Punching Up Hockey

June 20, 2004

Ask any true, tattooed, 10-toothed hockey fan and he'll tell
you--the reason the NHL is sinking faster than a cement ducky is
all the damn hockey fights.

It's got to stop.

Not the fights. The hockey.

That's why real hockey fans love a former deejay named Darryl
(Beef) Wolski, who has an ingenious and bloody idea that might
just work: A hockey tournament featuring no hockey.

It's called Hockey Gladiators, and it's coming to
pay-per-eeeewwww! in August. Thirty-two goons will show up at the
Target Center in Minneapolis in uniforms, skates and pads, lumber
out two-by-two to center ice and just start going at it like
Tonya Harding and a new boyfriend.

A ref will drop the puck, and the gladiators, mostly former pro
hockey players, will fling off their helmets, drop their gloves
and start trying to turn each other's pusses into Picassos. But
isn't it pointless to wear the helmets and gloves at all? "Well,
yeah," Beef says, "but it's tradition."

Yeah, in a thing like this, you've got to take care of the
purists.

It's double elimination, which means a mook could fight as many
as six times in two days on his way to winning the $100,000 first
prize. "Six times in two days?" says the tournament favorite,
former Toronto Maple Leaf Frank (the Animal) Bialowas, who had
his nose broken 15 times over nine seasons in four leagues. "I
used to do that in one night--with a smile on my face."

Somebody wake NHL commissioner Gary Bettman! This could save the
league!

Well, it needs something. The NHL is about as popular as a goiter
festival. Game 1 of the Tampa Bay-Calgary Stanley Cup Finals
(slogan: Yes, both teams still exist!) on ESPN tied for the
worst-rated championship series match on cable in 14 years. Among
the dozens of cable shows that attracted more viewers,
head-to-head, were:

Divine Design (Home & Garden Television). Actual synopsis: "Chico
hangs a chandelier!"

The Real World: San Diego (MTV, rerun): "Randy tells Robin if she
waits too long to do the booty dance with Mike, he might take his
business somewhere else."

The O'Reilly Factor (Fox News Channel): "Sylvester Stallone talks
about Rocky VI."

Game 1 did, however, tie a test pattern on Channel 504 in Omaha.

Do you realize washingtonpost.com ran a poll asking, "Which teams
will advance to the Stanley Cup finals?" and 42% picked, "I
didn't realize the NHL playoffs were going on!"

Like Rocky VI, it only promises to get worse. The NHL has more
problems than the Athens Chamber of Commerce, including
overexpansion, an average player salary of $1.8 million in a
sport with a puny TV deal, an impending lockout that could doom
next season, too many things people don't want to see (like
trapping defenses) and not enough things people want to see (like
goals).

Enter Beef and his World's Greatest Goon idea.

"I've had a few death threats," Beef says. "Everybody tells me,
'Hockey is such a beautiful game! You don't need the fighting!'
Excuse me? Beautiful? Did you see that 1-0 game [Tampa Bay over
Calgary in Game 4]? It was boring as hell! But you get a couple
fights going, you got a great game!"

Beef figures people will pony up to see such thawed-out thugs as
former New York Islander Jason (the Chief) Simon, former Maple
Leaf John (the Reverend) Craighead and Sasha (the Pit Bull)
Lakovic, who played the evil Soviet captain in Miracle. All we
need now is the Hanson brothers and we're partying.

Beef even persuaded former Philadelphia Flyers muscle Dave (the
Hammer) Schultz to be a judge. "And I can't guarantee you that
the Hammer won't suddenly get caught up in the moment and start
going at it!" he gushes.

Can Beef promote or what?

Hopefully none of the formers will end up as the late. "Man, I'd
feel like s---," says Beef. What more insurance could you want?

Hockey Gladiators is selling like Siberian space heaters. There
are already plans for a sequel, perhaps in Philadelphia or
Detroit, next spring. "If there's a lockout on Sept. 15," Beef
says, "I'll be calling NHL players on Sept. 16, asking them if
they want to be in it." The San Jose Sharks' Scott Parker has
already said he'd be interested. Hey, you want him taking his
pent-up red-ass out on you?

The NHL, the hockey press, and even gerbil brains like Leafs
bouncer Tie Domi are calling the event "an insult" and "a
travesty" and say it's pandering to the worst possible element in
the sport--which, of course, it is. Hell, even pro wrestlers look
at this thing and go, Dude, that's barbaric.

Is this what hockey gets for all the years of having refs stand
and watch two guys turn each other's brains into tapioca, suiting
up assassins who couldn't slap a puck into Lake Michigan and
raising fans on the red milk of violence?

Well, yeah, but it's tradition.

COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER

If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to
reilly@siletters.com.

After the Stanley Cup finals the NHL is about as popular as a
goiter festival. Enter a former deejay and his Hockey Gladiators.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)