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March 7, 2003

by Bill Hogan


If you've ever spent any time watching Nickelodeon then you've probably heard some member of the RocketPower gang bemoan "that stinks on ice". For instance, when the skateboard park is closed for repairs, "that stinks on ice". And when I'm stuck watching a SpongeBob Squarepants marathon instead of the Kentucky-Florida basketball game, "that stinks on ice".


Well it "stinks on ice" that the biggest story of the NHL season is the revelation that hockey star Sergei Fedorov was married to – then divorced from - Anna Kournikova. An incident that should have been relegated to gossip tabloids became the sports media's headliner this past week.

"Aliens Bring Elvis Back for Graceland Reunion." "Michael Jackson Insists He Has Evidence of Peter Pan's Existence." "Sergei and Anna Were Married After all!" All tabloid fodder.

I don't watch much hockey anymore; I don't know why. But apparently I'm not alone. This year, words like contraction and bankruptcy are as commonplace in an NHL storyline as hat trick and slap shot. And I don't hear too many "expert" opinions as to why it is that the sport's popularity is waning or what can be done to reverse the trend.

I'm not sure that Anna K's love life is enough to bring prosperity back to the beleaguered league, though you could argue that it certainly can't hurt and I would agree. Then again, in a recent ESPN poll, Anna K. was supplanted as the sexiest woman in sports by a softball pitcher from Arizona.

Jennie Finch – a three-time All-America and member of the 2002 World Championship USA Softball Team – trounced Anna in the polls by a 2-1 margin. The last time Anna was beaten that badly was the second round of the Australian Open back in January.

I'm sure that as far as the NHL is concerned, any publicity is good publicity. The NHL is in the midst of a severe identity crisis – to go along with their financial woes – and is in need of a good P.R. firm.

It's not good for business when the most recognizable figure in hockey hasn't picked up a stick in four years. And worse still when there are "fans" out there that haven't yet realized Wayne Gretzky is retired.

That is an easy mistake given the fact that he's the only hockey player I can recall seeing in a television commercial. It's no wonder Sergei and Anna make headlines; at least we are familiar with one half of the couple.

These guys have to get off the ice and in front of the camera more. And it wouldn't hurt if they used a few more vowels in their names. This isn't Wheel of Fortune, it doesn't cost anything to throw in a much needed 'a' or 'e' now and then. Among the league's leading scorers this season are Hejduk, Zhamnov and Tkachuk. Forget about correct pronunciation.

Hockey is a great sport. It's fast-paced, hard-hitting and exciting to watch. Too bad it's rapidly becoming the best-kept secret in American sports. I'm not even sure what sports channels carry the NHL.

Did you know there was an NHL team in Columbus, Ohio? How about Nashville or Tampa Bay? If I told you the Blue Jackets beat the Lightening wouldn't you automatically think Arena Football?

Whose job is it to promote these guys? The washed-up misfits on I'm A Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here! are more recognizable than Markus Naslund (and he leads the league in goals).

It can't be that difficult to get Marian Hossa the center square on a game show for a week. Or arrange a guest appearance for Marian Gaborik on Everybody Loves Raymond. (Who would have thought you'd have two guys named Marian playing a sport as tough as hockey.)

The television is overloaded with reality-based shows, there has to be a place for Jere Lehtinen and Zigmund Palffy. Maybe they can mud-wrestle for the right to marry the Bachelorette after her inevitable prime-time, made-for-tv break-up (tentatively scheduled for sometime during sweeps week); or sit along side Simon as guest judges on The American Idol.

On February 10, Brett Hull became one of only six players in the history of the NHL to score 700 goals. A milestone that is every bit as impressive as hitting 600 home runs or collecting 4,000 hits. The Fedorov-Kournikova marriage-divorce received more air-time than Hull's great accomplishment. Or at least it seems that way.

And "that stinks on ice".


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