It’s 80 degrees again today so

let’s talk hockey.

I know. Most of the U.S. is either basking in the return of baseball or watching NBA playoffs. But hockey season ain’t over (that’s a topic for another day) and there’s a couple items that have been on my mind.

First, of course, is to wish the Stampede good luck in the USHL frozen four this weekend. I think the new playoff format (a 7-game series against one time, a round robin of one game each against two other teams and then a single elimination final four) stinks but the Stampede have been playing great when it’s most important.

This year’s playoffs proved a theory I have been somewhat dubious about for years — that a fight can have more than a temporary role in hockey momentum. Early in the second period of the first game of the playoff series against the Lincoln Stars, the Stampede was down 2-1. Defenseman Stu Bickel took objection to some post-whistle blows delivered to forward David Solway. Bickel manhandled two, if not three, Stars to come to Solway’s defense and ended up dropping the gloves with one of Lincoln’s big defensemen. Bickel clearly dominated and you could see the attitude of both team s change. The Stampede tied the game 24 seconds later and outscored Lincoln, a perennial powerhouse, 17-1 through the end of game three and swept the series. There is no doubt in my mind that no matter my or anyone’s views on fighting in hockey, that was the turning point of the entire series.

Moving to the professional level, I want to give kudos to the Midcontinent cable system. Following the lockout, the NHL moved its television package to Versus (formerly the Outdoor Life Network). Although the system carried Versus before the NHL went there, now that this year’s conference finals have started, Midcontinent has added Versus to its package of high def channels so we can actually see the occasional Versus HD broadcasts in high def. This comes after adding a high def channel at the beginning of the playoffs for the NHL Center Ice package, which carries virtually all the NHL games. While I don’t have Center Ice now, I will next season.

There’s been reports from around the country about various cable systems cutting away from overtime in NHL playoff games or pre-empting the games and running infomercials. Midcontinent deserves a ton of credit for realizing there are hockey fans amongst its subscribers. Now I only hope the changes stay in place for next season.

You miss 100% of the shots you never take.

Wayne Gretzky

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