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HOCKY DAILY REPORT / AROUND THE LEAGUE

NHL Has Not Lost Its Yen for Opening Season in Japan

October 12, 1998|From Associated Press

The NHL has heard all the complaints: the jet lag, the costs, the attendance and the ice.

Still, the league insists that bringing teams to Japan to start the season is a good idea--although maybe not next year.

The NHL was back in Japan over the weekend with two games between the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks at Tokyo's Yoyogi Gymnasium, a venue left over from the 1964 Summer Olympics.

Saturday's game finished in a 3-3 tie, and was played before a spirited but disappointing crowd of 8,400, well under the 10,000-seat capacity.

Sunday's 5-3 victory for Calgary featured the first NHL hat trick in Japan. Flames' star Theoren Fleury put in three goals and assisted on the other two, but only 7,100 saw it.

The drop in attendance follows sellout crowds for last season's NHL Japanese openers between Vancouver and Anaheim.

Players and coaches have complained before each trip that the travel time, jet lag and unfamiliar surroundings are an unwelcome burden.

Whatever the difficulties, league officials say they intend to keep spreading the NHL action around.

"What we are in is the entertainment business," NHL senior vice president Steve Solomon said. "For people around the world to experience it is what we want to do. Our international objectives are very important."

Solomon noted that NHL ice hockey has a very strong international element, with more than 20% of the players coming from outside North America.

But he said that while negotiations for future Japan tours are ongoing, a return next year is unlikely.

"We are still in the discussion stage," he said. "I suspect we will not be back next year. If we come back, what we will be looking at is 2000."

*

A lawyer for Roger Marino, citing a slowdown in ticket sales, has demanded that the city and Allegheny County drop their lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner.

Attorneys for city agencies received a letter Friday from James Weisman, Marino's attorney, saying the lawsuit has alarmed fans and therefore discouraged them from buying tickets for the 1998-99 season.

The suit "has seriously interfered with the significant progress being made to breathe new life into the Pittsburgh Penguins," the letter read.

Steve Leeper, executive director of the Public Auditorium Authority, said the lawsuit will proceed.

The Public Auditorium Authority, a city-county agency that owns the Civic Arena, and SMG Pittsburgh Inc., which operates it, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Allegheny County Court, seeking an order to bar any discussions about relocating the team before its lease commitments expire June 30, 2007.

The financially strapped Penguins had signed a contract stipulating they not discuss moving the team until then.

The suit alleged that Las Vegas officials secretly provided Marino with the terms under which they would relocate the Penguins and that Marino has also talked with officials from Houston, Oklahoma City and Kansas City.

*

Colorado Avalanche defenseman Eric Messier broke his left elbow Saturday against the Ottawa Senators and is expected to be out three months.

The team said Sunday that Messier underwent surgery Saturday night.

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