Yesterday, Wes Goldstein authored a piece at Sportsline.com titled, "Top 50 stories of '08, from money players to money problems."
We think the title is a bit unfortunate, for it misses a point. When you compare hockey to other professional sports, what don't you get?
You don't get a lot of people behaving badly, at least not outside the accepted confines of the sport. Look at those stories. If you look for stories about people in hockey behaving badly, you will find by my count eight stories. And we had to stretch the definition to get that many. Most of them are of the "legal" sort -- the Del Biaggio mess or the threat (empty as it was) by the league via lawsuit (over web site control?...please!) to kick the Rangers out of the league. There were the tragic -- the death of Alexei Cherepanov and allegations that he was taking performance enhancing drugs (one of the stories we had to stretch to fit this category; you might differ) -- and the self-indulgent (two for Sean Avery).
But what one finds more of in that list are the inspirational (the big finish of the Caps to win a playoff spot in their final game), the feel good (the Blackhawks welcoming back a couple of legends) and the charming (the Winter Classic). There is also what might be the single most heartwarming story in sports of the year -- that of the Chicago Blackhawks team members chartering buses to attend the funeral of general manager Dale Tallon's father and later bring some joy to a hockey-crazed town in Ontario with a McDonalds, foregoing some needed time off in the midst of a long road trip.
It never ceases to amaze that in these days of the "you're damn right there is an "I" in team" athlete (wide receivers in the NFL are a class unto themselves), hockey players and professionals display the most and the most consistent decency in behavior. They just impress us as being good folks (if ornery from time to time in the service of their jobs), and it's another reason why hockey is better.
...thanks to James Mirtle "From the Rink" for pointing the way.