(Author's note: This article is a re-post of a blog entry I did on December 15, 2007.)As I was driving home from my haircut today, I was listening to the Sharks game on the radio. Color commentator and former Sharks star Jamie Baker was just starting out on one of his trademark rants between periods. Sometimes, Baker has good points to make. Most times, his love of all aspects of the game borders on maniacal (and I can respect that!). Today was one of those times where I agreed with everything he had to say.
Jamie was wondering aloud, in a sort of monologue style, when hockey will finally be marketed in the U.S. so that the game's popularity grows. He argued that, in a time of thug NBA players, criminal NFL players and drugged-up baseball players (my thoughts on that are a whole 'nuther post entirely), NHL players are the most stand-up guys of them all, both on and off the ice. Sure, some are prima donnas (*cough* Selanne *cough*), and some get into minor trouble from time to time, but in general, the NHL has some of the most down-to-earth, respectable guys in pro sports. They work hard, they play even harder and the majority make less than other, overpaid, overrated pro athletes (*cough* Kobe *cough*). They play because they love the game, not for the attention they get from the media. Marketing the game of hockey in the U.S. should be a slam-dunk, in Baker's opinion. There's non-stop action, there's athleticism, there's -HELLO!- fighting! I totally agree with Jamie. Hockey should be a slam-dunk. And yet, it's just not catching on...
Baker recounted an incident at the Sharks annual fund raising golf tournament from a year ago. This was the same year that Joe Thornton was named the MVP of the NHL. Baker said that a guy in his group wearing a Sharks polo shirt asked him if the Sharks actually had any decent players that year. Baker was shocked that a supposed "fan" of the Sharks had no idea that the best player in the NHL was a member of Team Teal. I can totally sympathize. I sat in front of a couple at the last Sharks game I attended who were equally as clueless. Every time #17 touched the puck, the guy would elbow the lady next to him and say, "Look! That's Cheech! He's amazing!" After five or six mix-ups, I finally turned around to inform him that "Cheech" is actually #14 and that he's hurt and not playing right now. "Well, who's 17 then?", he asked me, incredulously. "Torrey Mitchell". We were sitting pretty high up, but even so, I could read "Mitchell" clear as day on #17's back. This "fan" even had a Sharks jersey and hat on.
I've often wondered myself why hockey hasn't really caught on in the U.S. Maybe it has to do with the media glorification of thuggish NBA/NFL players and their ridiculous lifestyles. Maybe its the fact that most of the U.S. isn't cold enough to have lakes and ponds that freeze over in winter months and kids don't grow up playing the game. Who knows. But I was born in Florida and have never lived anywhere above 37° of latitude in my days, and I'm a HUGE hockey fan. I'd like to see more kids growing up idolizing Patrick Marleau instead of Shaquille O'Neal, Barry Bonds or Micheal Vick. But then again, when the media is constantly shoving that type of player down consumer's throats, it's tough to embrace anything else.
Communities like this one should give fans hope. There are the die-hard hockey lovers out there, but hockey's mainstream popularity depends on one thing: convincing the media to love it, too.