NHL: 4 Most Unfortunate Misunderstandings About Hockey
Many NHL fans continue to hope they will be proven wrong about their perception that the league and/or player’s association is pushing them into the trunk, if not out of the van altogether.
While a week, dense with negotiations continues, the lockout continues indefinitely. If it is mercifully ended in the near future, though, maybe the sport’s quintessential league can do something about proving others wrong in other areas.
Naturally, the NHL will surely have a little reparation to do with its established fans no matter how much of the 2012-13 season is ultimately lost. Afterwards, though, a sense of normalcy should be back in full swing as the league brings hockey back to its usual seasonal spots across the North American media and public eye.
Once there, or even beforehand, it will be a good time to address some of the sport’s top misconceptions, whether they are harbored by established fans, prospective fans or disparagers.
Even now, as the game banks on minor professional, junior and collegiate leagues to keep stoking the interest fire in this so-far NHL-free autumn, we might as well begin to set the record straight on the four least defensible complaints against hockey.
'It’s Too Violent'
Fights are going to break out in a hockey game once in a while, but what of it?
Hockey’s detractors, particularly at the professional level, never seem to catch the contradictions in how they evaluate various sports. Neither do those who take interest in hockey for all of the wrong reasons.
This author has met those who only watch the game to see it interrupted by a boxing match and has heard of some who, at various youth levels, sign up to play for the expressed purpose of pummeling other participants.
And yet, you never run into a self-professed baseball enthusiast who just wants to step on a pitcher’s mound and chuck a fastball at somebody.
Sure, there is a lot of hitting and collision on the ice, but if you don’t care for that, that just means you cannot have any taste for football, either. So don’t resort to stereotypes for the sake of demeaning hockey.
Ideally, it should be second nature knowledge that a hockey player’s actions can only be considered a real hockey play if it is designed to influence the destination of the puck. It could be a pass, a clean hit, a careful clearance that still keeps the puck in play, a shot, a shot-block or a save.
Those who excel in any of those areas define a real hockey player, not somebody other than a puck-hauling goalie who habitually stops the clock.
As it happens, with the NHL indefinitely idled and potentially more attention being paid to other levels, this may be the best time for enlightenment on this topic. Just show someone you know an NCAA or USA Hockey-sanctioned travel game, where fighting is a felony resulting in an automatic game misconduct.
'It Doesn’t Belong in Southern States'
A common case against expansion or relocation of franchises to the lower entities of the continental U.S. is that the locals only support the sport if their team is winning.
Reality check: The only four teams in the modern era that have proven they can draw consistently healthy attendance figures through thick and thin are the Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Rangers and Wild. That is, the two Original Six teams from Canada, another Original Six team that is based in America’s largest city and the team that plays in the self-proclaimed “State of Hockey.”
In the last 30 years, almost everybody else in the “traditional hockey markets” has had at least one egregious low point at the gate. Nearly all of them coincided with egregious years on the ice and in the standings.
The Boston Bruins, America’s oldest NHL franchise, drew 14,764 per game at the 17,565-seat TD Garden in 2006-07. That same year, the Chicago Blackhawks drew 12,727 per game at the 20,500-seat United Center.
The Detroit Red Wings, whose fanbase has called their city “Hockeytown,” drew merely 12,496 per game at the 19,275-seat Joe Louis Arena in 1981-82. The Minnesota North Stars, the Wild’s predecessors in the State of Hockey, drew 7,838 per game at the 15,000-seat Met Center in 1990-91.
Buffalo, Edmonton, the New York Islanders, Pittsburgh and Vancouver have all had their own notable periods of hardship at the gate. But they have also all had franchises much longer than the majority of the southern-based teams.
Give it more time and it will soon become clear that hockey is just as continental as the other major sports and that, with one annual exception, is blessed to be an indoor sport.
'The Season Is Too Long'
Sounds more like aversion to watching the sport when it’s warm outside.
It is a little surprising that some fans still have not grown used to the fact that the Stanley Cup Finals always spill into June, which every championship has done since 1992.
While it can be draining for all parties involved to start training camp shortly before the autumnal equinox and polish off the playoffs before the summer solstice, there are some benefits to the timing of an NHL season.
For instance, with the exception of 2005, every NHL draft in recent memory has occurred within no more than roughly two weeks of the Cup being doled out. The free agency frenzy commences about a week later.
This author, for one, certainly understands that it is hard to stave off a sense of burnout when it gets to that point. However, a happy medium can be found in that breather between the afterglow of the Cup final and every team’s start to its offseason retooling.
Once everyone has had that breather, hockey headlines pick up again, but not in the same form or at the same intensive pace as when games are being played. Furthermore, with the season not so far in the past, people’s minds are fresh, not rusty, which makes for a better collective interest in discussions of the newly drafted prospects and all of the free agent signings.
Contrast that with, say, the NFL, where it often seems like a 12-week gap between the Super Bowl and the draft is desperately plugged with Mel Kiper, Jr.’s four dozen revisions to his projected picking order.
'Defense Is Dull'
There has been an off-and-on fear that hockey will turn prospective and even established fans away, particularly in the playoffs, if the lamps do not light up often enough.
Granted, overflowing offense is outright electrifying, but who other than the fans of the winning team are genuinely stimulated for long if an offensive salvo becomes a one-sided romp?
Shootouts like the ones we saw in the first half of last year’s Philadelphia-Pittsburgh first round series can be great as long as they are competitive. The exact same notion holds true for the much more constricted Atlantic Division feud we saw between the Devils and Rangers in the third round.
How many people could have honestly been turned off in 2011 when Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson engaged in a Game 7 staring contest complete with suspenseful saves back and forth and the chronic question of who was going to blink first?
As long as a given contest remains unpredictable, fans siding with both teams and impartial observers alike are bound to stay engaged. Whether it is 0-0 or 7-7 after 60 minutes, an overtime epic is an overtime epic all the same.