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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2008

Hockey gives fault line new meaning

BY DENNIS BOVA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

When I moved here 15 years ago, one of the first things a co-worker explained to me about northwest Ohio is that we re on what he called the fault line.

He was referring to the annual football game between Ohio State and Michigan. We re Ohioans, but Toledo s so close to Ann Arbor that a lot of Michigan fans live here. The resulting friction unleashes an earthquake-like rift between friends and families, hence the fault line.

But through a twist of events, Toledo is on the fault line for another reason. It has to do with a clash of cultures. An encounter of economies. A juxtaposition of histories.

It has to do with hockey.

Today and Monday, the Detroit Red Wings will host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals. Play resumes in Pittsburgh on Wednesday and May 31. Should the series go the full seven games, there will be two more in the Motor City and one more in the Steel City.

The Glass City lies between. Despite this age of Mapquest and GPS devices, the simplest way to tell a Pittsburgher how to get to Detroit is, Get on the Ohio pike and hang a right at Toledo. To a Detroiter looking for Pittsburgh, Head south on 75 or 23 and hang a left at Toledo.

So maybe Toledo s more of a turning point than a fault line. No matter which way you look at it, we here in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are in a good position to enjoy the best of both worlds.

We re close enough to Detroit to share in its excitement over these games and far enough from Pittsburgh to be hospitable to Penguins fans who may want to stop here on their way to the Joe Louis Arena. After all, when the Super Bowl was in Detroit in 2006, the aforementioned Ohio Turnpike was packed with Steelers fans from Western Pennsylvania who were, well, hanging a right at Toledo.

And, by at least one account, they were spending time and money here. A manager of a restaurant-bar hard by the pike in Perrysburg was poised for a Penguins-Red Wings matchup. The hunger and thirst of the Steelers fans in 06 caught the staff unawares, but he s ready this time.

Detroit and Pittsburgh are separated by about 300 miles, but they re close in some ways. Pittsburgh is famous for making the steel that went into Detroit s cars. The steel industry dried up, so Pittsburgh s fostering high-tech companies and focusing on health care. Detroit s still making cars, but, as some reports say, Pittsburgh s present could be Detroit s future as the auto industry struggles.

There are their histories. Pittsburgh began as a French fort that the British took over in the French and Indian War. The city s named after British statesman William Pitt and is celebrating its 250th anniversary. Detroit also began under the French, 57 years earlier.

There s the lay of the land. Pittsburgh is hilly and sectioned by three rivers. Detroit is flatter and has only one river. Each contributes to a road system that shares two things: an abundance of potholes and an accompanying spate of repairs that gives rise to the saying, The shortest distance between two points is under construction.

There s the culture. Born of weather patterns that run from heat and humidity to snow and slush, and of a rich history of heavy manufacturing, Detroiters and Pittsburghers are a hardy lot.

So maybe the meeting between the Red Wings and the Penguins isn t so much a face-off of differences as it is a celebration of commonality. Each team persevered in a grueling tournament to meet for the oldest professional sports trophy in North America and likely will represent their home cities well.

I m really looking forward to these Stanley Cup finals. See, the city I came from that necessitated that co-worker s description of the Toledo fault line was Pittsburgh.

Contact Dennis Bova at: bova@theblade.com or 419-724-6164.



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