The first official day of Spring is March 21. For sports fans, Spring begins earlier. For some, Spring will begin March 17 with the Gators opening spring practice. Others will celebrate the first day of Spring a day later, by taking a long lunch or skipping school to watch the first games of the NCAA Tournament.
Before I was a Gator, I was a catcher for the Northside Major Yankees and center for the Tampa Bay Cyclones, so today holds a soft spot in my heart. March 2 means Spring Training begins and the NHL resumes a full schedule running up to the best postseason in all of sports. That is my start of Spring.
When I worked for the Toronto Blue Jays, I got to see how much Spring Training means to those stuck in snow. Living here, Spring Training is just another month on the calendar. But to fans from Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the chance to spend a couple of bucks to sit in the sun in March is a dream come true. And to be able to watch an intersquad scrimmage at the training complex (for free!) is the most beautiful thing in the world. For 100 years, Spring Training in Florida has not changed. The four teams I mentioned have made their Florida spring bases icons back home. The Tigers have been in Lakeland since 1946, Phillies in Clearwater since 1947, Pirates in Bradenton since 1969, and the Blue Jays in Dunedin since 1977 (their only spring home).
As baseball begins, hockey ends with the best part of the season. The Stanley Cup playoffs, with 16 of 30 teams making the tournament, is the pro version of NCAA basketball. While the playoffs are not as good as the Olympic hockey tournament, they do include fighting, which is a necessary part of the game. Enforcers act as police on the ice, protecting the stars. One of the best was the New York Islanders' Clark Gillies, seen here beating the hell out of Philadelphia Flyers' Dave Hoyda for a cheap shot on the Isles' Mike Bossy. (Google Clark Gillies. He was a real motherf'er.)
The fight eventually became a bench clearing brawl (called linebrawls) during a time when the NHL could not figure out a way to govern fighting. Seven years later, linebrawls had not been outlawed. That was when a young Montreal Canadiens team with Chris Chelios and Patrick Roy (on the way to winning the 1986 Stanley Cup) played the Bruins in the Boston Garden. It begins with Chelios getting his ass kicked and ends with a linebrawl as the fight continues on the ice and under the stands. Watch for Roy (#33) at the 3:45 mark.
If you're thinking about watching the NHL after watching the Olympics, don't worry, there are no more linebrawls.