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CANADIANS FACED WITH LOSING THEIR NATIONAL GAME
Published March 16, 1995
"While Canada is still hockey's soul, the country is being buried in a new era of American big money and big markets," writes Michael Farber in the current issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. Thus far, teams in American warm weather markets are doing well at the gate after the 103-day lockout, while Canadian teams are not. Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg and Edmonton are playing to only 82% capacities, while the NHL sites in the U.S. Sun Belt and CA are filling 92% of their seats. Quebec, with the league's best record, is only drawing 90%, after getting 98% while having the league's worst record five years ago. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: "We're the national sport of Canada, not the national sport of the U.S. No matter how large we grow, we won't turn our back on our roots. And our roots are up in Canada." But with rumors of Nordiques and Jets' moves increasing, Bettman says the NHL will not stay in Winnipeg and Quebec if they don't get new arenas: "I don't view this as blackmail. My discussions with the mayors (of Quebec and Winnipeg) have pointed out that if they want to have a sports franchise in the 21st century, they must appropriately house them." The Canadian government, involved in cultural protection of Canadian movies, TV and magazines along with business protection, has done little about protecting hockey. Parliament member Dennis Mills says he will convene a hockey task force of government members by the end of April: "It's time we look at it as an industry. If we thought General Motors was going to pull a van plant out of Oshawa (Ont.), we'd go crazy and make sure it didn't happen" (SI, 3/20 issue). For more on NHL attendance, see the THE DAILY's Turnstile Tracker, featuring the NHL's Eastern Conference.