The NHL. Those three letters bring out a lot of feelings. For many, hockey has disappeared much like some of the old rock bands of yesteryear. Yes, Blue Oyster Cult is still around, still touring, but they’re far from a big act anymore.
There was a time where sportscasters referred to football, baseball, basketball and hockey as the four major sports. Today, many of these people behind the mikes leave hockey out of that statement. ESPN has to take a hit here. When they carried the games, they showcased the league, promoted it, had the NHL Tonight Show and showed plenty of highlights on SportsCenter. Now, because they don’t carry the games, they virtually ignore it. I would bet my lunch that ESPN Radio hosts Mike and Mike, Colin Cowherd, Mike Tirico and the rest are told by the network not to talk hockey at all. Would it kill a Cowherd, or a Tirico to have Barry Melrose on for a 15 minute segment?
But, as 2007 became 2008, the NHL did something right. if you’re going to knock the league for everything they do wrong, you have to give praise when praise is deserved. Today’s Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Buffalo Sabres before 71,417 at Ralph Wilson Stadium was a well done event by the NHL.
Sure, the ice wasn’t perfect and conditons were far from ideal, but they were good enough and certainly worth the exposure. NBC treated the NHL like a big league. They brought in the nation’s best sports host in Bob Costas and treated it like an event without losing sight of the fact that it was also an important regular season game. The final score, a 2-1 shootout victory by Pittsburgh was important as both teams try to make the playoffs. Some say that there isn’t enough scoring in the NHL and this game hampered both team’s ability to score, but scoring is down again in the NHL in 2007-2008. In fact, the same two teams played Saturday night in Pittsburgh—indoors—and the Pens won by a 2-0 score. Today’s game also had two regulation goals, so there was really no difference today.
NHL players are the most humble of any professional athletes. They accepted the less than ideal conditions and the game’s best player, Penguin forward Sidney Crosby, said that he would “absolutely” do this again. Could you imagine Peyton Manning saying that? No way.
Hockey can be mundane at times. Sometimes, watching an NHL game is like watching somebody run on a treadmill. They’re running, but they not going anywhere. That said, you have to accept hockey for what it is or don’t accept it. The NHL should not worry about the fringe fan by catering to him/her with drastic rule changes.
Hockey deserves better treatment from the media, that much is true because hockey is a major sport. It is because they pay their players millions of dollars to play. When you pay major league salaries, you should be treated like a major league sport.
There is one thing that we all should remember about hockey. The greatest moment in United States sports history was a hockey game as the United States Olympic Hockey Team defeated the Soviet Union on Friday, February 22, 1980 at the Lake Placid, NY Olympics. Two days later, they beat Finland 4-2 to win an improbable Gold Medal. Any time I watch one of those list shows, the “Miracle at Lake Placid” is usually ranked number 1.
That has to mean something, doesn’t it?