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Nordiques Lead Mudville's List of Surprises in the NHL Season

By David Berl and Jeremy Cohen
Sports Columnists

After about a month, the abridged season in the NHL (No Hurry League) is almost halfway over. In case you blinked, or thought that Dennis Potvin was making a return to the sport and decided not to pay attention, we here in Mudville offer a recap of the season's many surprises.

Bold Surprise #1: Break up the Nords. A perennial loser whose teams have underachieved more than Bart Simpson, les Nordiques have finally turned it around under the brilliant guidance of General Manager Pierre "I am a rock" Paget.

Stephane Fiset has been phenomenal in goal, and with Joe "Potato" Sakic lighting the lamp, Quebec has the league's second best record, to go along with the league's worst uniforms - the only creation in sports more aesthetically displeasing than Dennis Rodman's hair.

Bold Surprise #2: Mario's Brothers explode. After losing one of the best players of this hockey generation to retirement, the Penguins have taken flight, a zoological anomaly which has both scientists and sportscasters puzzled. However, the success in the Steel City should be no mystery, since up-and-coming superstar Joamir "Two Silent J's" Jagr has dominated, while netminder Ken Wregget is having his best season ever.

Bold Surprise #3: The sinking in the Atlantic. No, that is not the Titanic going down off the eastern seaboard; instead, it is every team in the Atlantic division. The once powerful division, with talented clubs like the Rangers and Devils, does not have a single team over the .500 mark.

On the ice, the Rangers are essentially the same squad, but the stabilizing force of Mike "Benedict Arnold" Keenan is missing. By the way, Rangers fans, Keenan's St. Louis Blues are jazzing up the Mississippi with an impressive campaign.

The Devils' fall from grace has been equally dramatic, as the team couldn't turn on the bulb with Thomas Edison's help. Despite the immense talent of goalie Martin Brodeur, the team is hopeless. After all, how many 10 and 21 games can a team win in the playoffs, especially going up against the heroics of Stephan Mattau.

Bold Surprise #4: Vancouver's vacuum of victories. After coming within a game of glory last June, the mighty Canucks have fallen. Captain Kirk McLain "Deluxe" has had a disappointing season, and the Russian Rocket, Pavel Bure, has been about as accurate as a Scud missile. As a result, Vancouver is languishing in the basement of the Pacific division, behind such cannon fodder as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and San Jose Sharks.

Finally, Bold Surprise #5: The rise of the hometown heroes. With a rookie goaltender and a thin front line, no one expected the Bruins to contend. However, Steve "Foot" Locher has been impressive, and Cam Neely's health has translated into a potent, even if inconsistent offense.

If the team stays healthy through the next month (read: rest of the season), then the Bruins could make waves come playoff time. Still, between now and then, many talented teams, from Buffalo to New York to Toronto should hit their respective strides, making this year's race for Lord Stanley's Cup as wide open as ever.

Inside pitch

Usually, after the all-star break, contenders in the NBA jockey for position while the doormats play out the string. However, the beginning of the second half of the season has been incredibly eventful, due to two unbelievable trades. Although we here in Mudville can not confirm this rumor, our deductive thinking leads us to believe that every general manager on the west coast has been visiting either the pharmacy or the liquor store a bit too often.

Specifically, the Portland Trail Blazers, the team famous for picking Sam "you can't hope to stop him, just try to contain him" Bowie over Sir Jordan, has made another colossal blunder. Portland had no choice but to trade the aging Clyde Drexler, who was demanding a trade, but to unload him for an average power forward borders on the insane.

Rumors around the league had Drexler being traded for young talent, in the form of Kendall "Fish" Gill or Latrell Sprewell. However, in the Blazers' infinite wisdom, they traded their leading scorer to Houston for the always dominant Otis Thorpe. At least the Blazers could have salvaged veteran leadership by swapping Drexler for Tree Rollins in a less lopsided deal.

However, the imbecility on the west coast reached even more ridiculous proportions when the Warriors unloaded forward Tom Gugliotta, a proven NBA rebounder and scorer, for Donyell "Clutch free-throws" Marshall, the biggest rookie bust west of Yinka Dare. It would be understandable if the Warriors were not high on Gugs; each team evaluates talent differently, according to their own needs.

However, the Warriors' recent activity begs the question of why they traded their franchise player, Chris Webber, for Gugliotta, and then turn around and trade him for a sorry excuse for an NBA player. The league's general managers are purportedly paid to pick talent, but some couldn't pick their own sister out of a police lineup.

Trivia

Although there were several attempts to answer last week's challenging question, no one knew that Indiana's Rick Calloway passed to Keith Smart for the winning shot in the 1987 championship game.

This week's question also comes from the Marches of ages past: When UNLV won the National Championship in 1990, what was the Rebels' narrowest margin of victory, and against whom did they play the game? Please send your answer by electronic mail to bell@mit.edu.