Pimping the puck amidst a sea of purple fanaticism and orange irrelevance

December 08, 2006 | Nestor Aparicio

So Agent Orange’s main squeeze, Hockey Meg, came by our place last week.

The wife and I were mixing up a Bobby Flay coffeehouse steak, a few cocktails and watching some H-Dee puck from Filthy on Comcast Sports Net.

Meg’s team, the Philadelphia Flyers, was playing my team, the Nashville Predators just 90 minutes north of my cozy living room.

We had been planning for three months to get in the car and go to the game. I even went onto www.stubhub.com to see how much tickets were the day before the game. The Flyers are bad now and the demand for tickets is at an all-time low. As my main Philly man, producer Larry Rosen from “Rave TV” (he produces my favorite TV show, “Ravens Wired”) called them yesterday, “the once-proud” Flyers. The $55 downstairs tickets were available for as little as $10. And I could buy as many as I wanted at that price.

But, once decision time came, and we found out for sure that the game was on in our homes in HD, the three of us were more content to watch in the game on Comcast and avoid the traffic, the ride, the late homecoming, the expense, etc.

Basically, on the one night of the year when we’d be truly moved to get in the car and go watch a live hockey game we care about — in the new scheduling of the NHL, it was the Predators only “local” visit of the year since the Capitals aren’t on their docket — and we still skipped it.

So, the retail price of going to last Wednesday’s game, when you consider meals, gas, parking and food would have easily exceeded $250 for the three of us. We could’ve done it for less than $100 with the www.stubhub.com near giveaway and the relative malaise of the spoiled Flyers fans.

Instead, the meal cost me, modestly, about $15. With the wine, the whole night was less than $25. And the bathroom was 12 feet away, the beers were less than that and when the game ended at 9:30, we were steps away from bed instead of staring at a bleary-eyed, 90-minute ride home on I-95.

Because we’re all clearly getting to be old, it was almost a no-brainer!

When the game began, Hockey Meg, who still owns a fantasy hockey team called appropriately “For Pete’s Sake Free The Birds” in a league called “Slapfast,” was immediately appalled. The Wachovia Center — or whatever they’re calling it this week — was a ghost town, empty seats from the glass to the roof. Even at $10 a throw on the internet, plenty of people like us had something better to do than attend an NHL game on a Wednesday night in Filthy.

The Predators entered the game 15-5; the Flyers were 7-14.

But you must understand that the Flyers, much like Sly Stallone himself, truly “own” Philly. They’ve been at least semi-competitive for as long as I can remember and “throwaway” tickets in November is not a concept that any of us could comprehend. They are the strongest of the few strong NHL franchises, just like the Orioles were to baseball in Baltimore in 1995.

And again — even with $10 tickets, we still didn’t get our keisters off the couch and go and it wasn’t just because hockey is amazing to watch in high-definition!

And it occurred to the three of us — all hockey lovers if not zealots in a former life — the NHL and hockey have really become a wasteland, even in Philly. This entire sport is teetering on the brink, much like baseball!

Let me give you some background: Hockey Meg is a complete puck idiot.

I met her and my wife both through hockey. Some guy who had a girlfriend who knew a lot about hockey wrote me an email six years ago. He said I should put his girlfriend on the air. I said, “Bring her by.” She came by alone. I flirted with her. She came back. Again and again and again. And then I met her beau, who happened to be an even bigger sports dork than me and we all became friends. Among our several fun weekend trips — including Ravens away games in Denver and World Cup games in Germany — were annual trips to places like Hershey and Nashville and the Meadowlands for hockey games.

Then, there’s my wife. Where did I meet her? At an AHL hockey game — of course — in New Hampshire almost four years ago.

So, I guess what I’ve been saying about baseball and the Orioles for the past couple of years — that the sport and the interest level is dying almost everywhere for a myriad of reasons — is also true to an even larger degree about hockey in my own world. And the four of us — who used to build trips if not our complete winter lives around hockey games — now have about as much interest in hockey on a daily basis as I do in NASCAR or lacrosse or anything else I don’t spend any time getting to know and appreciate.

