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THN.com Blog: Celebrating NHL diversity

Anze Kopitar of the Kings is greeted by fans as he takes to the ice. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Anze Kopitar of the Kings is greeted by fans as he takes to the ice. (Photo by Noah Graham/NHLI via Getty Images)

Hockey is recognized – and rightly so – as Canada’s gift to the world. Its cold, rough, team-first demeanor, combined with its soft off-ice character and sense of mutual respect among its competitors (see: The Code) are the characteristics of a foreigner’s stereotypical Canadian.

But there’s no doubt it’s an international game now. Players come from everywhere – Scandinavia to Siberia, Örnsköldsvik to Ontario – and it is played and loved in all those places.

At international events, European fans get all decked out in their finest nation-color wear, wave flags, bang drums and chant songs in support of their fellow countrymen on the ice. It’s like no atmosphere you’ll ever experience in an NHL game.

That’s part of what makes the game so great. Different and distinct fan bases are what fuel rivalries. Heck, the whole Toronto-Montreal rivalry revolves around the fact that in the early days one side represented French Canada and the other English Canada.

You don’t want everyone born from the same mold. The famous 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the U.S.S.R. was so heated because neither side knew nor understood the other and they represented opposing political alignments.

While some markets aren’t booming with success, it’s fun to have different teams in different markets to draw all sorts of people into the fray who will hopefully, one day when their team is frequently competitive, form a new rivalry with another, distant fan base.

The way we have it now, you see a variety of characters involved in any given game. Such as...

In the front row, behind the coach: in Toronto, a guy in an Armani suit distracted from game action, typing business matters to an associate on his BlackBerry, brandishing his ‘bling bling’ – a gold Rolex watch...

In Nashville, a lady in a green sweater smiling and laughing with her friends and/or family, enjoying the action of the game in front of them and amazed they are so close to the players on the bench, brandishing her ‘bling bling’ – a heavy-duty gold cross necklace...

In Miami, someone at a game actually has a tan and is wearing sunglasses and a black leather Ferrari jacket, hair greased back with what, for all I know, could be Brylcreem. This fella’s ‘bling bling’ is the gold earring he has in one ear.

Intermission television coverage: in Toronto, it’s either a number of hockey “insiders” talking about news from around the league, how the NHL should handle head shots or what the hot trade rumors are. Or it’s one guy in a high-collared suit preaching about the good old hockey game…

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In Los Angeles, it’s a very camera-friendly and Hollywood Heidi Androl giving you behind-the-scenes looks at the Kings dressing room, the Kings broadcast booth and perhaps the odd player profile.

In Nashville, it’s good game analysis and great style. Where else in the NHL will the two broadcasters breaking down the last period’s action be wearing cowboy hats and sequined shirts with musical notes on them? You gotta love that.

These are just a few of the many observations made early this season. Agree? Disagree? Maybe you’ve seen some of your own you’d like to share. You can sit there and argue all day about who belongs and who doesn’t belong among the NHL brethren and do your best to take a situation you can’t do anything about and get someone you’ll never meet angry at you, or you can just accept the differences around the league and realize it’s part of what hockey’s all about and helps rivalries grow.

SHIFT OF THE WEEK
Instead of taking one particular play and deeming it the best of the past seven days, I want to award the best shift of the past seven days to St. Louis Blues defenseman Jay McKee.

Last Tuesday against Nashville, the Blues were shorthanded in overtime. With a potential Norris candidate at the point, the Preds kept passing the puck back to Shea Weber, who teed ’em up and let ’em fly. McKee, though, not afraid of any injury, kept standing tall in front of every one.

Weber…shot, blocked by McKee! Weber…shot, blocked by McKee! It must have happened four or five times.

Then, to top it all off, the puck came down low to J-P Dumont who had net to shoot at, but McKee dove at the last second to knock the puck off Dumont’s stick and the Blues managed to clear the zone.

The Blues went on to win in a shootout.

Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and his feature, A Scout's Life, appears Thursdays.

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