State of hockey

I have friends who claim they read this weekly diatribe faithfully who tell me that as soon as they realize I’m climbing back onto the soap box to tub-thump again for the game of hockey they move on to the funny pages because they simply just don’t want to hear about it anymore. Well, they can consider themselves to have been properly warned.

While this is a bitter pill for an old rink rat to endure, there’s no choice but to grin and bear it. Hockey’s irrelevance compared with the hallowed stature that the sanctified troika of high-flying, high-rolling American games enjoy is beyond dispute. Nor does it seem to matter that baseball, basketball and football are all laden with scandal, hypocrisy, and controversy while hockey makes no waves, stirs no indignities, excites no rage in any Congress. By the way, the fact that the NHL, as a corporate entity, is the least competent of the sporting industries has nothing to do with this issue. This is not about business.

The problem extends from the top down. Take the national championship recently won by Jerry York’s elegant hockey team at Boston College. The extraordinary achievement got a “nice” reaction over at BC. There was a little party and many applauded. People were happy about it and doubtless it was a hot topic for a couple of days and a few folks might even have recognized that historically -- and especially under Coach York -- this program has been as strong and clean and classy as any program in all of American intercollegiate sport.

Fine! But how might that compare with the reaction on the BC campus that would detonate if the football team ever won the national crown in the bloated BCS thing or the basketball program should one day achieve redemption with an NCAA title after 40 years of bringing so much shame and disgrace to the university. You darn well know the answer to that.

Hockey’s marketing and promotional problems are mystifying. It’s the only game under the sun -- save perhaps for roller derby and wrestling -- that has actually lost clout in the culture over the course of the great sporting boom of the last half-century. Labor problems abetted by incompetent leadership climaxing in the idiotic job action that cost the NHL an entire season was the single biggest blow any game endured in that stretch. But the eclipse was well advanced long before that fiasco. Moreover, the issue runs much deeper than the demeaning feuds over mere money that have soiled every professional league.

One factor that is little noted but seems to be growing in importance is the widespread perception that it is simply not an American game. That’s odd in that back when hockey was fully acknowledged as one of the “Four Majors” there were only a couple of American kids in the entire league and there was at least a season or two, when the stellar Bruins goalie Frankie Brimsek was the only one.

Whereas today’s NHL is truly an international lodge with representatives from a dozen or more nations and as a high a degree of American participation as there has ever been. And yet the American public identifies less with the game and its performers now than it ever has. How do you figure? My sense is that that the great mass of American sports-lovers -- the massive numbers of the masses who beef up the TV ratings, and dominate the conversation, and buy all the products, and drive all the media coverage -- are utterly indifferent to a game’s international stature. In fact such sophistication is more likely to turn them off; a significant majority being, doubtless, xenophobic. They could accept Canadians who are, after all, ‘‘just like us.’’ But Swedes and Slovaks are another matter.

Runaway expansion -- poorly conceived and badly implemented -- was ruinous. Hockey was always a regional game; confined to areas where it had been played, watched, followed, and understood at all levels, from pre-school through post-college. To scatter franchises throughout the Sunbelt in towns that had never had a rink except for roller-skaters in exchange for a quick expansion-fee windfall was pathetically shortsighted. There have been stray successes. Dallas is the best example. And when a given team gets hot for a spell there will be a modest spike in the interest. Anaheim, San Jose and Tampa have demonstrated that. But none of these teams will enjoy the consistent long-term support that strong franchises must have, through thick and thin. The Chicago Blackhawks have won one Cup in the last 72 years. Do you think the ‘‘fans’’ in Nashville, Atlanta and Phoenix would tolerate that?

The ideal NHL in my opinion would have 24 teams. Eight of them would be Canadian -- the present gang of six (Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver) plus Quebec and Hamilton, to be created from disbanded franchises. Eight would be from the Northeast -- Boston, New York, Buffalo, Long Island, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. And eight would be from points west -- Detroit, Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis, Dallas, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Jose. There’d be exceeding reluctance to hang onto those two California franchises because this winter game doesn’t belong in La La Land. But some geographic balance is needed and it would be tough to purge the Kings after 40 years. Gone would be the five franchises from the old Confederacy, plus one of the California group, plus the deadwood franchises of Phoenix and Columbus.

With a 24-team league, you could have two 12-team conferences each having two, six-team divisions. There would be two Canadian franchises in each division and all four divisions would be constructed along tight geographical lines encouraging intense regional rivalries while reducing travel for most teams which would allow for tighter scheduling and the addition of a half dozen games to the regular season schedule. Such a construction would evoke memories of the “Original Six” with four teams from each division qualifying for the playoffs. The schedule would remain imbalanced and yet would be more logical. In the case of the Bruins, they would meet their division opponents eight times, the six teams in the other division of the eastern conference four times and the 12 teams in the western conference twice.

