John F. Russell: The Grinch who stole hockey

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It's the holiday season and all across the country, children -- and a few childish adults like me -- have started making their Christmas wish lists.

During the next few weeks, Santa will be flooded with requests for the latest video game systems, cute dolls that cry and, of course, world peace. (Who doesn't ask for world peace?)

Personally, I'm really hoping that Santa will stop by and leave my 7-year-old son, Rylan, a special gift: his two front teeth.

But the No. 1 item on most Colorado sports fans' Christmas lists this year, just edging out a Broncos Super Bowl title, has to be the return of professional ice hockey.

It's true that most of America seems oblivious to the NHL lockout, but there are a few places, including Detroit and Colorado, where the absence of hockey has left fans hoping for a Miracle on 1000 Chopper Circle.

It's as if the Grinch came slithering into our town late one night while we were all a-snooze and stole the one thing that made us cheer or brought out boos.

Hey Grinch: We will trade you Cindy Lou Who, a pair of shoes that actually fit and the Hart Trophy if you simply bring back the game of hockey.

But the truth is that neither the Grinch nor Santa can provide this holiday cheer. We must leave that to the owners and those players reps we all fear.

Only the NHL players and owners can bring it back -- but I wouldn't hold out hope that their hearts will grow three sizes before Christmas.

It's a strange thing, but I always thought the crash of a major sport such as hockey would create a thump loud enough to wake up everyone in Who-ville.

But this has not been the case with hockey.

The sport disappeared about 80 days ago, but if you tune into a TV sports channel, read the papers or listen to sports radio, you might not even notice that it's gone.

A story about the NHL and the players' association meeting this week appeared in our paper last week. It was on page 37, deep in our sports section underneath a story about baseball player Jason Giambi's $120 million contract being in jeopardy because he used performance-enhancing drugs.

Chances are, most of us read about former Avalanche superstar Peter Forsberg becoming a model in Sweden before we saw the story about the lockout.

But our paper is not alone.

The interest in professional hockey has hit an all-time low and the lockout now gets little more than a mention in most major markets.

With the future of professional hockey in the balance, owners and players continue to haggle about dollars and cents. As of Thursday, 334 regular-season games, plus the 2005 All-Star game, have been wiped out. Many of the top players have gone to Europe to keep playing the game with hopes that the disagreements with the NHL owners will come to an end before the interest in hockey leaves with the holiday season.

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