This dispatch is written from the heart of New Spain. Of course I refer to southern California, home of the Kings and Ducks and next door to my namesake desert dogs, the Phoenix Coyotes. And it is from this heartland that I submit to you that the NHL has missed the major marketing opportunity of the new century.
Let me explain.
I have spent the last few years living in the tropics of Mexico, both on the beach front jungles of the Pacific coast and in the high desert of the western mountain region. Due to the marvel of both satellite TV and high speed internet, I have managed to stay connected to the NHL. One of the great pleasures of watching hockey surrounded by palm trees, dense jungle and desert cactus, is the chance to share it with friends. I spent many great nights with Mexican friends drinking tequila and brandy and watching hockey and futbol (soccer to many of you) and learning many Spanish swear words. Mexicans are passionate sports fans and I became a great Chivas (of Guadalajara) supporter, proudly wearing the Bimbo (Bimbo the bread not Bimbo the…well, bimbo) jersey and cheering the team on to the championship of Mexico. And my friends responded in kind by becoming avid hockey fans, particularly the Canucks, and cheering madly for a goal or even more boisterously when the boys would drop ‘em and go.
Great hockey fans.
And now I’m back for a year in southern Cal and watching the game tonight with my friend Jorge. Jorge loves futbol and hockey. He is originally from Mexico, the small city of Patzcuaro, Michoacan but grew up in LA. He loves the Kings and he loves rubbing in the fact that they wiped the floor with us last year. He has made the argument to me previously that there are great similarities of strategy between hockey and futbol. And he wonders why there are no Hispanic reporters for the California Spanish dailies covering hockey. Yes, I said dailies. You understand there are more people in California (est. 35.5 million) than in all of Canada. Southern California is 70 % Hispanic.
And as Paul Rodriguez says, they aren’t crossing the border illegally, they’re just going home!
And five years from now, you know there won’t be less Hispanics down here. This is where Gary Bettman & Co. are missing the boat.
They should be marketing this game to a culture that has once again taken over Arizona and California…a culture that is fanatical about it’s support of sports…a culture that understands the ebb and flow of the game inherently…a game that is a mystery to many other Americans. Promotion to Hispanics would seem to be a no-brainer.
Jorge’s wife (Esperanza) is visiting with my wife (Linda) tonight and she cautions Jorge about drinking too much. Without missing a beat, he tells her to make sure she drinks enough. We high five.
We are both mouthy to our wives in safe company.
The game starts and before we finish our first drink, Dustin Brown gets 4 minutes for high sticking. “Actually,” Jorge says, “a double minor is better. Your Canucks will be less intense on a 4 minute penalty.” I hate to admit it, but the Canucks seem a little casual for the first three minutes. But then, AHA! The kings go down another man when Matt Greene gets called for tripping when he clearly hooks Daniel Sedin to the ice.
“This is even better,” Jorge reasons. “If we kill this off, you Canucks will feel massive disappointment and we will turn this to our advantage.” I roll my eyes but my frustration builds as the Kings kill off the first penalty.
However, Jorge’s smugness is wiped from his face when Daniel goes into the dirty zone and scores on his own rebound. I point out to Jorge that the Canucks have a massive winning record when both Sedins figure into the scoring.
“I am very happy for your superstitions,” Jorge says, holding his glass out to me. I replenish with a generous portion of El Jimador Tequila (“Jose Cuervo is only considered Tequila by the painfully ignorant,” he has said previously).
The Canucks settle nicely into a fairly aggressive forecheck but run into penalty trouble late in the game. “Much credit is given to speed,” Jorge says, “but watch the Kings’ quickness. We are extraordinarily quick.” And this soon becomes apparent as the Kings move the puck with great dexterity. But sequential penalties test the Canuck PK.
“That goalpost was sponsored by Roberto,” Jorge says. I think I know what he means but I am pleased that the Canuck PK is very aggressive and the Kings come up dry.
Two minutes later, Edler gets called for bringing down Frolov and a penalty shot is called.
Fortunately, the bad ice foils Frolov and Louie stands tall. Frolov seems to smile on his way to the bench.
“It may be my Latin blood, but when I see Frolov smile after that miss, I feel like killing him.”
I slap him on the back to let him know that I know he is kidding. And then ask him if he would like a cup of coffee or something.
A couple of minutes later, on a four on four, Mason Raymond makes a beautiful move around the Kings’ winger and then wires a perfect wrist shot on the short side to beat Labarbera.
“Who is this Mason Raymond?” Jorge says. “I don’t know of him.”
I tell him that my friend Gord Kerster, of Saskatchewan, has been promoting this kid because of his speed and his shot.
“Ah, Sakatchewan,” Jorge says. “I hear they have wonderful igloos with three bedrooms.” I hold out my glass and Jorge fills it with Don Pedro brandy. The period ends two to zip for the good guys.
The second period sees a penalty at the one minute mark but the Kings are ineffective. “We are a very young team and succumb easily to pressure,” Jorge admits. The second period is mostly uneventful except for two things.
The first is a Canuck PP where the Sedins work their magic and Wellwood shows his remarkable patience by firing the puck into an empty net past a diving Labarbera. “You have an interesting forward line out there,” Jorge says. “None of them are that fast, but they are all quick and they are all deceptive and they all have smooth hands.”
The second is a goal scored by Bernier just as the horn blows. It is called no goal, but Jorge admits, “We are lucky.” The period ends, three nothing. “It does not look good,” he says. “But we are a young team and the third period can sometimes be about young legs.”
Then Jorge grins, holds out his empty glass and says, “Like Hans Solo said in Star Wars…”
“Don’t tell me about the odds!”
We agree that one more drink each can’t hurt.
The third period sees little change. The Canucks are cautious but still not trapping. The Kings seem like they are waiting for a break. “Our team will be good two years from now,” Jorge predicts. “but right now, the two most experienced members are our broadcasters, Bob Miller and Jimmy Fox.”
At the six minute mark, Pyatt pulls off a very interesting behind the back tip (“He almost looked like he meant to do that,” Jorge says) and the game is all but over at four nothing. All that is left to decide is whether the Kings score. I explain a small superstition to Jorge about mentioning the dreaded “S” word to Jorge. He admits that his people are very superstitious as well and then by my count mentions the word “Shutout” eleven times before the end of the period.
With the game all but settled we become more philosophical. Well, that and the booze. “If your Canucks play like this through the year, they will be very dangerous,” Jorge says.
I tell him he has a firm grasp of the obvious. He laughs and we high five.
It is Roberto Luongo’s 40thshutout.
But it is wife Esperanza who puts the entire event in perspective as they leave.
“Give me the keys Jorge. You have a job and a family to think about.”