Wednesday March 4th, 2015

I can trace the moment when everything changed for me in high school to one particular event: the purchase of a 1966 Ford Mustang.

It was a beauty. Sleek, black and all original, it was more than a car. It was my entry into a completely different clique and helped me capture the attention of a girl I'd had a crush on for years.

NHL
Who plays for Team Europe, North American Youngstars in World Cup?

Now, I may have been a dope to the ways of the world back then, but I was smart enough to know that she really was only into one thing about me. That car. And if it went away, so would she. I was perfectly fine with that because at least it gave me a chance.

What does this have to do with hockey? Bear with me.

The NHL and NHLPA have their own shiny new toy in the World Cup. And it caught the attention of a lot of people, including "the popular girl" that has ignored them for far too long:

ESPN.

So no one was too surprised when it was announced today that the sports giant had won the U.S. rights to broadcast the international tournament that is slated to run from September 17 to Oct. 1, 2016 in Toronto. (Sportsnet will do the honors in Canada.) The field will be made up of teams from the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Russia, the Czech Republic and Finland plus a European All-Star squad of players whose countries will not appear and a group of North Americans who are 24 and under. It will all come down to a best-of-three games final.

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Yep, hockey on the World Wide Leader. The NHL is hangin' with the cool kids.

But will it be anything more than a two-week fling? After all, ESPN was hooked by a quadrennial best-on-best tournament that can be wrapped in an American flag. It's the NHL's cherry muscle car.

No matter how the relationship turns out, at least the World Cup gives the league a chance to win the hearts of the opinion-setters in Bristol.

[daily_cut.NHL]“We see this as an opportunity to rekindle our relationship with SportsCenter,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said on a conference call today. “Maybe that will continue in the regular season.”

Now, Bettman is smart enough to know that blanket coverage of Team USA in September won't translate into a three-minute preview of the Panthers vs. the Devils in October and hour-long specials when Sidney Crosby comes up for free agency. But it's a foot in the door. And maybe that helps get hockey past its perennial stumbling block and proves that broader coverage generates broader interest, and not the other way around.

Maybe it all lasts about as long as it did for me when the upkeep on the Mustang outpaced what I could afford while working part-time at a grocery store. When it was gone, so was the girl. But at least like me the NHL has been given a chance. And that makes this a great deal for hockey.

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