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TELANDER: NHL has no fears about leaving fans on ice

The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup seasmade fans forget about lost one few years earlier NHL knows it can happen again. |

The Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup season made fans forget about a lost one a few years earlier, and the NHL knows it can happen again. | Al Podgorski~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 5, 2012 6:26AM



Because of the lockout, the NHL has canceled the important Winter Classic, the annual hoopla-laden, viewer-intense game on New Year’s Day that almost had become a tradition. (Alas, a tradition can’t be born when the thing is canceled after five years.)

The Detroit Red Wings were going to play the Toronto Maple Leafs in the University of Michigan’s ‘‘Big House’’ stadium in front of 100,000 excited, mitten-wearing, possibly hung-over fans. Barcalounge-ing humans in dens and living rooms around the United States and Canada also would tune in.

But nope. NHL owners aren’t budging on their giveback demands on the players. Hundreds of regular-season games already had disappeared. Now this.

And here, I believe, is the reason: The NHL went through a lockout in 2004-05 that erased that season. There was concern from hockey enthusiasts and sports analysts alike that the missed season might demote hockey to the status of knock-hockey, if not kill it dead. How could fans be insulted so openly? How could potential fans not drift off to other sports? How could pro hockey commit suicide?

Guess what. It didn’t happen. The NHL is — was — more popular than ever.

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 after almost a half-century drought, and that raised all NHL boats. Dallas, Tampa Bay and Carolina can win crowns — as they did in 1999, 2004 and 2006 — and it means nothing. When a REAL hockey city like Chicago wins the Cup, it’s a big deal for the league.

Net result? The owners — and, to a much lesser extent, the players — have no fear. They know fans are suckers. They know fans’ desire to be entertained is boundless. They know when this money dispute is settled — even if it’s two seasons from now, a decade — the fans will be back, bigger than ever. Doesn’t matter what angry bloggers and tweeters say. They’re young, clueless, uninformed.

Human nature is what it is. Wait and see. The Winter Classic will rise again. And we’ll call it a tradition.

Guaranteed.

YOU PROBABLY HEARD about those guys down in Deerfield Beach, Fla., who got busted for setting point spreads and gambling on youth games. Youth games. Like, you know, kids.

Nine men were arrested in the sting, including several coaches and the president of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, which, according to news reports, was one of the most successful youth teams in the 22-club program.

There are, reports state, about 6,000 players in the organization, from little kids to teenagers.

So think of the learning experience for those boys, some of whom’s own parents — seen on surveillance videos exchanging money on bets while in the stands — were part of the deal. Point spreads, tanking, piling on, cheap shots, plain old cheating. The American way to success.

Nor was this nickel-and-dime foolishness. According to the affidavit, more than $100,000 was bet on the pee-wee championship game.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that criminals were involved. By that, I mean the coaches. A half-dozen of them had long rap sheets. The big-shot Hurricanes president had been convicted of cocaine possession, grand theft auto and marijuana possession with intent to sell. Pop Warner and his disciples!

We got the message about pedophile coaches with the Jerry Sandusky mess. Has anybody in South Florida ever heard of background checks for coaches? For everything?

THE BULLS ARE 2-0 after spanking the Cleveland Cavaliers on the road 115-86 on Friday night. I predict, at this rate, they will go 82-0.

Should they briefly falter, however, people should remember that All-Star guard Derrick Rose won’t be in the lineup for months. They also should remember the way that fervent coach Tom Thibodeau preaches — and demands — defense and rebounding and hustle before anything else. Ask the new man, shooter Marco Belinelli, how much fun Thibs’ regimen is. The poor guy actually has to stop players on defense before he gets to fire it at the other end.

Holding the Cavs to 86 points is much harder than scoring 115 points, if less exciting. But Thibodeau is a madman about defense. That’s why Bulls president John Paxson brought him in from the bench with the Celtics, where Thibodeau had become something of a defensive legend.

Another thing about the Bulls: The reigning champion Miami Heat is incredibly gifted, but it can struggle against big teams that play hard and block the lane. That’s Joakim Noah and Nazr Mohammed and Taj Gibson. That’s the Bulls’ advantage. That and Rose, when he comes back.

But the advantage is also Rip Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich, Carlos Boozer (as mediocre as he is on defense), Luol Deng, Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and all the others. As Boozer said, ‘‘It will have to be a team thing — somebody different stepping up every night.’’

That’s something LeBron James and Dwyane Wade can’t say.



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