Much would be accomplished by such sweeping reform. It would restore symmetry to the league. It would be a structure that would make sense and have regional integrity. It would emphasize natural rivalries and allow them to grow. It would guarantee that all teams meet at least twice every season. Familiarity with opponents at both the division and conference levels would increase. Most of all it would return the league’s focus to where it belongs in the cold weather towns of the northeast, upper Midwest, and Canada where there is a tradition for the sport and a feel for its dynamics.

It’s a pipe dream of course. The problems in accomplishing such a sensible de-construction would be insurmountable. Lawsuits would proliferate. The players union would go ballistic. Owners would whine. It would be a mess. The present chaotic arrangement, therefore, will persist guaranteeing that hockey will yet achieve even greater irrelevance.

It’s a bloody shame. At the moment there is a scorching elimination tournament proceeding and the semi-final round matching the artistic young Penguins and the guttersnipe Flyers is about as good as it gets. Talk of your old-time hockey! If it is skill, courage, danger, valor, brawn, violence, class, passion, grit, and sheer desire that you admire as ingredients in the making of a sporting classic this Penguin-Flyer donnybrook is for you.

With luck the final round for Lord Stanley’s Cup will match the Detroit Red Wings against the Pittsburgh Penguins and that will be as smashing a match-up between two superior teams and two great hockey towns as we have had in a long time.

It’s such a pity that so few care much, nor are even aware.

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...

Cardinal Marx says mistakes were made, calls for change in German church

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, head of the German bishops' conference, admitted that mistakes were made in the German church's handling of sex abuse of minors ...

Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, ...

Pope names Minnesota priest as auxiliary bishop of Hartford

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pope Francis has appointed Father Juan M. Betancourt, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, as auxiliary bishop ...

Listening church: Pope gives new vision for Synod of Bishops

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Synod of Bishops increasingly should be a structure for listening to the Catholic faithful, demonstrating a local bishop's concern ...

Director of Courage releases letter on Penn. abuse report

Washington D.C., Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Courage International, an apostolate to support people with same sex-attraction in leading chaste lives, has issued ...

Richmond bishop apologizes to victims; commits to opening, reviewing files

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond's first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized ...

Advocates decry historically low cap for refugee entry in 2019

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Advocates for refugee admissions into the United States decried what one statement called a historically low cap of 30,000 for fiscal ...

Stanford University to remove saint's name from some properties

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- California's Stanford University will strip the name of 18th-century Franciscan friar, St. Junipero Serra, from some of its properties ...

Catholic Charities distributes disaster relief to areas hit by Florence

RALEIGH, N.C. (CNS) -- The Carolinas were hard hit with record rainfall and flooding rivers from tropical storm Florence since it made landfall Sept. ...

Archbishop Lori assures diocese he's with them in journey toward healing

WHEELING, W.Va. (CNS) -- In his celebration of Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Wheeling Sept. 15, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore said ...

Bishop takes a (sky) dive to get pilgrims to Lourdes

HOVE, England (CNS) -- "The Moth has landed," tweeted the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton. The tweet Sept. 14 and a similar post on the diocesan Facebook ...

Words, promises are not enough to prevent abuse, archbishop says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Inviting presidents of the world's bishops' conference to the Vatican to discuss abuse prevention reflects an understanding that ...

Pope praises Capuchin order's charism of authenticity, simplicity

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Capuchins are called to be men of peace, reconciliation and prayer and to be close to all people, Pope Francis told members of the ...

Path to healing starts with seeking forgiveness, Cardinal Wuerl says

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A "Season of Healing" for sexual abuse survivors began in the Archdiocese of Washington with a Sept. 14 Mass at the Cathedral of St. ...

Archbishop McCarrick's unofficial role in Vatican-China relations

Vatican City, Sep 17, 2018 CNA.- Following reports that the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China could be about to sign an agreement ...

Archbishop Chaput: When we forget faith, we forget our humanity

Spokane, Wash., Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- When man tries to cling to reason and separate himself from faith, he forgets who he is and loses his source of hope, ...

Pope Francis warns priests against living a double life

Palermo, Italy, Sep 15, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- During a day trip to Sicily Saturday, Pope Francis told priests and religious to fight their vices and strive ...

What is the pontifical secret?

Vatican City, Sep 14, 2018 CNA.- Following the allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò about the case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, ...

Catholic workers say U.S. aid cuts to Palestinians could be disastrous

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- The U.S. budgetary cuts to humanitarian aid institutions helping Palestinians could lead to long-term disastrous consequences, said ...