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02-17-2007, 12:58 AM
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And Finally the nice things Swift has to say about the league:

Gone is the image of thr NHL player as a toothless face-buster. Fighting in the playoffs, this year and last, has been practically nonexistant (though it remained a problem during the regular season). Brawling was almost entirely eliminated. Even the fans' image has changed: Pre-Bettman, when the NHL was the boil on the pro sports boom of the 1970s and '80s, hockeys spectators looked like the spillover from Wrestlemania. This year elegant couples like John F. Kennedy Jr. and Daryl Hannah (also Knick attendees) and Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal were spotted at NHL games. Big Apple mayor Rudy Giuliani has confessed to having a hockey goal set up in the backyard of Gracie Mansion, the mayoral digs, for his eight-year old son, Andrew.

But the real news was not that the Rangers generated tremendous excitement in New York, long a great hockey town. No, it was that hockey began making strides in the Sun Belt. It started last year when Wayne Gretzky led the Los Angeles Kings into the Stanley Cup finals. Then, for once, the NHL did expansion the right way, allowing the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to field competitive teams in their first season. Both sold out nearly half their games. The Sharks were the surprise team of this season's playoffs and, as the most improved team in the history of hockey from one year to the next, won the hearts of the Bay Area. And the second-year Tampa Bay Lightning averaged more than 21,000 fans a game. “We're not just a cold-weather sport,” says Bettman. “We're getting a national footprint.”

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