Monday, February 26th, 2007...1:46 am
Reborn Hockey Fan
A funny thing happened this week. People everywhere started talking about hockey. The guys in my office were sending each other video clips. Ira, the doorman at my sister’s apartment, eyes lit as he asked me if I saw the highlights. You couldn’t miss them. Hockey was ESPN’s lead story on Sportscenter a few times this week and NHL clips were the most watched sports videos on YouTube.
The big fuss had nothing to do with Sidney Crosby or one of the countless Russian youngsters with seemingly unlimited potential. It had to do with Fighting. Yup, there were some good old fashioned brawls this week. Most hockey fights these days follow a protocol. Goon #1 skates on to the ice to fight. Before the puck is dropped he says something like “let’s go” to Goon #2 (on the other team) and after play resumes they drop the gloves and get it on. Things get interesting when this doesn’t happen.
Ranger Shawn Avery went after Devils All-Star Goalie Martin Brodeur to spark an already fierce rivalry and have the game unravel into a melee. If you go after a teams goalie things are bound to turn ugly. But, the main event occurred in Buffalo and Ottawa where the Senators and Sabres went bonkers in back to back games on Thursday night, Buffalo’s captain was blind-sided by a cheap hit that left him bloodied on the ice with a gash that required 20 stitches. Buffalo sent out their goons who went after Ottawa’s best players. Pandemonium ensued and the goalies even squared off at center ice. That turned into a player vs. goalie fight as Buffalo tough guy Andrew Peters went after Ottawa Goalie Ray Emery. I’ve never seen that happen. Even more amazing, Emery had a huge grin the entire time relishing the opportunity to mix it up. The coaches then spent a few minutes jawing with each other (the mics pick up some good stuff) from their respective benches. Watch the YouTube video at the bottom of this post to see how it all went down (skip to the two minute mark if you want to see the festivities).
I used to be a huge hockey fan. My father was a Ranger season ticket holder for almost twenty years in the 70′s and 80′s and many of the first sporting events that I attended were hockey games at the Garden. I learned how to shout “Potvin Sucks” before I knew how to read or write. When the Rangers finally won the cup in 94 it was one of the greatest sports moments in New York City.
Soon afterwards I stopped watching hockey. I’m not sure what triggered this but I remember thinking to myself that I wouldn’t miss out on anything if I stopped following it regularly. So that’s what I did. I took hockey out of the group of sports I follow closely and stuck it with the group of sports that I follow more casually (NASCAR, Boxing and Action Sports).
It seems like a lot of other sports fans made a similar decision. Hockey’s attendance is down and its television ratings are atrocious. The 18 month lockout sure didn’t help things and the league is having major image problems. They have tried to curtail fighting and encourage a fast-paced game that values skills like skating and stick handling. There is far less fighting in the league today then there were ten or twenty years ago.
I’m not sure if this is the right approach. Hockey needs a hook. It needs a way to grab the attention of the casual sports fan and have them think “I need to start watching this”. Weather they like it or not, fighting is the hook. It remains entrenched in the culture of the game and it is what many fans love to watch. Listen to the announcers emotion and the electricity of the crowd during a fight. If Ottawa plays Buffalo in the playoffs I’ll make time to follow the entire series. I’m eager to watch Anaheim, a team of goons that has been involved in twice as many fights as any other club and also happens to be one of the top teams in the Western Conference. Once I’m watching I’ll enjoy the spectacular goals, tremendous scoring opportunities and the nuances of the game. But the fighting is what will get me in front of the television.
I learned about the website hockeyfights.com this week. It’s one of the best fan sites I’ve seen for any sport. It recaps every fight and allows users to vote and comment on who won each fight. You can also watch YouTube clips of each fight and follow the fighting history of any player or team.
I’m going to start visiting this site to get my hockey information. Otherwise, I might be missing out!