I have always viewed myself as a westerner. Even though I have spent the past 17 years living in the east, my B.C. roots and my 12 years in Alberta taught me to think with the time zones in mind.
I can’t help but think hockey fans in the eastern part of the continent are missing something. By the time the news is coming on, most people in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa (and New York for that matter) are setting their alarm clocks for tomorrow morning. They are missing the buzzer at the end of the first or second period for some of the most entertaining games in the NHL.
And they are missing some of the great stars in the league too.
In California alone, there are at least six great players who have electrified hockey fans on the West Coast. The Kings have Anze Kopitar leading the league in scoring (going into Wednesday’s games.) Kopitar has two strikes against him, as far as recognition. Not only do his games start at 10:30 pm ET, but he is from that hockey-hot-bed, Slovenia. His puck sense is sensational, and his knack to be in the right place at the right time has fans in L.A. talking about a comparison to two other Kings scorers, Marcel Dionne and Wayne Gretzky.
On the Kings’ blue line is Drew Doughty, who is actually 19 and plays like he’s 29. His leadership and on-ice composure have many saying that he will have a chance to play for Canada in the Winter Games in Vancouver.
Down Interstate 5, Corey Perry is playing for a Ducks’ team still trying to find itself. But Perry’s play is entertaining, aggressive and very smart. He isn’t afraid to go to the net, with or without the puck. Perry’s play has overshadowed linemates Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan. And as a threesome, they are the Ducks’ offence. Which if you are a fan is very entertaining, but if you are coach Randy Carlyle, it is a frustration because you can’t play the trio for 60 minutes.
In San Jose, the names Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley are well known, even to those in the east. That’s probably because Joe and Dany had great success for teams in Boston and Ottawa, respectively. But I do suspect that many east of the Mississippi have never stayed up late to watch the boys work their magic in the Shark Tank. They just might be the best one-two punch in hockey since Brett Hull and Adam Oates. Thornton to Heatley has become lethal, and after a slow start the duo has the Sharks at the top of the conference standings, where they belong.
In Calgary, Jarome Iginla has to be my early-season Hart Trophy nominee because of his recent play. A hat-trick in L.A. and both goals in Anaheim left me absolutely in awe of the Flames captains’ athletic ability and his will to win. Against the Ducks, it felt like he never the left the ice in the third period, and that he willed his team to come-from-behind to force a tie (only to lose in a shootout).
I could probably go on and on here because players like Roberto Luongo, Dustin Penner and Mikka Kipprusoff have been great for their teams with great notice locally, but little acknowledgement from the hockey world on the other side of the continent. Even team success, like that of the Avalanche, only gets noticed when most people check out the standings the next day, and they wonder in amazement how Colorado can do anything right without Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg! Just remember the names Craig Anderson, Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly.
So, if you live in the west, know how lucky you really are to be watching these players all the time.
And if you live in the east, check your TV schedule, take an afternoon nap, and stay up late one night.
Enjoy some of the games’ great names live, and enjoy the whole league.