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Could have been the best series in a long time

Saturday, June 18, 2011

It was a Stanley Cup Final in which every team that scored first won.

The series, which featured close hockey games in Vancouver and blowouts in Boston, had the Boston Bruins defeating the Vancouver Canucks 4-0 Wednesday to win Lord Stanley's Cup in seven games.

Even though Vancouver was the clear favorite in this series, I am a Boston Bruins fan. The casual supporter in me was ignited 25 years ago when my parents, Rich Degner of the Iowa Pork Producers Association and I watched a game at the old Boston Garden.

The cold rink and seemingly violent body checks made me cringe at first. It didn't take long, though, for me to warm up to players getting checked into the glass and the boisterous fans who cheered such actions on.

I was such a fan June 1-15, as the Bruins and Canucks battled for the 2011 Stanley Cup.

My competitive nature admittedly came out in force before the first game of the series even began as television cameras panned the Canadian ice rink and "This is what we live for" banners and lots of waving white towels were shown. The announcers and camerawork excelled, allowing me to feel as if I were rinkside with glass rattling as mouthguards and pucks smashed against it. The game I summarized as the "one bite, one goal" match showcased Alex Burrows biting Patrice Bergeron's finger through his glove as the vision of the referee attempting to separate the two players was blocked.

The second game proved Vancouver's biter, who should have been suspended but wasn't, was fast as Burrows moved his team closer to their first Stanley Cup title with the second-speediest overtime goal in National Hockey League playoff and finals history. Burrows circled the Bruins net and scored 11 seconds into overtime. All this Bruins fan could do was groan as replays showed Tim Thomas, Boston's noted aggressive goalie, being bested.

Brief glimpses of the famed Green Men of Vancouver, known for taunting opponents placed in the penalty box, were a highlight. But, lots of unnecessary taunting and unsportsmanlike behavior by both teams did occur this championship series.

Following the third game, after Boston forward Nathan Horton received a severe concussion and Aaron Rome was suspended for four games for blind-side hitting the Bruins player, the NHL vice president of hockey operations spoke with both general managers and coaches. Mike Murphy also promised that on-ice officials would more heavily police the chippy play that had dominated stretches of the first three games.

Even though the Stanley Cup finals set several ratings records for NBC Wednesday night, this championship series would have lured many more viewers had it been televised so everyone could watch. League officials weren't smart and limited viewership by having the third and fourth games -- which were played in Boston -- only available on the Versus and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation channels.

Boston's plan to hit harder and score more often, meanwhile, paid off in the end. Even though masterful athleticism was displayed by players on both teams, it's still hard to believe with the play shown throughout this championship series that this is the Bruins' first Cup since 1972.

But the moments and hours following the Bruins' Stanley Cup win were distressing. Hearing a stadium overcome with booing fans as the prestigious Cup was brought onto the ice was painful. Even if those boos were directed at Commissioner Gary Bettman and not the winning team, it is a disrespectful practice and it took a bit of the shine away from the Bruins' joyful celebration.

The ensuing riots and looting that occurred were also uncalled for. While Vancouver residents awoke Thursday to the aftermath of the city's worst riot in decades, the senseless skirmishes have me seriously reconsidering a bucket list trip planned to Seattle and nearby Vancouver next year.

So, even though I'm a very happy Bruins fan today, what should have been the best series in a long time was marred this year on several fronts. May the recent lessons hopefully learned from this Stanley Cup Final be embraced next year.

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Kris Todd
Kris Todd