Hockey is out there and, thankfully, you don’t have to look too hard to find it.

While the NHL makes itself less relevant by the hour, the sport is strong.

On the last weekend of September, I was in Niagara Falls, Ontario, at the same time the city hosted Canada’s national street hockey championships. On Clifton Hill, just a few blocks from the Falls, just up the hill from the casinos and the wax museums and the arcades and the stores that sell Cuban cigars to American tourists, more than six dozen teams played street hockey in front of a national audience. The tournament was broadcast on the CBC. Thousands of fans lined the makeshift rinks laid out in the street.

They even have a trophy, the Redwood Cup. This was serious street hockey. It was supposed to be a space filler until the NHL resolved its labor problems and opened training camps. It looked fun, but for real hockey fans, it was supposed to be an appetizer.

Those who are following the NHL lockout a lot more closely than I, say a deal between the owners and NHL Players Association could come late Sunday or on Monday and that would salvage a 50-game season.

I’ll believe it when I see it and, in the meantime, get my hockey fix elsewhere. Like the World Junior Championship.

On Saturday morning, the United State beat Sweden, 3-1, to win the World Junior title, in Ufa, Russia. Our latest hockey heroes are Rocco Grimaldi, who scored a pair of goals in the championship game, and goalie John Gibson, who was outstanding throughout the tournament. Gibson went 5-2 in the tournament with a 1.36 goals against average and a .955 save percentage.

The World Junior tournament even gave Maine a chance to humblebrag. South Portland’s Job Gillies was the backup goalie for Team USA.

Team USA was a testament to hockey’s growth in this country. Thirteen states were represented on the Team USA roster, including Florida (Shayne Gostisbehere), Texas (Seth Jones) and California (Grimaldi). Once, United States hockey was found in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Grimaldi, the offensive hero of the gold medal game, is from Orange County, Calif., not far from Los Angeles.

With the World Junior tournament over, there’s college hockey to watch. Or junior hockey to follow, or even local high school. If, at the end of the week, the NHL and the players still can’t reach a deal, and commissioner Gary Bettman cancels the season, the game will go on despite these fools.

The Stanley Cup should go on, too.

The Stanley Cup is the best trophy in sports and there’s no reason it should be held hostage by the bunch of nitwits running the NHL. The NHL does not own the Stanley Cup. The Cup is managed by a pair of trustees, and since the 1940s, the trustees have allowed the NHL to award the Cup to its champion.

If the league cancels the 2012-13 season, it will be the second lost season in eight years. The trustees should let another league play for the Cup, and to prove a point, let a youth league play for it.

It would be cool to see, say, a a midget team from Toronto, skate around with the Stanley Cup held high. Let a kid win the Cup and spend the day with it. A youth team’s name engraved on the Cup as the 2013 champions, alongside the names of the 2012 Los Angeles Kings. Heck, give it to the team that wins the street hockey title.

Maybe that would make those doing their best to run the NHL into the ground realize that the game is bigger than them.

Play or don’t play, NHL. Hockey fans don’t need you as much as you think.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

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