Where, oh where, has the NHL gone?

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You know, I love Hockey! Also, I miss not having the NHL season in full bloom. When I was kid, there were only six teams in the NHL. There were 4 American and 2 Canadian teams.

Boston, New York, Detroit, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto made up the league. It was easy to see who the best was.  In Boston, we had a saying if you read the papers upside down; our Bruins were in 1st Place.

The league was comprised of all Canadian Players.  This was easy to understand since at the time only Massachusetts, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and the two Dakotas even fielded college teams.  For the most part, the states were playing for the pure enjoyment and fun of it.

Whereas in Canada, when the temperature hovered around freezing, wherever there was a frozen patch you would see both kids and adults skating and pushing the puck up and down makeshift fields of play.

Every frozen patch was utilized.  It made no difference whether it was a slippery street, a backyard, or an open field.  If there was ice, you were sure to find a game of Hockey. It seemed that every able-bodied boy, or man participated.

So much so that the impression was formed and is still held by many today that Hockey is the national sport of Canada.  THIS IS FALSE!

The true National Sport is Lacrosse.  This game was believed to be founded around 1100 AD and it played a significant role in community and religious life of Canadian Tribes across the American Continent for a great many years.  It was well documented by Jesuit Priests Aboriginal Indians made up the opposing teams.

I do not have enough space to tell you all about the game, but let it suffice to say that today it is played on a field that is 110 yds long and 60 yds wide.  There are 10 men on each team.

Enough about Lacrosse! This column is NHL games, or the lack of them thereof. Like so many things both in business and politics there seems to be a stalemate. Daily games are being cancelled puting the NHL at the edge of their own fiscal cliff.

The NHL was untouchable until a pixie-like Californian Dennis Mitchell and Volleyball great Mike O'Hara conceived the idea of the World Hockey Association. For 7 years, 1971- 1978, some 26 teams comprised the WHA.  The league made radical changes and introduced a wide-open brand of hockey.

Many NHL greats were lured from the NHL.  Among them was Gordie Howe of Detroit and Bobby Hull of Chicago. Hull, as a matter of fact, received he first ever Million Dollar Contract in Hockey to leave Chicago. The WHA was a combination of present-day (at that time) Hockey Greats and a spawning ground of future NHL stars like Wayne Gretsky and mark Messier. In fact, before he retired from the NHL, Wayne had broken all of his idol Gordie Howe's scoring records and many others

In 1979, 6 remaining WHA teams merged with the NHL.  Later, other expansion teams would be added. I loved the wide-open brand of WHA Hockey.  However, in 1971 I had a problem.  Although the Kings of the NHL employed me, I was also on KFI radio as part of a successful irreverent sports duo, the first of its kind in LA, called Art & Stan, the average Fans.

Stan was the late Stanley Ralph Ross who wrote the Batman series as well as the ABC Wide World of Sports Theme.  I was Art using my AFTRA name of Art Sheldon. Stan would praise the LA Sharks of the WHA.  

Although I remained quiet and said nothing derogatory On Air about the Kings, my boss, the owner of the Kings Jack Kent Cooke, called me into his office and informed me he had heard the show and that the fellow named Art sounded strongly like me. He hoped Art wouldn't be on the radio any longer.

Although top -rated in our time slot, that was the end of Art & Stan. Alas, I was not going to bite the hand that fed me.

I hope the League and the players by continuing this impasse are not biting the fans' hands that have been feeing them.  It would be a shame.  It took a long time for the NHL to get a National foothold.  It can take a short time for them to lose it.  Today's fan has multiple choices for their entertainment dollar.



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Sports Scrapbook
Shelly Saltman has been in the sports world as an executive, TV producer, broadcaster and event creator for more than 50 years. Among his credentials are his work with Muhammad Ali and Evel Knievel, the numerous network TV shows he produced and created, NBA/NHL management roles, co-creator of the Amgen Tour of California and as the first president of Fox Sports. He lives in Ventura County.