As we come up on the start of celebrations for the NHL’s Centennial, we recognize that hockey has come a long way since the League came together in 1917. We went from having only six teams in the League to 30 (and now 31, counting the Vegas Golden Knights), in large part thanks to the Wayne Gretzky trade to the Los Angeles Kings. Auston Matthews — the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft — is an Arizona native. He could have picked up a baseball bat or a football, but chose hockey instead.
That said, despite there being hockey in the U.S., there isn’t much publicity on the sport in this country. This is especially true for us Bay Area residents (hence why there’s a Pucknology After Dark, Pucknology Writers Room, and the Pucknologists #shamelessplug)!
Over the holiday weekend, the NBC Sports Twitter account tweeted a “Happy Holidays!” picture that included almost every sport … except the one it has rights to.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. The picture that the NBC Sports Twitter posted out failed to recognize hockey as a sport.
Over the last few days, Kayla Martz (@Kayluvsredwings) from the Red Wings blog Winged Octopus had been actively promoting* the World Junior Championship, which takes place at the Bell Centre and Air Canada Centre. One thing about this event is that the games only air on NHL Network. Not NBC Sports. Not ESPN, which was home to the World Cup of Hockey earlier this year. Just NHL Network. And that is a huge blow to the sport as it features future NHLers representing their countries, and is a HUGE chance to grow the sport.
So, I’ve decided to ask a few people what they would change or do what hasn’t been done yet in order to better promote hockey and the NHL in the U.S., and what the country could take away from Canada.
Here are their responses.
Erik Kuhre (@Puckguy14)
Ian Reid (@IReidPucknology)
Drew Weber (@puck_over_glass) also chipped in, with a message I’ll summarize as this:
- Wednesday Night Rivalry games on NBCSN need to have excitement, It needs to treat its audience like it’s everybody’s first time watching the sport. “Wednesday is the time to show off the speed and skill of the game.”
- The NHL and NHLPA need to work out their differences faster and ahead of time before the deadline to renew the CBA. It’s irresponsible to expect a lockout every deadline, and it’s absolutely detrimental to the game.
- The NHL needs the Olympics to show that they’re still relevant in the international hockey community. Look at what the “Miracle On Ice” in 1980 at Lake Placid did for USA Hockey.
- Hockey needs to be exposed in pop culture.
Last but not least, Destyn Humann (@PunkPuckDestyn) chipping in with this (again, TL;DR’ing it):
The sport needs to be exposed a lot more and a lot better than it is right now. Put it on a good network that will actually give it more air time, so that those who usually watch baseball or football will get a chance to watch the speed and skill of hockey. Another idea is minor league and junior league teams, and heck, even high school teams. Even if it’s not part of the NHL, it helps give more exposure to hockey itself.
Bottom line from all of these? Exposure. Exposure. Exposure.
Look, us American hockey fans get it, and have heard it from Canadians every international tournament; hockey is Canada’s sport. Canada owns the sport. The U.S. has football, baseball, and basketball. In the U.S., we’re raised to know how to throw a perfect spiral on a football, or swing the bat as hard as we can to get a home run, or shoot a three-pointer from downtown. None of it involves picking up a hockey stick and However, let’s not underestimate how far hockey has gone in the states. Look at what the Gretzky trade did to spark California hockey. We’ve already had two outdoor games in the last few years. How many California natives play in the NHL now, whether or not they’re rookies or seasoned veterans?
So let’s not pretend hockey doesn’t exist in the U.S., because it does. Most importantly, it’s not just played in the East Coast. I feel that the NHL and NBC Sports have continuously oversold the East Coast teams, especially when the Sharks are part of NBCSN’s double header schedule and the earlier East Coast game goes to overtime.
Until the game is better promoted here, there’s still a long way to go before hockey is taken seriously in the U.S.
*I use the linked tweet as an example; the Twitter poll on it has been closed.