Boy, it’s really nice to have a little NHL back in my life. Not since the glory days of NHLPA ’93, when dominating with the Scrabble-winning tandem of Red Winger’s Steve Yzerman and Paul Ysebaert was the thing to do, have I engulfed this much hockey at one time. Now please don’t get all fired up and tell me that hockey can’t be that cool if it’s played by a bunch of men prancing around on ice skates… Or because it’s too tough to play a pickup game… Or because it’s a sport for Canadian Socialists… My answer to all those gripes is simply this – It has mullets. Lots of them. It can’t that bad!
All kidding aside, hockey truly is a difficult game not to like if you commit yourself to watching it. Almost every good element of sport takes place over the course of a hockey game – selflessness, teamwork, toughness, tradition, effort… Each one of those attributes is an integral staple of the game. There is no question that hockey is by far the most blue-collar sport around (especially in the playoffs). While no sport is completely without of the presence of a few prima donnas, even the biggest pussies in the NHL will occasionally mix it up. Can you imagine a longhaired Tom Brady going toe-to-toe with an afro-puffed Mark Sanchez? Or 140 lbs David Beckham having to square off against any other other soccer player in the world? You can’t help but like that…
It’s a travesty the NHL was so difficult to watch in recent years. Without getting into too much detail, let just say the NHL ‘screwed the pooch’ last time around when negotiating their television deal and it almost killed the game. Luckily for hockey fans everywhere, NBC/Comcast recently bought the Versus Network – formerly known as the Outdoor Life Network (I don’t even know what that means) – and put a major priority on highlighting the NHL this postseason. Almost mimicking CBS’s production of March Madness, NBC/Comcast flooded its wealth of channels with postseason hockey, making it easy for even the most casual of hockey fans to find any game they desired. After being forgotten, buried, and left for dead in recent years, getting the maximum amount of exposure for the game was of the utmost concern of the NHL. They successfully accomplished this.
While it is no easy task to market a sporting event that is broadcasted between 3 Gun Nation and the fledgling United Football League (two actual programs on the new NBC Sports Network), NBC/Comcast has done a nice job of taking advantage of its opulence of resources to help this partnership start out with a bang. Notwithstanding the fact NBC/Comcast’s ultimate goal of creating a genuine rival for ESPN may be a tad ambitious, aligning itself with the NHL gave both parties a much-needed shot of credibility. It’s great news for the future of the game that the NHL found a television partner that will be as invested in the future of the game as they are themselves.
So after years of not watching a single hockey game, I probably watched the better portion of 20 playoffs games this postseason (as well as attended several). While it obviously helped that the Phoenix Coyotes, New York Rangers, and New Jersey Devils all made substantial runs this postseason, the fact every single playoff game was on television was the most determining factor to my skyrocketing viewership. While attending a hockey game in person is admittedly a much cooler experience than watching it from the couch, there is no reason the addictive substance of postseason hockey can not entice a few casual sports fans to jump on the NHL’s depleted bandwagon. Going forward, I genuinely hope the NHL builds on this postseason’s momentum and continues to get its blue-collar product in front of larger and larger audiences. While the NHL’s poorly-conceived expansion to the Sun Belt States has been an overall disaster, at least one ‘Sun Baby’ is again interested because of the sport’s amplified exposure. That’s that.