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JOEL STEIN

Land of puck schmucks

Anaheim's Ducks win the Stanley Cup, and the Southland yawns.

June 08, 2007|JOEL STEIN

SERIOUSLY, NOT even now? You can't even summon the decency to jump on the Ducks bandwagon now? Or whatever lame version of a bandwagon it is when, instead of a parade for winning the Stanley Cup, the celebration consists of hanging out in the Honda Center parking lot at 6:30 on Saturday and waiting for free Wienerschnitzel hot dogs, Pepsi and Aramark barbecue potato chips. That's not a celebration. That's Day 3 for Katrina victims.

Hollywood Boulevard should be covered in ice. Emilio Estevez should be permitted to make another movie. Small children in little No. 25 sweaters should be hitting each other with sticks. You should be getting that joke.

Hours after the Ducks became California's first Stanley Cup winners, when the L.A. Times briefly filled its website with a huge, unavoidable banner headline, the article was only the No. 2 most-viewed story, after one about Caltrans shutting down part of California 138 for roadwork. Jiggy stopped an Antoine Vermette penalty shot, and yet you're more surprised by traffic in Los Angeles? I can't believe the game wasn't preempted for breaking news of a Lindsay Lohan speeding violation. By Thursday, the Ducks were off the most-viewed list entirely. Do they have to become the Los Angeles Ducks of Anaheim to get your attention?

L.A., I hate your brainless refusal to give hockey a chance, despite all it's given you. At the beginning of the season, when the Ducks were already favorites to win, The Times planned to save money by not sending reporters to cover hockey "away" games. I would find this even more infuriating if The Times weren't also considering saving money by not sending reporters to the office.

Sure, my love of hockey -- which admittedly started when I was a wimpy, nerdy kid who didn't relate to any sports because I couldn't play them and longed to seem different -- is a little pathological. So is wasting space in a paper writing about hockey. In fact, because Op-Ed columns and hockey are both dying mediums, I'd probably be more effective making a daguerreotype about bocce.

And it's not just L.A. The whole country is bafflingly uninterested in hockey. Only nine of the cities that have NHL teams bothered sending reporters to Anaheim for the finals; the New York Times only sent someone to Game 1. News conferences were held over the phone. Monday night's game was tied for the lowest-rated TV show in the history of NBC, the network that brought us "Manimal." Earlier playoff rounds were on a channel called Versus, which is so irrelevant it isn't even owned by ESPN. An overtime playoff game on NBC was ditched in favor of a Preakness pre-race show -- which was just live coverage of a petting zoo. Hockey is the only thing Jerry Bruckheimer is involved in that America doesn't watch.

I've tried explaining the beauty of the sport to too many people, too many times. These are normal-size guys playing a contact sport while also ice skating, spinning beautiful ballet while beating the crap out of each other. Imagine how awesome "The Nutcracker" would be if they actually did what the title promised.

But for the same reasons Americans can't follow soccer, you shun hockey. You can't comprehend that far more exciting than scoring is the possibility of scoring. It's the tension of hope extended, uninterrupted by huddles and time-outs. But apparently appreciating the moments in between is too much to ask of you. Is it surprising that our first response to a situation is to go to war given that we prefer sports where pituitary cases pile up scores like 110-109? If LeBron James gets any better, Iran is in serious trouble.

Sure, hockey is a little white, but you know what? Those are my people. Actually my people are the Jews, but I'm not going to fly to Boca for the national mah-jongg championships. I like country music, hockey, Tolkien, cycling, crisp white wines and the movie "Ordinary People." Seriously, I need hockey to make me seem less gay.

The Ducks are an amazing team. Vicious checking that somehow never clogs the game. Teemu Selanne's smiling misdirection with the puck in front of the net. The Niedermayer brothers finally on the same side of the ice. If you can't show that you deserve this team next year -- by, say, watching them -- I hope Canadian teams win the cup for the next 20 years. And I hope Canada does something that will actually bother you, like releasing more Celine Dion albums.

And don't make me yell at you again when the Tour de France starts next month. This is Santa Rosa resident Levi Leipheimer's big year.

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jstein@latimescolumnists.com

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