A few years back, I made the move to the Washington D.C. area. Specifically, Arlington, Virginia.
Hailing originally from a small town, D.C. has provided me access to all sorts of things that semi-rural Pennsylvania could not. You name it; D.C. probably has it.
Art, theatre, food, and of course, sports. That includes hockey.
I remember my first job interview here. It went something like this:
Possible Future Employer: Hello Matt. Nice weather we’re having.
Me: Agreed. I actually woke up this morning and th-
Possible Future Employer: Absolutely. So, are you a hockey fan?
Me: Maybe. Are you?
Possible Future Employer: Alright, well it was great meeting you Matt. We’ll let you know.
You know what? They never even let me know…
Needless to say, it became very clear, very quickly, that D.C. was, amongst other things, a hockey city. Which was perfect, being the huge hockey fan that I am.
In fact, let me rattle off a few of the fun hockey facts I’ve picked up while being a huge fan of the sport:
- NHL 94 had serious concerns about people have seizures.
- Wayne Gretzky
And I’m spent. Earlier, I lied. I’m not a huge hockey fan. I’m not opposed to it either. My problem with the sport is that no one outside of the Washington DC area, and I have to assume other cities home to NHL teams, likes hockey.
It’s a fact.
I reviewed the results of a poll that I created and there were some surprising revelations. Perhaps most revealing was this: there are zero hockey fans outside of cities with hockey teams. I polled up to and including 1 person, me, and found that the results were consistent with previous polls I’ve run. So here’s a stern warning to the NHL: get it together, or get out.
Of course, I’m being supportive. I actually like hockey more every time I watch. But come on. What’s the deal EH?
Fans just don’t know how to relate to this Canadian driven, beard-adorned, fight happy league that seems to be a mix between rugby, boxing, and ice fishing.
Kids growing up somewhere in Nowhere, Kansas would love to play hockey. But do they? Of course not. Have you ever seen an ice rink in the middle of a corn maze? Neither have I. And neither has little Timmy Kansaslad. But he’s amazing at corn mazes. At least he’s got that going for him.
So there’s issue number one. Accessibility. Unless common household freezers get, let’s say, 10 times bigger, most people just don’t have easy enough access to a large body of ice. At least not in warm weather. And let’s be honest, come winter time, most people in Kansas are busy making snow-corn mazes. I’m not defending the mid-west’s passion for corn mazes; I’m just being pragmatic. If hockey wants to extend its fan base, it really needs to reconsider the playing surface.
In fact, by limiting the material rinks can be made of, the NHL has allowed an unprecedented move by the world’s general female population. Women and/or girls have taken hockey, a sport full of respectable brawls and spit-takes, and tweaked it just enough to allow themselves to give it a whole new name: Field Hockey. It’s like the NHL doesn’t even care. You don’t see the NFL being stolen away by a bunch of girls in skirts.
Actually, the NFL has such a strong hold on their male dominated sport that the only option females have to play at all is to put on lingerie and hope for the best. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just stating the facts. Football is so popular that girls are willing to strip down, get out there on the field, and go to town on each other. Hockey can’t even get them to keep the same name.
Of course that’s just the tip of the hockey iceberg. Forget the fact that it’s just a more brutal version of curling (another gem brought to us from Canada), forget the fact that the commentators confuse everyone by hiding in a tiny section down by the rink, forget the fact that the puck moves so inexplicably fast that it’s nearly impossible to appreciate the intricacy the sport demands, forget ALL of the oddities that come along with hockey and hockey alone- there will still be left a very real problem.
Sports start at a young age. Parents hoping to avoid America’s childhood obesity curse send their kids off to play baseball, football, soccer, basketball, etc. Not hockey. And here’s why: Sean Couturier.
No, I don’t mean the man, or perhaps more accurately, boy. I mean the image, the symbol. I’m referring of course to this:
Yup, here he is. All American Sean Couturier. Young. Fit. Attractive. Suited up (of the tie and jacket type).
Parents around the country might look at him and say, “Heck, Jimmy and Sally get in the car. We’re making you hockey stars.”
But not so fast Couturier. We’re all too familiar with the ol’ hockey bait and switch.
What the what?! That’s the same guy? Is he suddenly homeless? Is the guy 110 years old now? Did he not get the only thing he wanted for Christmas? I can just hear those same parents now. “Jimmy! Sally! Get out of the car …and go upstairs and pray. How dare you try to play hockey! That damn hockey bait and switch!”
I could go on. But a post has to have an end, unlike the failure of the NHL to truly embrace fans.
To sum up, I’ve made a quick list of changes hockey can make that will almost guarantee a much higher fan base.
- Play on grass fields
- Slow down the puck. Make it bigger and maybe more oval shaped. I don’t know, instead of being so solid, maybe they could fill it with air and have it made out of leather or some similar material.
- Give the players back their teeth.
- Instead of “goalies”, maybe consider replacing them entirely with a large “goal” section. It will be a specific zone that designates the end of the field. For lack of a better name, let’s just call it the end zone.
- Since we’ve gotten rid of goalies and the net, I think it’s fair we add something in that’s similar. My idea is a “goal post” of sorts where the puck/ball has to go through. We’ll give it a bottom and sides, but no top- obviously, because in the new NHL, the sky is the limit. Also we’ll make them big and yellow.
Consider one or more of these changes, demand that women stop defecating all over the good name of hockey, and maybe make Sean Couturier stop appearing in front of any camera, ever, and I think 2013 has some real promise for the NHL.
But what do I know. Hockey is only my favorite sport.