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Rant: Hockey just won't be the same

PETE YOUNG
Published June 6, 2004

Yep, the Lightning pretty much ruined everything the past couple of months.

How are fans supposed to get revved up about anything in sports after this, this electrifying-captivating-exasperating-heartstopping march through the Stanley Cup playoffs?

Nothing ever will be the same.

Next season (if there is a next season; labor strife could kill it, which is a rant for another day) will start off with a bang, sure. On opening night at the St. Pete Times Forum there will be a celebration of the wondrous 2003-04 season. Highlight clips will roll, banners will be raised to the rafters and everyone will get goosebumps ... and then what?

Routine regular-season hockey just won't satiate Lightning fans anymore. They are the cub that finally crawled out of the den - there's no going back.

The Bucs experienced something similar. Win the Super Bowl, and anything less becomes a letdown. Buc nation won't eat cake, anymore. It craves steak, preferably from Bern's.

Same thing with the Lightning. Show the masses a spectacular run, and, well, a weeknight game against Phoenix in early November doesn't accelerate the pulse anymore. It won't be much different than, say, a Rays game.

Lightning, you've ruined things ... and we loved it every step of the way.

Rave: College prepared Prince well

Tayshaun Prince had the resume of basketball royalty on draft day 2002.

The former blue-chip recruit was a college All-American at hallowed Kentucky. At 6-9, Prince could play multiple positions with aplomb and was even better on defense, with his exceptionally long arms and instincts.

Yet one team after another declined to draft him. The two-time SEC player of the year finally was chosen at No. 23 by Detroit. The main rap was his wafer-thin frame. Also, if he were really any good, why did he play four years in college in an era when "real" future stars frequently bypass college altogether?

Prince, however, made dramatic improvements his final three seasons of college, and he was at his best in big moments in Kentucky's biggest games.

Detroit's playoff opponents have learned about Prince's big-game knack. Though he played little his rookie year (2002-03), Prince made a stunning impact in the playoffs last season. This season he has been a vital cog in Detroit's run. The unassuming left-hander is comfortable in any role, from focal point to fifth option, and his late-game shot blocking helped turn back the Pacers.

Prince's stellar play also has turned back the clock: Perhaps four years in college still can be a good way to prepare for the NBA.

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