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NEW YORK (CAP) - National Hockey League officials have pulled out all the stops in their attempt to boost dismal playoff ratings by extending an invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to skate with the New York Rangers during his visit to the United States this week.
The NHL and broadcast partner NBC have dubbed the event The Pope Vs The Devils: Battle On The Frozen River Sticks, and according to details of the proposal, released yesterday, Benedict XVI will skate two shifts with the Rangers first line during Friday's Stanley Cup Playoff game versus the New Jersey Devils in New Jersey.
"Well, they've had their troubles with the priests and boys sex scandals, and I think they're an organization that is coming back to prominence," said Jeff Trebel, NHL vice president of sales and marketing. "The NHL is also coming back, and we've got a lot of young men here in the NHL that we're very, very excited about, like Sidney Crosby ... Alright, that didn't come out right. Don't print that."
Hoping to create a television ratings bonanza, the NHL's primetime event features several celebrity appearances. Most appropriate, they've lined up country superstar Faith Hill, who is scheduled to perform the national anthem in a replica of the school uniform she wore at her Catholic high school.
During the first period intermission, Pope Benedict's famous "Pope-mobile" will be converted into a makeshift zamboni, and he will become the first Roman Catholic pontiff to clean the ice between periods of an NHL hockey game.
After the conclusion of the second period, one lucky fan will have a chance to participate in the evening's miracle-shot-from-mid-ice promotion, which will feature a new twist for His Holiness's visit. If the fan can't shoot a puck through a tiny hole in a piece of plywood in front of the net, everyone in attendance at the game has to chip in $15 on the way out to help pay the church's mounting legal fees.
"It'll be a great night for two great organizations trying to stay relevant," said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
Other than the scheduling challenges associated with getting the Pope from Manhattan to New Jersey on a Friday night, there have been very few obstacles, according to league officials. Just two days ago, organizers received a moral boost when the manufacturer they contracted two months ago presented them with a regulation face shield that the Pope can attach to his trademark headgear, the mitre, for the game.
Trebel and the league are expecting a big night all around - a night hockey fans won't soon forget.
"If there is going to be a second-coming," explained Trebel, "why not here? Why not now?
"Just in case, we've reserved three tickets for Jesus Christ - at center ice. It should be a great game, if he's at all worried about that. Definitely worth the resurrection."
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