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MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE

MEMPHIS SPORTS SCENE

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While the Redbirds have their AutoZone, the Grizzlies have their Pyramid (and soon-to-be-started arena), and the River Kings have their Desoto County Conference Center, the Blues City Hockey League has something none of them do: A Chick Fil-A. The amateur hockey club also has a driver’s license substation and a quickie marriage license vendor (complete with chapel). Heck, Blues City Hockey even has a J.C. Penney. Oh wait, never mind. They have all this because they play in Memphis’ great forgotten open space: The Mall of Memphis. It’s that big ol’ building at Perkins and American Way, center of mall commerce for Memphis in the 80’s. The place struggles on, but its ice rink continues to be haven for those addicted to the sound of sharp blades on cold ice. The league is under the charge of Hockey Director Dan Brown, a former River Kings defense man from Ô94-Ô98, and then again in ‘99, after which he retired. The league’s first run was last February. It sported only three teams at the time, with games once a week. Each week, the teams took turns at pulling a double-header. That’s right. A double-header of hockey. Brown says that he was happy for the turnout. “We got three teams out of nowhere,” he says. “We weren’t sure what we were going to get.” In the league’s second incarnation, four teams came to play in a summer league. The bad thing about four teams was that it meant no more double headers. The good thing about four teams was that it meant no more double headers. Now, Brown’s league fields 5 teams and 75 players hitting the ice each week at the Mall of Memphis. Those 75 players are a diverse lot. “We have some pro guys,” Brown says of former River Kings teammates he’s cajoled to play. But also, “We have some who are just beginning.” All games are refereed, and all players must have complete gear (ranging in price from $200-$600, according to Brown). Also, all players must be certified by U.S.A. Hockey. The season runs roughly 15 weeks, with four out of the five teams reaching a playoff round. Each team earns a bye every fifth week of play. Every member of the squad must pay for ice time for all games (a total fee of $170). This season ends in mid-January, but the next comes right up and begins in mid-February. And Blues City Hockey isn’t just for guys. “We have some women in the league,” Brown says. “We don’t have that many, but I allow them to skate.” Though there are only two or three women players in the league at this time, Brown says, “I would love to put up a women’s league.” Maybe in the future. As it stands, Memphis amateur hockey is definitely on the rise. As the league gets bigger and more people show up to watch the games (Brown says that about “50 or 60” spectators watched the summer championship game), the Mall of Memphis will perhaps see a bit more life. The place certainly can’t sale much of anything, so at the least it can still be used as a public use facility. Maybe next it will install an indoor track upstairs. OTHER STUFF
  • I went to the NBA media day and then a practice this morning. This is going to be so much fun. The Grizzlies might not be necessarily a good team this year, but they will definitely be cool to watch. As I watched the practice, two things stand out the most. 1) Rookie Shane Battier is a work-horse on defense. He pulled fellow rookie Pau Gasol all around the floor when the two met up. And 2) native Memphian Lorenzen Wright wants a starting spot and he wants it bad. When the rest of the team went to go get water, Wright just called for a ball and started to hit jump-shots from the free-throw line. He didn’t stop moving the entire practice. Even when it was his turn to sit during team scrimmages, Wright stood on the sideline, talking quietly with Battier, looking everything like a mentor to the younger player. When Wright wasn’t jabbering with the rookie, he called out encouragement to other players. It’s my guess that Wright wants the Pyramid to be his house again.
  • The AXA Liberty Bowl is calling this year’s installment a “celebration of patriotism” with its “partners in patriotism.” The Liberty Bowl people will hand out 10,000 American flag posters and 50,000 American flags on game days. That they will hand out posters of flags speaks volumes toward the power of the postmodern on marketing gurus trying to sell tickets. But isn’t the 50 K real flags a bit much? That’s what, three flags per person?
  • The University of Memphis faces a big test this weekend as CUSA leader Southern Mississippi comes to the Liberty Bowl (no word yet on how many flags or how many representations of flags will be on display). The Memphis defense had better show up or this season will fall flat before it is half done. At 2-2 overall and 0-1 in conference play, the Tigers already tread a thin line between loser territory and a potential Bowl bid.

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