Maybe they could call it Rinks 'R' Us

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Murray Beynon says he thinks there isn't a Canadian man alive who isn't a hockey fan. But perhaps more important than that, Beynon says there may not be a man -- or a woman -- anywhere who couldn't become one.

You've never heard of Murray Beynon? He's a 48-year-old architect who has teamed up with Wayne Gretzky to make sure that folks in Florida, Southern California and parts of Canada have a place to play the game.

The project is called "Wayne Gretzky's Iceland."

The plans call for at least 25 recreational-sized hockey arenas. Each will cost about $6 million and contain two ice skating pads and a limited amount of seating.

They are intended to be family-oriented and could include a video arcade, a small cafe, an aerobics or weight room and perhaps a small office where parents can do some work on laptop computers while their children are on the ice. Market research convinced Beynon that the ice rinks would benefit tremendously from having the right NHL player involved.

"We went for Wayne Gretzky because no one else came close to the family and pro image Wayne has," said Beynon. "If he had said no, I'm not sure who the second choice would have been. There might not have been a second choice. It might have just been 'Mom and Dad's Hockey Rinks.' "

Beynon said he doesn't think he'll "ever have as many rinks as there are McDonald's," but the demand, he believes, is staggering.

"You can see that from the involvement of companies like Blockbuster Video [which owns the Florida Panthers] and Disney [which owns the Anaheim Mighty Ducks]," he said. "You see that, you know something is happening in the sport, while at the same time, you have this chronic shortage of ice facilities."

The first one is being built in Boca Raton, Fla., and Beynon says there are plans for several more in Florida, Los Angeles, Toronto and western Canada.

"Since word got out, we've gotten an unbelievable response from people in local areas who want to invest," Beynon said from his Toronto office yesterday. "And the amazing thing is that it's not big-time investors who want a 20 percent return on their money, it's coming from parents, grandparents, people involved with children who have a genuine interest in the sport."

Beynon comes with impressive credentials. He is a principal at Stadium Consultants International Inc., where his projects have included the $160 million General Motors Place in downtown Vancouver, the $200 million, 42,000-seat, baseball-only stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers and a multimillion-dollar renovation of the Edmonton Coliseum and the Calgary Saddledome.

More than a slogan

Remember the phrase, "You've come a long way baby"? These days it can be applied to American-born players in the NHL. When the league first began keeping statistics on such things, in 1967-68, only 2 percent of the players in the game were born in the USA. This season, the percentage has grown to 17.9, which translates to 117 of 652 players.

And a lot of these Americans aren't just filling out rosters.

New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter became the latest American-born goalie to anchor a successful Stanley Cup run last season, and Florida goalie John Vanbiesbrouck made the Panthers a contender for a playoff berth in their first season.

Pittsburgh's Joe Mullen became the first U.S.-born player to score 1,000 points in the NHL last week. And Mullen believes he is just the first of what will be many.

"One thousand points is a plateau for other American players to shoot at," said Mullen, who grew up in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of New York City. "I don't expect the record to last very long because the guys coming out of U.S. hockey are all excellent players."

As the number of U.S.-born players has increased, so have the numbers of players outside of North America.

Non-North American players make up 19.8 percent of the league, with Russian players leading the way at 7.2 percent, followed by Czechs (4 percent), Swedes (3.4 percent) and Finns (1.5 percent).

The number of Canadians has dropped from 96.7 percent in 1967-68 to today's low of 62.3 percent, or 408 of the 652 players in the league.

Hurrah for Hrudey

Los Angeles goaltender Kelly Hrudey made a little history Sunday night. He saved the overtime penalty shot of Sergei Fedorov to preserve a 4-4 tie.

"I didn't think of anything," Hrudey said.

"I just believed I could stop it. Even though he had scored four goals, like he had, I still believed."

There only have been three overtime penalty shots in NHL history, and Hrudey is the goalie of record on two of them. He stopped Tony Amonte on Jan. 27, 1994, too.

And who was involved in the third one? Los Angeles.

Then-Kings forward Luc Robitaille had an overtime penalty shot Feb. 2, 1989, on then-New Jersey goalie Sean Burke. Burke made the save.

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