Round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is officially underway, and I cannot help but wonder why the NHL is not more popular.
Even the Phoenix Coyotes qualified as the third seed in the Western Conference, clinching their first-ever Pacific Division title (though our hockey fan base in Arizona isn’t very much to get excited about).
Nevertheless, each series brings with it a sense of newfound excitement. If you don’t know what I mean, watch an NHL playoff game on television. It will be one of the most exciting sporting events you’ll watch all year.
If you like finesse, watch for Danny Brière of the Philadelphia Flyers, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks. If watching players check one another is more your style, look for Zdeno Chára of the Boston Bruins, Matt Carkner of the Ottawa Senators or, turning once again to the Penguins, Kris Letang.
The fact is, pick any one of the eight playoff series, and it just happens they’re all the epitome of fast, hard-fought, old-fashioned hockey.
Yet there seems to be a lack of respect for hockey in the mainstream. ESPN rarely ever covers hockey as it’s “top story,” which airs first on it’s programming. Even during the playoffs, within one of the most exciting NHL playoff years I can remember, ESPN spends more time on “Gruden’s QB camp” and regular season NBA games than it does discussing hockey.
There are many times —especially during the regular season — when the games simply don’t air on television. Sure, hockey fans have the Winter Classic and NBC has its “game of the week,” but other than this, there is hardly any mention of hockey during the regular season.
My question is simple: Why has this timeless game failed to spark the interest of people who would rather watch the embarrassing NBA or coverage that is a week early of NFL’s draft?
Some might say environment has something to do with it. Especially in Arizona, many people have never had the opportunity to play hockey and therefore cannot easily identify with it at a professional level.
My point, however, is that I didn’t have to be a junior astronaut as a kid to identify with the marvel of space and the universe, and I don’t have to run for public office to appreciate the intricacies and complexities of national politics.
The truth remains that hockey is a strategic, quick, skillful game that continues to be second-rate to sports like the NBA, NFL and MLB.
It’s a game of luck, skill and finesse. It’s an energetic sporting masterpiece that is so intense, it calls for nothing less of your full attention.
Give it a chance, trust me.
The next time you have the chance to watch an NHL playoff game, watch it.