THE ONLY ICE to be found in the new center of the hockey world is in the mint julep cups being raised in celebration south of the Mason-Dixon, places where the average annual temperature hovers around 89.5 degrees and folks don't know a Howe from hominy.

Yes, what was once Canada's national pastime and splendid obsession is now dominated by states of the Old South, the land of Uncle Remus, Stephen Foster, plantations, King Cotton, bourbon, and pork rinds. Today the Great White North's sole remaining claim to national distinction is back bacon. Not a pretty picture, eh?

Teams from the Old Confederacy dominate Canada's national game today. The Great White North's great white hope this season was the upstart Edmonton Oilers, the eighth-seeded team in the NHL Western Conference that improbably made it to the finals by beating two teams from California, thereby setting off a national hysteria from Vancouver to Halifax. In the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals, however, the Carolina Hurricanes, who play in Raleigh just up the road from Mayberry, gave the Oilers a lesson in a game that Canadians once owned as a national franchise.

Of course, Canada actually surrendered dominance of the hockey world to the United States sometime shortly after Rocket Richard retired. But now, to make matters worse, the center of gravity in Canada's national sport has shifted even farther south. The defending Stanley Cup champions are the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team from a state known for alligators, swamps, mosquitoes the size of B-29s, fried catfish, and corn fritters. The Dallas Stars, nee Minnesota North Stars (that's Dallas, as in "Big D," the Lone Star State, J.R. Ewing, Willy Nelson, Tex-Mex, longhorns) recently won a Cup, and this year marks Carolina's second trip to the finals.

A team from Canada hasn't won Lord Stanley's Cup since Montreal brought home the hardware in 1993, a drought that has lasted longer than the Dust Bowl. And even then the Habs had to scramble to beat a team from Los Angeles--El Lay for Gordy's sake!--land of sun tans, convertibles, sushi, and Valley girls, where a check is something you get after the avocado and asparagus salad with Chablis balsamic dressing. We mean, c'mon, the storied Toronto Maple Leafs, Canada's iconic team, hasn't won a Cup since 1967, when LBJ was president and Elvis was still warbling.

It must be doubly galling to Canadians that not only has the U.S. stolen their country's national pastime and relegated the five remaining Canadian teams to junior circuit status, but the game has been captured by states that don't even share a border with Canada. It's bad enough when the New York Rangers or the Red Wings, who play in Detroit just across the river from Windsor, Ontario, take home the Cup. At least in those states the ponds freeze over in winter and fans know a toque isn't a species of freshwater clam. Pennsylvania, home of the Flyers and Penguins, shares a watery border with our neighbor to the north, somewhere up there beyond one or another of those Great Lakes. These states have some cultural and climatic affinity with the Provinces to their north.

But the very idea that hockey is now dominated by teams from the land of grits and moonshine, where the only known Eskimos come in the shape of an ice cream sandwich you enjoy with an RC Cola--well, it must be too monstrous for Canadians to contemplate. Imagine a team from a Canadian city so far north that pond hockey is still played outside in July is being spanked by a team from a state best known as the home of Barney Fife and the good old boys of NASCAR.

The next thing you know those damned Johnny Rebs will be looking to rename the world's most revered trophy the Stonewall Cup. And "Oh, Canada" will be replaced by "Dixie."

When they're not busy watching the Stanley Cup playoffs, Frank Cannon and Richard Lessner are consultants with the Washington public affairs firm Capital City Partners.

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