June 19, 1999. I was sitting in my living room late at night, eyes fixed on the television as I saw one of the longest games in NHL history play out before me. It was the third overtime of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Dallas Stars and the Buffalo Sabres. The announcer had just mentioned that during the intermission between the second and third overtime periods, the Dallas locker room had ordered pizza and hooked IVs to its players to keep them hydrated. These guys were flat-out spent.
Every shot could have been the last, heightening the tension even more. Dallas was one goal away from winning the hardest trophy in all of sports, Lord Stanley's coveted chalice. And then it came 5:09 into the third overtime period when Brett Hull put one past Sabres goaltender, Dominik Hasek. I screamed like a school girl and jumped what must have been nine feet in the air while foaming at the mouth. The Stars won the Stanley Cup and the Sabres cried themselves to sleep. Poor Buffalo, always losing to Dallas when the world's watching (remember the back-to-back-to-back Super Bowls in the early '90s?).
That is not only my fondest memory of NHL hockey, but it's also the one thing Dallas Stars fans will remember Brett Hull for. For those of you who don't know, the third leading goal scorer of all time retired two weeks ago and will be sorely missed. Brett Hull's illustrious career was highlighted by a big mouth and even bigger numbers to back it up (try 741 goals, 650 assists). His retirement highlights something completely different.
In a league where blockbuster trades are usually made at the deadline to bolster legitimate contenders' rosters with veterans, those veterans are now having to work harder than ever to earn their keep.
With last year's lockout and the new rule changes in place, we've seen many veterans go on to retirement. I think it's clear to say that some of these guys could have still played, just not with the new rules intended to bolster ratings. The new rules have made the game much more open and offense-happy, instead of the grind-it-out, gritty play we've seen for the past 10-15 years. Because of the new rules and the way the rinks are set up, the game suddenly has become a young man's game. The finesse and speed players are flourishing for the most part, while some of the tougher, grittier players have had to try and keep up with the speed of the game.
I've been a rabid hockey fan for the past 14 years and I lost a tad bit of my sanity last season when the NHL's locker rooms were collecting dust. Now that it's back, I'm doing better, but I'm not too sure about all the rule changes. I'm not so old-school to where I'm going to denounce the shootout, I like it.
It's all of these "viewer friendly" rules that have been put in place to try and increase the amount of goals scored that have chipped away at the integrity of the game. I particularly don't like the restrictions they've put on goalies or the network that airs most NHL games (OLN, the closest thing we have to ESPN 8 "The Ocho"). I really miss the old NHL, where players had to bleed for every inch of ice they got. Some things are still the same, though; the Stars still kick butt and the Sabres still suck, along with the Avalanche and every other team in the league. In the end, it's still hockey and I'll still watch.