Friday, July 17, 2009

New Schedule Previews: Part One - NHL

This is part one of a three-part column detailing the key games in the 2009 NFL, NHL, and College Football schedules. I'll start in the NHL.

After the 2008-2009 season, which ended with the arguably the most exciting postseason in NHL history, the league may be making a comeback. In honor of what I sincerely hope is a schedule that will result in much more respect for the game I have fallen in love with here in Pittsburgh, here are the top five stories of the 2009 NHL regular season.

5. The Defense Begins: New York Rangers at Pittsburgh Penguins (October 2, 2009)

The defending champs raise the franchise's third Stanley Cup Champion banner to Mellon Arena's rafters when they host the new-look Rangers to open the season. This will be the last opener played at the 49-year-old Igloo, as the Pens will move just down the street to the Consol Energy Center (cool nickname undetermined; my favorite so far is The Fusebox). The Rangers, fresh off their acquisition of often-injured star Marian Gaborik, once again hope to be anything but disappointing. At least their jersey's are sweet.

4. Marian Hossa Returns (II): Chicago Blackhawks at Pittsburgh (December 5), Chicago at Detroit Red Wings (October 8)

Once again, Marian Hossa will return to Pittsburgh as a member of another team, but this time, it won't be the team who's roster is similar to the Soviet teams of decade's past. Think Marian won't get the Jaromir Jagr-booed-every-time-he-touches-the-puck-treatment? Think again. But before he returns to face Crosby and Malkin, he has to play in Detroit, the team he most recently abandoned for another city. I really don't have anything against the guy (seriously), but can't wait to hear what kind of...umm...ovation he gets at the Joe. Chicago, prepare for twelve years of "Bridesmaid" status.

3. More Hockey! February 14, 2010

This is the last day before a 16-day layoff for the Olympics in Vancouver. With all the great talent in the NHL today, this Olympic tournament should be one of the best in recent memory. Canada will obviously be the favorite, but look out for Russia, led by Alexander Ovechkin (Washington) and Evgeni Nabokov (San Jose), and defending gold-medalist Sweden. Team USA's chances of winning gold? 20-to-1 would be my guess. What's the best result of the layoff? The NHL playoffs will run into late June, which will give us Pittsburgh'ers more time to forget we have a baseball team.

2. Another rematch? Detroit/Pittsburgh (at Pittsburgh: January 31, at Detroit: March 22)

The two best teams in hockey (clearly) for the past two years will play a home-and-home in 2010, and it's not a coincidence they played for the Cup in 2008 and 2009. Do you need a refresher? Here you go. And here's another. And another. That's all. Seriously. I'm done.

1. Winter Classic: Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins (January 1, 2010)

The NHL cannot lose with the Classic. It has already become a premier New Years Day event and now, with the game at prestigious Fenway Park in Boston, it can only get bigger as the sport continues to dig itself out of the hole it created with the lost season in 2004-05. Nay-sayers complain that Ovechkin and the Capitals weren't chosen for this game, but I don't think it matters. The only thing the NHL needs now is a big-time television deal. Hello, ESPN? Bring back Gary Thorne (and another - he's just pure gold) and Darren Pang to announce the game and I'll love you forever.

Kick back, have a buddy punch you in the jaw to get into the spirit, and enjoy the most exciting game in sports.

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