By Ryan Stieg, AllPuck.com
You’ve probably heard the story by now. An old man with a history of controversy is recorded in the middle of a racist rant. The tape is distributed to media outlets. As it turns out, this old man owns the NBA’s Los Angeles Clippers and the league is in a tough position. A couple of days after the tape is released, the NBA bans the old man for life and begins the process of taking over his franchise.
The first thought when I heard the tape of Donald Sterling’s rant was “I’m not surprised.” My second was to ask how would people react if an NHL owner was the person being taped?
It’s an interesting question. We live in a society where saying anything remotely racially, religiously or sexually biased is a quick way to get yourself in hot water. As soon as that tape was released a firestorm was going to erupt, and the league forced to respond immediately. Some people believe the issue became so big, so fast because the NBA is an African-American-dominated league. They might have a point. The NFL is also heavily black and the MLB is a melting pot of different races.
So what would happen if an NHL owner made such a rant? The exact same thing. Ice hockey has always been, and probably always will be, seen as a white sport. Not every team has a minority player on its active roster. The league has had to deal with racist incidents, like fans tweeting slurs at black players who scored against their team. At least the league has taken a harsh stance against these incidents and several players have taken part in the You Can Play campaign to stop homophobia in sports. My crystal ball says that if the Sterling incident were to occur, the NHL and the players’ union would issue statements condemning what was said on the tape. The league would also begin the process to decide what punishment would be appropriate. A lifetime ban or lengthy suspension would definitely be on the table. If some well-heeled companies started dropping their sponsorships, a ban would be almost a certainty. Would hockey teams stage protests like the Clippers did? I could see that happening, too.
Hopefully this type of incident will never occur, but I would guess that the league will act just like the NBA did: Swiftly and uncompromising so as to create a perfect union between officials and the public.
Speaking of perfect unions, there was no more perfect one than Union College. The Dutchmen notched their first national championship in April, knocking off traditional powerhouses Boston College and Minnesota in the process. I thought Union would give BC a fight in the semifinals, but figured that the Eagles’ star power would be too much. I was way off.
The Dutchmen went up 2-1 in the second period and were up 5-3 in the third before a late BC goal made the game look closer than it was. In the title game, the Dutchmen gave Minnesota 1-0 and 2-1 leads before exploding for three straight to close out the opening period. At one point, Union rattled off five point-blank shots at Golden Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox before lifting it over his shoulder. Minnesota cut the deficit to one goal in the second period, but the outcome was never in doubt. The Dutchmen stayed in control, getting two goals and an empty-netter to notch the title.
Tournament MVP Shayne Gostisbehere put on a show during the weekend, earning a plus-7 rating during the championship game alone. Gostisbehere is also a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, so Flyers fans got a preview of what will be on the roster in the next couple of years. The last four years have been incredible for the Dutchmen, who have zero scholarship players. Union made its first tournament appearance in 2011, its first Frozen Four in 2012, made the Regional Final in 2013 and now, a national title in 2014. It’s clear that the future is bright in Schenectady.
As Journey once sang, some will win and some will lose. Some are going to sing the blues. With the exception of San Jose, no one is singing the blues louder than St. Louis fans. The Blues have gone through as resurgence the last three years, having impressive regular seasons. However, once they got to the playoffs, St. Louis went off the rails. After losing to Los Angeles in 2012 and 2013, the Blues fell to the archrival Blackhawks this season despite winning the first two games at home. St. Louis then was shut out in Game 3, lost in overtime in Games 4 and 5, and then forgot to show up in a Game 6 blowout.
There was lots of finger-pointing. If you had the misfortune of perusing a Blues fan forum, the rational conclusion was that rapture was imminent. Some were saying the whole team needs to be dealt, head coach Ken Hitchcock needs to be canned, David Backes should be stripped of his captaincy. The list went on and on. Calm down. St. Louis is one piece away from winning a title; cleaning house is not the answer.
The big key is to try to re-sign goalie Ryan Miller. Some are putting the blame for the Chicago loss on Miller’s shoulders. Although he wasn’t stellar, he’s still one of the best goalies in the league and frankly, St. Louis doesn’t have a better option in net. Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller is also available this summer. If Miller bolts, he would be a good pick-up. The second is to find a consistent scorer. St. Louis has found success by using a balanced attack. However, it doesn’t have a star player that can carry the load like Chicago or Pittsburgh. If they can find one on the free agent market (options include Thomas Vanek, Paul Stastny and Marian Gaborik), that should be the final piece. It’s been frustrating, but St. Louis will be hoisting a Cup soon.
I’ll end my column with some second round predictions. In the West, Chicago will be too much for Minnesota’s goaltending carousel to handle and the Blackhawks will win in 5. Anaheim and Los Angeles will have a hard-fought battle with Jonathan Quick stealing a couple of wins for the Kings, but the Ducks have a better attack and will win in 7. Looking to the East, New York has one of the best goalies in Henrik Lundqvist, but Pittsburgh has the best one-two punch in the league and the Pens will outgun the Rangers in six games. Finally, Boston and Montreal will have an intense series full of hard hits and questionable plays. However, the Bruins are just a better team and will beat Habs goalie Carey Price late in the third period of the seventh game to move on to the Eastern Finals for the second year in a row.