I have always hated hockey.

It can be hard to watch at times. Television does a horrible job of following the puck and it costs an arm and a leg to catch a professional live game.

But, my conversion to being a Mainer is taking effect.

The sport is growing on me.

I found myself watching the Lewiston Maineiacs on a garbled Web cam last weekend, and not minding it. I could barely see the puck, but the intensity was loud and clear.

The playoffs bring that out in teams.

I am in no way, shape or form a Maineiacs fan. But, I respect the way they play.

These players don’t play for the money, but only for the prospect of being picked up by an NHL franchise. These players live in the homes of local families and live by their rules.

This is the minor leagues of minor leagues.

But you wouldn’t know that by the blood, sweat and tears the players leave on the ice.

And, for that, you should do yourself a favor and try and catch one of their games this weekend.

The Colisee promises to be rocking and we should celebrate players for participating for the right reasons . . . pride and love.

The NHL playoffs are exciting. Too bad I can’t get much more than highlights on SportsCenter. Who’s brilliant plan was it to put the playoffs on “Versus?” Ridiculous. That is what ESPN2 is for!

Early fantasy football note: Don’t draft Vince Young. He will grace the cover of Madden NFL 08, which is pretty much a guarantee that he will suffer a season-threatening injury during the preseason. Or, he will just choke. He says he isn’t worried about the “curse,” which has claimed the seasons of Shaun Alexander, Eddie George, Daunte Culpepper, Marshall Faulk and Donovan McNabb. Buyer beware.

Prediction: The Oakland Raiders will sign the soon-to-be-released Culpepper, trade away the No. 1 pick and watch their newly-found “franchise” quarterback blow out his knee. Meanwhile, JaMarcus Russell will win rookie of the year honors and lead to Al Davis firing another coach. It’s like a one-ring circus, but it’s kind of fun to watch.

One-man show: Kobe Bryant has scored more than 50 points 10 times this season and 16 times in the past two years. Wow. Of course, when you have Rony Turiaf and Luke Walton starting with you, it doesn’t matter how many points you score. The Lakers were lucky to make the playoffs and will get bounced by Phoenix, who have six players capable of scoring 50 points in a game.

Prediction, Part II: The NBA playoffs should be exciting out West. The Denver Nuggets will provide the biggest upset by knocking off the San Antonio Spurs, while the Mavericks, Suns and Rockets will all advance as well. Look for Mavs and Suns to square off, with Phoenix making its way into the Finals. Meanwhile, out East, lets hope LeBron James pulls off a miracle. Unfortunately, it’ll probably be Pistons vs. Heat in the conference finals, with Detroit advancing. And, Steve Nash will cap another MVP season with a sweep in the Finals.

With that, I will return to my corner and wait for the next Maineiacs Web cast.

My life as a hockey-hater is officially over.

For now.

Nick Masuda is filling in for Kalle Oakes while he is vacationing, or throwing pizza at Angels players. Who knows? Anyways, Kalle will return on Sunday. Meanwhile, you need to put up with Masuda’s drivel.

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