Where Angels Fear To Tread 2013: April Fool’s Day Conference III Conflagration
It is a day, by tradition, when fools suffer and are suffered.
It is a day, by tradition, when silliness and levity are celebrated and tolerated. Mischief-makers and pranksters are lifted high on shoulders and lauded for their frauds and subterfuge.
It is, by tradition, a day for yucksters, a day for the snide and cunning.
It’s a rather strange confluence, then, that the National Hockey League has scheduled a bloodbath. It has engineered a coast-to-Texas battle royale, a continental donnybrook. It has erected a structure of steel and human sinew and dinosaur bones, forged and melted in the very fires of Phlegethon. And under that structure, the league has captured all the vitriol and hatred it can muster.
For only the second time this season, all seven Conference III teams are playing on the same day.
It is, by tradition, a day when fools rush in.
But today, it is a place WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD.
In the four-plus hours between the start of Winnipeg’s conquest of the Big Apple to the final horn in Big D, a raw-meat-and-pure-grain-alcohol-fueled feast of vicious Conference III action will be force fed to America and the better parts of Canada. Like a Mobile Bay Jubilee (but with hatred instead of seafood), we knew this was possible but could not predict it.
We’ll start in Madison Square Garden at 6 Central. Evander Kane will lead his Jets into that building — it would be the eighth scariest in the conference next year if the Rangers weren’t so frightened they had to hook up with the rest of the detritus in the Rust Division — and Kane will say with a mighty roar: “No. No. No MSG!” John Tortorella seems a perfect fit — all reticence and anger and mustache — for some Conference III team, but this year he’s 0-for-2 against Winnipeg, so now we understand why he’s spent his career in the sunshine of Tampa and under the flaw-covering airbrushes and glitter of the Great White Way.
Perhaps there was a moment yesterday when the Blackhawks and Avalanche passed by one another in the airport in Detroit. Behind the conquering Chicagoans, the Avs could see the fire leaping up from the ruins of Joe Louis Arena, its mighty roof tumbling and collapsing, the ‘Hawks having taken a battle-ax to the lacy curtain of myth and history behind which the Red Wings have hidden for too long. In the quiet of a Sunday evening at an airport in a half-abandoned hulk of a once-beastly metropolis, the Avs and Hawks could hear the lamentations of the Red Wings fans: “But how many Cups have you won? How many? OH GOD THE BURNING PLEASE MAKE THE BURNING STOP! BUT HOW MANY CUPS HAVE YOU WONNNNN???”. And with those words echoing, Gabriel Landeskog stepped out to meet Jonathan Toews. The men exchanged glances. Usually, they are enemies. Today, they are prologue and epilogue to the same story — the desecration of an enemy ancient to one and old to the other. In those glances were a conversation, one we can’t understand. Puck drops at 6:30 Central for Avs-Wings.
Minnesotans have a reputation for politeness, but that culture of deference is a shell as thin as a layer of tater-tots on top of a hotdish, for Minnesota is a land founded by the descendants of a most fearsome race of conquerors. Minnesotans are the scions of Vikings, a tribe so concerned with pillaging, they didn’t even take the time to come up with a more clever way of creating last names beyond “What’s your father’s name? Just add ‘-sson’ to the end of it.” The extra S is for extra scary. And St. Louisians are no slouches either, carrying on the bloodline of the last group of French people to ever conquer anything. So dedicated are they to victory, they’ll do basically anything to win. This latest rejoining of the Siege of Stralsund begins at 7 Central in St. Paul.
Yesterday, Chicago got all their goals out of the way, because they know tonight’s battle against Nashville will be the equivalent of two enemies swinging giant hammers at one another. Mostly, it is a fight of exhausting near-misses, but occasionally, the heads of hammers hit squarely, eliciting a loud and terrifying ping and sending a paralyzing shockwave into the shoulders of the belligerents, angering them into wondering “Why am I swinging this giant hammer because even when I hit something, it hurts me pretty badly too?” But so long as your mortal foe swings his hammer, so must you. And in this case, Chicago is the reigning lord at the top of the hill and Nashville is scrambling to hold on, barely having purchase on even the smallest piece of soil of the great Seigneurie that is playoff positioning. But Chicago did not reach its lofty perch through stupidity. It knows a lean and hungry animal is the most dangerous of all Predators. Face-off at 7:30 Central in Chicago.
Most nightcaps are a soothing Scotch, a calming cognac or a blissful brandy. The “Where Angels Fear To Tread 2013” nightcap is none of these. It is a drink born of necessity, a cowboy’s concoction made of fermented cactus and tumbleweed squeezings, cooked in a withered boot cut off the diseased leg of a greenhorn from back east who figured out the purpose of barbed wire just a second too late. It’s distilled over a fire that uses the classic cowboy accelerant of hiraeth, heartbreak and the kind of deadlines only scary, vengeful, Old Testament, Westward Expansion, Manifest Destiny God can establish. Like other nightcaps, it puts you to sleep, but not in a rockabye baby kind of way — in the kind of way that the Double Deuce puts you to sleep. Lights out after this one: Ducks at Stars starts at 7:30 Central.
That’s it Conference IIIers: Seven teams. Five games. Four hours of horror with face-offs every half-hour between dinner and sundown.
When you hear the chimes of the clock, don’t ask for whom the bell tolls. You already know the answer.