I became a fan of hockey much later in life. In fact, I was well into my adult years before I began to really watch and understand the game. Sure when I was in high school or college I would watch the highlights on SportsCenter or maybe have a Blues game on in the background while I did something else but I would never have described myself as a “fan” of hockey.
Due to my geography and social background hockey simply isn’t something that is popular in my neck of the woods. Kids don’t get together on a winter afternoon and play pond hockey, it’s not a sport that is offered at our high school and I’m pretty sure that we have never had a hometown kid go on to play collegiate much less professionally hockey.
Of course, just like any small town U.S.A. we love our sports. Football in the fall, basketball (mainly NCAA) in the winter and baseball in the summer. That is what we watched on TV and that is what the kids played. One begot the other.
But unlike the other kids I was lucky enough to have a Dad who loved Blues hockey and even though it took a number of years I finally fell in love with the sport as well. I fell in love with the perfect balance of physicality and skill. I fell in love with watching the games on a winter’s night when there was nothing else on TV. And I fell in love with die hard fans that have supported this sport for over 50 years.
However, I have to admit that at first it was a struggle. For someone who has never played or even grown up with the game it can be difficult to grasp. The rules can be vague and subject to different interpretations. At first, it merely seems like a bunch of guys skating after a puck and running into each other. And worst of all, since main stream media couldn’t care less about the sport, insightful and helpful analysts can be hard to find.
Luckily I stuck with it. Slowly but surely things started to make sense. After watching a lot of games and reading everything I could get my hands on I began to understand the sport. But when I look back, I don’t remember getting a lot of help from the NHL. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I’m not really sure they even wanted me as a fan.
But that’s ok. Sometimes the harder the journey the more it makes you appreciate the destination. Maybe that’s why hockey has some of the best fans in all of professional sports. They have actually had to work at being a fan. They aren’t just at the game to kill a Sunday. They don’t watch the games simply because it’s on primetime television. And they all share a common bond. They care about this sport.
Some of that is good. When I meet another St Louis Blues fan I can pretty much guarantee that they are as passionate about the game as I am. We often joke about how the Game Time paper is like fight club. The first rule of Game Time is you don’t tell people about Game Time. Granted the amount of people that read the paper is a lot smaller than it probably could be but it does guarantee that if you are reading the paper you are just as dedicated as the people who print it.
However, sometimes it feels like the governing bodies of the NHL treat the game of hockey like we treat the paper. It seems like, more often than not, they do more to stifle the growth of the fanbase rather than cultivate it.
It is my sincere belief that hockey could and should be the most popular sport in North America. It is upbeat and fast paced, it is the very definition of a team sport which allows for the marketing of virtually every player on the team, and it’s smaller venues allow for fans to feel like they are right on top of the action no matter were their seats are located.
Instead we have a group of owners and players alike who seem to feel a sense of entitlement towards their fanbase. A group of leaders on both sides of the aisle who are more interested in their own gains than the growth of the sport. Two groups who’s first instinct when faced with issues they cannot easily resolve, is to close the doors on their fans. Multiple times. A group who as a whole are more determined to promote the brutality and toughness of the sport than the skill and knowledge it takes to play the game.
Lets face it, to the rest of the world the game of hockey is still viewed as a barbaric game played by a bunch of thugs. Case in point is the Carey Price incident that happened Thursday night. For the record I have nothing against a goalie, or any player for that matter, standing up for themselves. And I have nothing against the physicality in the sport but there definitely needs to be a line that the players know not to cross.
How does it look to the rest of the world when the most viewed highlight of our sport is the clip of a goalie standing over a defenseless player and pummeling the shit out of him while his defenseman holds him down? Especially when it is stated in black and white that such an action shall warrant a match penalty and has to be reviewed by the NHL before the goalie is allowed to return to play.
I’m not here to argue whether or not the officials blew the call. Its a seldom invoked penalty that may have been forgotten in the heat of the moment. However, the governing body of the NHL had the opportunity to show the rest of the league and the world that these kind of cheap shots will no longer be tolerated. They had a chance to show the youth of the sport that this is no longer how you play the game. They had a chance to prove once and for all that this is going to be a sport that glorifies attributes like skill and intelligence. But once again the blew it.
Just like they blew the unveiling in Las Vegas, just like the blew the all-star game last year, and just like how they will undoubtably blow it when they impose another lockout. If we truly want to grow our sport, if we want more than to play second fiddle to the rest of professional sports and if we want to share our love of this game with the rest of the world than a change needs to happen. And it needs to happen now! Thanks for reading.