It is really good to see Baltimore embrace hockey the way it has since the Capitals have started their run of success. I often wonder why more people aren’t interested in hockey because it is truly the toughest sport to play at a high level.
Hockey combines the hitting and ferocity of football (but they are actually allowed to fight) with unmatched speed and agility. Ice is an unforgiving surface and the puck is made of vulcanized rubber so when it hits you going around 100 mph you will feel it for days. Hockey players are by far the toughest athletes in professional sports today however they seldom get the respect and admiration they deserve.
Since the semi-recent rule changes went into effect scoring has been up and the importance of having strong skaters has increased. The wide open game play has created much more excitement particularly for the novice fans.
Gone are the days of dumping the puck in and battling it out. Two line passes make for great breakaway scoring opportunities and the reduction in the size of goalie equipment has made good goaltending paramount.
I like many of you who grew up in the Baltimore area had not really been exposed to hockey as a youth. However when I moved to Western New York I was indoctrinated into the hockey fan base. The Sabers are a top draw there and something that people genuinely get excited about. That enthusiasm rubbed off on me and I became a hockey fan and slowly learned some of the nuances of the game.
I am still not a puck-head in the sense that I am not an expert on the sport, but I really have grown to enjoy hockey.
One drawback to hockey is the fact that the regular season is far too long. They have tried to make it more exciting by establishing home-and-home series which can create a playoff feel but it just isn’t the real thing.
Much like the NBA, which also has a ridiculously long regular season, hockey doesn’t really get going full speed until the playoffs come around. Putting natural and historical rivalries aside the playoffs are the most exiting games of the NHL season and are easily played harder and more competitively than regular season match-ups.
For those folks who say that hockey is hard to follow it may very well be if you are unfamiliar with the rules and the style of play. Take it from me the more you watch the easier it will be to understand. Try watching the games with others who have been fans for a while to get a better feel for the action. At one point I too had trouble following the puck but now I can pretty much tell you where it is going to go before it gets there.
The blue streak which FOX invented to try and gather more interest from the casual fan was a mistake in my mind. It seemed to trivialize or demean the game in a way that is not easily explainable.
Another drawback to hockey is that it isn’t a great sport to watch on television. Often the cameraman will get confused with the on ice action and therefore not have the play in picture which makes it impossible to follow the puck).
Due to the rising price of tickets for all major professional sports it is paramount for successfully building a fan base to have a product which is still easily accessible to the fans. I can tell you that hockey is a fantastic spectator sport and if you have never had the chance to see it live then you are missing out, your opinion of hockey will be forever changed.
The NHL lockout actually appears to have improved the game instead of vice versa; however the league did lose some of the casual fans in the process.
The program of rapid NHL expansion has not really worked in my opinion. Many markets just aren’t hockey markets. Teams like the Coyotes, Thrashers, Predators, the two Floridian teams and others in warm weather cities just don’t have the strong fan bases needed to support their teams.
Lack of strong fan bases can lead to non-competitive teams and eventually bankruptcy as is the case with Phoenix. Despite the best efforts of the Great One hockey will never gain a foothold in the desert.
I think the NHL should contract some teams or move them to Canada where they follow hockey religiously.
One of the most exciting moments in sports is when the lamp is lit following excellent back and forth plays.
Hopefully the Capitals can win tonight and keep the good vibes going. Come out and show your support tonight at Donna’s Tavern in Dundalk. I know I’ll be there.