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Tuesdays With Hildy: Star Power And The Allure Of Flyover Country


To those who expected a discussion of the pros and cons of Barret Jackman, sorry. To those who didn't expect a column, well, HA! Summer vacation, yo. My brain's functioning better in its non-functioning state.

This week's Tuesday's With Hildy is going to focus on something that's surprisingly relevant this time of year: location, location, location. Most specifically, team location, and how it plays into drawing free agents. We hear about people wanting to go to the big markets every year: New York, Philly, Toronto, Montreal... there just seem to be cities that out-shine others when it comes time for the annual free-agent frenzy that is July 1st. It should come as no shock that these markets always seem to be in the Eastern Time Zone, and they tend to be the more covered teams by media outlets. Some pro athletes, even hockey players, thrive on attention. No one wants to play a sport that they're a professional at in front of 8000 people in a half-empty arena. Are there positives about the smaller markets? Of course -- there were tons of positives about playing in Atlanta, I'm sure. But after a while, you have to weigh playing somewhere that people watch you versus being anonymous and being able to grocery shop.

I'm sure that Nikloas Antropov enjoyed going to Kroger to buy beer without people knowing who he was. Some people just do better when folks leave them alone. Believe it or not, there are guys who want to go to the smaller markets so they can have a nice dinner out with their family without people walking up to their table. Getting their photo on the front page of local newspapers isn't something all people crave. The bigger markets, the pressure to perform from literally everyone... it's tough. Players want fans to hold them accountable, but good lord. There's a point where it goes a little too far. They need a balance between being a bone fide hockey market and being left alone, and that's where we come in. By "we," I mean Midwesterners (and for the purpose of this discussion, folks from Tennessee).

Ryan Suter's one of the biggest pending UFAs out there. Teams everywhere want him. A playoff contender wanted to talk to him, but Suter turned them down. Why? They were the Philadelphia Flyers. Go from Nashville to Philly and see how well you adjust to the pressures and the recognition. It's pretty high pressure to just live in places like that, but to have thousands of people jump you when you goof? Not desirable for some.

Suter's University of Wisconsin coach believes that he'll wind up somewhere in the Midwest. Why? Lifestyle.

"I would say (he would sign) somewhere in the Midwest," Eaves said, finishing with, "If you take a look at the structure of the states, I think you could go as far south as St. Louis right through up to Detroit and over to Minneapolis. I think you are looking somewhere in the Midwest where he kind of knows the lifestyle he and his family would be getting into."

Suter's quiet, and as his former coach describes him, a country boy. He likes being laid back, and playing in Nashville's given him a chance to experience that. Is Nashville a hockey market? If you've ever gone to a game there, it's pretty obvious that it is. Is it a HUGE hockey market? Absolutely not. Detroit's a hockey market, but not nearly as massive as one of the Eastern Conference cities probably wooing Suter. You have the upshot of playing on a contender without being in a huge metro area (though I would think that the media pressure of playing for the Wings'd be along the same lines as the Eastern Conference teams). Minny's a massive market as far as intrest goes, and we're a pretty ok sized market here in St. Louis. There's some pressure, but not in massively huge amounts.

It's not all about the pressure, either. It's about the culture of the cities. Flyover country has nice people. When I have gone to Nashville, I felt like the folks I was sitting next to would have given me the shirt off of their backs if I needed it. They're superbly nice people. Folks from Minnesota also have the reputation of being exceedingly kind. I've met some very nice folks from Detroit as well, and from Chicago, and Columbus. It's a regional reputation thing, I suppose.

That's not to say that there aren't absurdly friendly people in large markets. There are, and there are lots of places to experience that country boy charm outside of the big cities. What is it that you guys feel makes flyover country desirable to athletes? It's no secret that St. Louis seems to have a huge number of former players in every professional sport return after their careers are over, but why do people want to head to this region of the country while their careers are in full bloom?