Cup (Gretzky's fifth).

Think of all those images you've ever seen of the toddler Wayne Gretzky learning to wield a stick on his backyard rink in southern Ontario. Now think of that little boy growing up to become a legend, the best the game has ever seen. Now think of that legend coaching a Canadian team to the ultimate victory, lifting another Cup over his head 30 years after his first win. While his father looks on. Less than a half an hour from where Baby Wayne was born. If that story doesn't choke you up at least a little, then you're not human; or worse, not Canadian.

How does one spur a nonfan's interest? Very easily: bring them to a game. But if you're having trouble getting them there, try these selling points:

• You get to watch 60 minutes of the most in-shape athletes on the planet rocketing across the surface of a giant diamond.
• People literally walk on water! Last guy to popularize water-walking got a religion built around him. That guy was Rocket Richard; the religion is the Montreal Canadiens.
• It's safely homoerotic for the hetero man: dudes in this game touch and rub up against each other constantly and straight guys scream for more. Woof! • The humility inherent in the sport: they make themselves more available to the press than any other athletes and always talk about "Getting it done" with "heart" and "team effort" and "character."
• Whole wordless epics unfold with every shift, as we wait to see how X will retaliate for Y's behavior in the last period.
• At any moment, someone might try to punch someone else in the face. I know that's not the sentiment the NHL wants to promote, but it's a big part of the equation. You can't get it in baseball, basketball or football, and yet that's rarely trumpeted in the marketing. Hockey is a graceful but aggressive game that can elevate to and just as quickly retreat from physical hostilities at the drop of a puck. That's exciting to watch because it's passionate. You're watching the opposite of paycheck playing: that's playing with heart. And yet they're all the nicest and most polite/least in-trouble athletes of the sports community.
• Heroes! Villains! Costumes! Masks! Fights! It's like a comic book come to life!
• It's Canadian! Everything from Canada is good!

See the top 10 fringe competitions.

See pictures of Olympic athletes' tattoos.

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