And apparently, even the hardcore Flyers fans are headed in the same direction — irrelevancy and/or apathy.

Hockey, since the ugly strike and its departure from ESPN, now operates in a vacuum, only there in the minds of the handful of people who still care. And clearly, the three of us (Agent Orange was on assignment in Los Angeles, so he was unavailable) didn’t care enough to get in our car and go to the only game we’d be interested in seeing all year.

And we thought, if the hockey gods have made people like us — the few hardcore hockey fans who toiled in a sea of sports irrelevancy even when we did care — stay away, then who the hell is actually going anymore?

It’s a big Ravens’ week around here and the team is 9-3 and everyone is waiting for Sunday at 1 p.m. in a sea of red and gold.

And I’ll get 100 of those “what the hell are you thinking even mentioning the word ‘hockey’” emails. And I’ll also hear from the six poor schmoes who can recite every quality line from Slap Shot and still have a crush on Jessie from Youngblood.

(As an aside, you can’t mention the movie Youngblood to Hockey Meg without her talking about how her main man, Peter Zezel, was in the movie. Peter Zezel is her Sixto Lezcano, if you’re keeping score. And I don’t even want to bring up her hockey body art!)

So in a world where a guy named Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins won the AL MVP two weeks — and I’d be lying if I said I’d really ever heard of him before or could tell you what he looks like — it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of our listeners can’t even name one current NHL player. Not even one!

And you probably love violence and speed and the home team and fast action. You SHOULD like hockey. Hockey COULD’VE been a contender here. It really could’ve — like it is in Philly and WAS in Pittsburgh and St. Louis, it’s main competition back in the late 1960′s when Baltimore was trying to get an NHL team and lost out based almost solely on an antiquated building that still sits on Baltimore Street today.

There used to be a time when having an NHL team meant that your city was big league. Hockey was part of the Big 4 but that’s now been reduced to the Big 2 — the NFL and NASCAR. And I honestly don’t even know where to begin in understanding that sport’s popularity or allure. But here we are, circa 2007: we watch the NFL, we ignore most everything else and we wait for the NFL to start again.

Now — other than the periphery fringe who actually attend a Towson or UMBC basketball game or the Blast or the occasional Terps venture or the few held in the cradle of lacrosse — everything revolves around 16-plus Sundays in the fall and early winter.

So, in an effort to kickstart my sports and hockey mojo, I’m doing another puck bus to Hershey in March. Anyone who wants to go — and I’ll get about 12 emails for this — lemme know.

But maybe the big picture for my Moon today is that the current Orioles and the NHL have a lot in common.

I’m old enough to remember when this community quit on the Colts. It’s now basically quit on the Orioles — and you can dispute that all you want, but that’s the truth. And the NBA left us and the NHL never came. And the AHL and various basketball and lacrosse leagues have died ugly deaths trying to survive here.

And much like Major League Baseball in the summer, there are a myriad of NHL games on in my living room every single night of my winter life. Any team I want, any night I want, and I rarely watch. I could become an Arizona Diamondbacks fan this summer and watch 90 of their games this year and I could listen to the rest on the web. It’s SO EASY to be a long-distance fan these days and to track sports unlike in the old days. I still remember being on vacation in South Carolina in the late 1970′s, wrapping aluminum foil around my Aunt Edna’s AM transistor radio desperately trying to pick up an Orioles feed outta Charlotte.

And yet, here I am in my living room last week, watching the third period of a non-descript Predators-Flyers game in HD TV in my condo in Baltimore, saving me the time and trouble and expense of actually getting involved and making the one drive I’d make to see the game in person this year.

Honestly, I still love hockey and I yearn for the days of the Skipjacks and the Clippers and even the Bandits. And I live and own a sports radio station in a city where hockey will never, ever really exist again.

And considering all the fun and joy and high-fives that hockey has brought my life over the past 35 years that thought really makes me sad.

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