What's ice hockey without good ice? Field hockey?
The NHL is about to embark on a Stanley Cup playoff run that could end as late as July 1. In case no one noticed -- that's summer. And with summer comes hot weather. That's not exactly what the people of Canada had in mind when they invented the sport.
So will the ice melt?
The last time the Buffalo Sabres played in a Stanley Cup final was in 1975. They finished the series by losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in Buffalo May 27. May is still spring, but it was a hot spring in Buffalo.
"We had fog," recalled Washington Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld, who was then playing for the Sabres. "I don't remember much about how the ice was, but I do remember the fog. I remember we couldn't see; that they got arena personnel to skate around the ice waving blankets over their heads to lift the fog so we could play."
Fog is still a possibility, though probably not in Buffalo's War Memorial Auditorium, where they have since installed air conditioning. But trouble could loom in Toronto, Boston and Quebec.
"Those three arenas lack air conditioning, they're near water, which will create high humidity, and in Quebec's case, that arena is a hot building anyway," said Doug Moore, who owns Jet Ice and trouble-shoots -- when asked -- for the NHL.
Boston, in fact, experienced fog in late May of 1990 during the Bruins' Stanley Cup finals with Edmonton, and the thought of playing into June has caused Chris Maher, operations director of Boston Garden, some nervous moments.
"We do anticipate some problems with it," said Maher. "We're concerned, and the further the Bruins go, and we hope they go all the way, the more it is a concern. We're looking at temporary cooling."
Toronto and Quebec also are looking into portable air conditioning.
"It can all be handled," said Moore, 64, who has been perfecting the art of ice making for 39 years. "And they'll handle it. . . . What I want to see is good ice because the game is only as good as the ice."
Awards on ice
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the league's general managers are in the midst of voting for a number of top player awards. Here is how The Sun sees these awards shaping up:
* Hart Memorial Trophy, to the MVP: It could be a close race between Philadelphia center Eric Lindros and Caps goalie Jim Carey.
Carey brought the Capitals out of a 3-10-5 hole and into third place in the Atlantic Division. Lindros' team had an equally bad start and had not made the playoffs in five years. His on-ice leadership keyed a first-place finish in the Atlantic Division.
Sun pick: Lindros.
* Calder Trophy, to the top rookie: This should be easy for everyone.
Sun pick: Carey, Washington's rookie goalie, finished the regular season 18-6-3 with a 2.13 goals-against average.
* Norris Trophy, to the top defenseman: Calgary's Phil Housley, Pittsburgh's Larry Murphy, Chicago's Chris Chelios or Boston's Ray Bourque?
Sun pick: Boston's Bourque for the sixth time in eight years.
* Vezina Trophy, to the top goalie: This could be the most difficult choice of all.
Detroit's Mike Vernon, 18-6-4 with a 2.54 GAA and an .893 save percentage, has been key to the Red Wings' run to the best record in the NHL. But he has a high-powered team in front of him and he was platooned with Chris Osgood, 14-5-0 with a 2.26 GAA.
Washington's Carey has been flawless at times, as he finished with a .913 save percentage and four shutouts.
Buffalo's Dominik Hasek has a league-leading 2.11 GAA going into his last game tomorrow. He was there for the entire season, starting 40 games (19-14-7). His save percentage is .930. And he prevailed even when his team was in various states of turmoil.
Sun pick: Hasek.
Baltimore Hockey Club
Baltimore's new American Hockey League club is expected to tell all -- or nearly all -- at a news conference May 15. At that point the team will officially announce its NHL affiliate and introduce its ownership group, which sources indicate could include tennis player Pam Shriver.
Franchise owner Bob Teck said he also hopes to have ticket prices set by then, but isn't sure the team will be ready to reveal its name, logo and colors. He said it has received numerous letters with suggestions ranging from Beavers, Bulldogs and Bobcats to Badgers and Blades. "It's a very difficult decision," he said.