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May 27, 2024

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Opinion

NHL superior to NBA as team competition

April 12, 2007

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a sophomore in high school and at the time I was more excited about the Minnesota Timberwolves first-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers than I was the Minnesota Wild’s matchup with the Colorado Avalanche. Like so many times in my fanfare with Minnesota sports teams, I was wrong.

I watched those Timberwolves games more intently that year and even wound up going to a game. Across the river, the Minnesota Wild appeared to be wrapping up a cute, successful season in the team’s second year of existence as they fell behind the Avs three games to one. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the off-season. The Wild tied the series up at three games and forced a game seven in Denver the same night I went to game two of the Timberwolves series. The Wolves would win that night and I sat in the car on the way home listening to see if the Wild could pull off an upset. Within the first 30 seconds of listening, Joe Sakic scored a go-ahead goal with five minutes left. The game was clicked off and I went to bed as soon as I got home. The next morning, I would flip on SportsCenter, and in a “No way!” moment, the Wild came back and beat the Avs on a goal by Andrew Brunette.

The Wolves would go on to lose the series, but the Wild were still playing. Suddenly, I was hooked on hockey. The Wild played with intensity, grit and heart. Those were things the Timberwolves seemed to lack in their series. The Wild would fall behind three to one again and Vancouver Canucks forward Todd Bertuzzi would tell Wild fans to throw their game six tickets away. They didn’t need to. Games five and six were disasters for the Canucks as goalie Dan Cloutier was not noticeable in the net. I’m not sure how many people didn’t throw their tickets away for that game, but I would have to guess that approximately 18,000 people were calling him a sieve. The Wild would go back up to Vancouver and win game seven to advance to the Western Conference Finals where they were eventually swept by the Anaheim Ducks.

Ironically, four years later, the Wild have made the playoffs again, with the Ducks being their first round opponent. Yet, the question remains “How did hockey surpass basketball that much in such a short period of time?” Even though it’s obvious that hockey dominates Minnesota just because of it’s long and storied tradition from the North Stars to the Golden Gophers, there is another reason for this. The NHL playoffs.

The NHL playoffs are more entertaining than the NBA playoffs. Seedings don’t matter in hockey at all. Last season, the Edmonton Oilers, the eighth seed in the Western Conference, were one more win away from winning the Stanley Cup. The last time an eighth seed reached the NBA finals was in 1997, when the New York Knicks advanced. However, that was a strike-shortened season. Typically, upsets in the first round of the NBA never happen outside of the four versus five matchup.

There is more parity in the NHL. Even the top four teams in the conferences have to watch their backs as the top four teams in the West lost in the first round last season. The Phoenix Suns or the Dallas Mavericks will win the NBA championship. There is no team in either conference that comes close to the amount of talent those two teams put on the floor. Yet, the NHL playoffs have provided so many upsets that any team can believe it can win. The West alone contains seven teams that recorded 100-point seasons (For you basketball fans, think of it as a 50-60 win season).

Finally, the team aspect in hockey is greater than it is in basketball. Lakers ball hog ... er ... scorer Kobe Bryant has single handedly put his team in the NBA playoffs by refusing to pass and hoist up 50 shots a game to put up 50 points a game. Teams in the NHL have their own superstars such as Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby and Wild winger Marian Gaborik. They have to rely guys on other lines that can help take pressure off them. The wingers can score all they want, but if the center cant set them up, their going to have a tough time scoring. Case in point, the Wild added center Pavol Demitra over the off-season to add his chemistry with Gaborik on their top line. The result was that even the NHL’s best goalie or defenseman can’t stop them because of their ability to make four passes in a space the size of a phone booth. Teamwork is key.

With all these great things about the NHL playoffs, there is one major problem. It will take a backseat to the NBA playoffs. The NHL coming off their lockout disaster two years ago signed a contract to make Versus (formerly the Outdoor Life Network) the official home of the NHL. So, when John Doe is flipping through the channels on next Tuesday night when the playoffs get underway, instead of seeing a really good hockey game, they’re going to see Kobe Bryant dust the dirt off his shoulder and try to score, score, score. Don’t you dare think about asking him to pass.

Chris Schad is a student at UW-River Falls.

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