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Rich Kimball Rich Kimball
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Bandwagon jumpers unite!

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I grew up a fan of all of the major sports but there was a clearly established priority. Baseball was my favorite, followed closely by football, then basketball, and hockey a distant fourth. Much of this had to do with television coverage. NBA and college basketball games were a television rarity, and it seemed you'd only catch a hockey game if the Bruins were making a playoff run. Though I knew the names of guys like Orr and Esposito, even Hull and Mikita, it was really only the stars you read about in the paper or 'Sports Illustrated' that were familiar.

As time went on and other claims to my time came along, I changed my sports viewing habits. I've always watched the Sox when I could, and nothing beats NFL Sundays, but I haven't been able to digest a full NBA game since the days of Bird, McHale and Parish, and I hadn't paid much attention to the NHL since Peter Puck was a television staple.

That changed a bit last season, when I felt the need to follow things more closely to have some kind of clue what I was talking about on the 'Downtown' radio show, and in so doing I discovered something I never would have expected  Post-season hockey is the greatest thing going. Now, I still don't claim to be a knowledgeable hockey fan and couldn't name three San Jose Sharks, but I've had a blast following the NHL playoffs and especially the Boston Bruins Stanley Cup run.

What's not to like about hockey? As the most minor of the 'major' sports, hockey gets no national respect. The next time you hear a lengthy hockey segment on ESPN Radio may well be the first time that's happened. As pro athletes go, these guys are underpaid and underappreciated. When was the last time you saw an NHL player in a commercial? Underwear spokesman Michael Jordan, who's been retired for nearly 15 years, has more endorsement deals than the entire league. These guys play for the love of the game and with a physical intensity that you rarely see in other arenas.

The old school, 'original six' matchup of the Bruins and Chicago Black Hawks has been great theater with heroes aplenty on both sides. The efforts of Jaromir Jagr to try and squeeze out the last of his Hall of Fame talents alongside youngsters like Tyler Seguin and Torey Krug has been an act of nobility for a guy whose best years occurred during the first Clinton administration. Tuuka Rask, who replaced the brilliant but looney Tim Thomas as goaltender, has been nothing short of amazing. Best of all, the playoffs have been a chance to hear and see the work of the great Mike 'Doc' Emrick, the NBC play-by-play man, who was the Maine Sportscaster of the Year way back in 1979 as the voice of the Maine Mariners.

Yes, I'm late to the party, and I admit it. Friends have been telling me for years how much fun the NHL playoffs are, and now that I've jumped on board, I have to say they're absolutely right. Hockey is still on the fringes of the national sports consciousness, but after a post-season like the one we're enjoying now, that may change in the future. All the more reason to get on that bandwagon with me, while there's still room.


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