Yesterday Eddie Belfour was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. His perimeter fans may remember him more for his interesting and often questionable behavior off the ice. He drank, he got rowdy, he had special demands. But as Joe Nieuwendyk, also inducted yesterday and a teammate of Belfour during their Stanley Cup winning years with the Dallas Stars, talked about the off-ice Eddie he made a special point that no matter what went on with Eddie the Eagle away from the net, when the clock hit 20:00 and the period light said 1, he was ready to go, play hard and make saves. And that is what separated him from being just another clown-athlete out of uniform.
The exhibition game between the Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings, won by the Oilers 3-1, at Reunion Arena on Tuesday night was erroneously billed, repeatedly, as "the first NHL game in Texas."
Actually, the NHL's Atlanta Flames, now the Calgary Flames, once played a game in Houston against the Aeros of the World Hockey Association. And if you want pure NHL, the Los Angeles Kings and New York Islanders once played an exhibition in Fort Wrth.
Never mind. Those games were probably as forgettable as this one. It was NHL all right, but it was also exhibition quality, with little intensity or skating and passing artistry and few scoring opportunities.
At its best, hockey is a uniquely fast and physical sport, it was not played that way Tuesday night.
It was an unusually quiet game by NHL standards. Not much bashing of glass and boards, not much in the way of explosive applause.
But while it's hard to measure the extent of fan enjoyment in the game, there's no disputing the fact that they came in big numbers. The game was a sellout at 16,656 paid.
The fans appeared to know what was going on. They did not, for example, cheer at routine saves. To make things clearer for them, the public address announcer frequently explained rules and procedures.
It was the kind of big-numbered crowd Dallas needed if it wants to land an NHL franchise in the next several years.
The league is in an expansive mood again, following retrenchment in the `70's which saw franchises fail in San Francisco-Oakland, Atlanta, Kansas City, Denver and Cleveland.
Within four or five years, the NHL is expected to grow from 21 to 24 teams. According to Al Strachan of The Hockey News, "Dallas and San Francisco are good bets (for expansion); then there will be a dogfight for the third spot."
Attempts are being made to evaluate hockey enthusiasm in Dallas, which does have an active and growing junior hockey program. And the city has some familiarity with pro hockey, as the Chicago Black Hawks used to keep a Central Hockey League team here.
Questionnaires were distributed at Tuesday's game with such inquiries as "Would you attend an NHL game in Reunion Arena in the Fall of 1987?" and "Did you come to tonight's game only to see Wayne Gretzky?"
You can't blame them if they did come solely to see the Great Gretzky. There is no athlete in North America who dominates a sport the way Gretzky reigns in hockey.
A 100-point season used to be the standard for hockey superstardom, but Gretzky scored 215 points last season.
Gretzky glides silently over the ice, back and forth, in and out of the drifting mass of players. He seems for much of the time to be playing like everybody else, the mere mortals.
Then, suddenly, he sees an opportunity, reaches for the puck, taps i with his stick and settles it onto the ice so it's flat and can be easily transported, and then he shifts into high gear and bursts out of the pack and heads like a torpedo for the net.
He made this patented play a couple of times Tuesday, but he couldn't finish it off.
He had a good chance to score in the first period, rushing in from the right side. But goalie Greg Stefan blocked his shot with his right armpad. Gretzky tried again a few minutes later from the left side, but he didn't get much power into his shot and Stefan made an easy save.
The NHL is toughening up on violence. They've been saying that for years, but it looks like they really mean it this time. By tossing a player after his second major penalty, the fighters can't stay around long.
Detroit's Warren Young's fight with Jeff Beukeboom was little more than a grapple that did not even bring the crowd to its feet. A better fight occurred in a concessions line after the second period when one man spilt another's drink and punches were exchanged.
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