It seems that ever since last weekend’s fracas between the Canucks and the Flames, that people have been quick to bash the NHL. Believe you me when the league screws up, I call them out on it. The line brawl between the two teams as idiotic and not necessary, as it was brought about by Calgary coach Bob Hartley trying to throw his goons out there. Vancouver coach John Tortorella’s actions of trying to charge the Calgary locker room did not help the situation either. (Totorella would get a 15-day suspension for the episode.)
However, it seems that the fight has become a lightning rod for criticism. It started soon after the brawl when respected baseball writer Peter Gammons called hockey a "minor sport" after he witnessed the game. The full force of hockey fans came out on Twitter and other social media sites to defend the the sport they love. Many sports figures weighed in on the issue. Everyone from Fox Sports Live analyst and former TSN broadcaster Jay Onrait, PGA golfer Graham DeLaet, former NHL Mike Commodore and many other took the respected Gammons to task.
NESN broadcaster Jack Edwards even fired an on-air salvo at his fellow New Englander.
A couple of day later, the ever-controversial Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman called the players that took part in the line brawl thugs. The hockey world just shook their heads when they heard that. Sherman didn’t want people calling him a thug, but yet he’s painting hockey players with a broad brush. Shouldn’t Sherman realize that since he’s the one dealing with it?
I posted the question on Twitter (@DanMountSports) and most of the TJRSports.com staff and a couple of fans had varying answers from people not being smart enough to following it or because ESPN isn’t primary rights holder.
Ever since I posted some of these stories on my Facebook wall, I’ve had some pretty intense debates about where the sport should be in the American sports pecking order. I admit that I’m like many other hockey fans and I get very defensive when someone takes swipes at the game. (I’m not the only one, though.)
We hockey fans feel that we deserve more of a fair shake when it comes to being covered like the NFL, NBA and MLB. (Heck, Deadspin devoted a huge section of its article about two people watching SportsCenter for an entire year and analyzing what sports, teams and personalities get top billing on the mothership.
Hockey fans feel like they are the red-headed step-child when it comes to the way the sport is covered by ESPN and the rest of the mainstream media. I’ve often lamented that the network hates the NHL. (It doesn’t help when a high-level executive says hockey "doesn't translate to television" or it isn’t part of the national discussion.)
Sure, the game may not be the best to watch in the comfort of your living room. (HDTV is trying to change that.) The ratings may not be as big as the other three, but the NHL is getting more sell-outs than the NBA. It can be argued the NHL is winning the attendance war against the NBA.
However, it doesn’t seem to be translating into mainstream press. The NHL and (Wayne Gretzky in particular) have been really trying to promote the heck out of the Stadium Series game between the Kings and the Ducks at Dodger Stadium. The Winter Classic had over 105,000 people show up to the Big House for it, but how come it gets barely a minute’s worth of highlights on SportsCenter? Is ESPN still upset that Gary Bettman turned down their offer to go to the fledgling Outdoor Life Network? (The mothership has been known to harbor a grudge.)
I’ve often heard sports fans say it’s just a niche sport and that it will never challenge the other big professional sports. I get that, but I think hockey fans want more people to come to the party. We want to share the experience of following hockey. We want people to go through the emotional wringer with us. However, maybe being just a nice sport is not a bad thing. Sure it would be nice to be acknowledged a little more by the “Worldwide Leader,” but NHL and its fans have adapted.
We can get our highlights online or from the NHL Network or NBCSN. (which evolved from the little OLN that took a shot on hockey) We have our extensive hockey talk channel on SiriusXM and have great website like Prohockeytalk.com and Eye on Hockey from CBS Sports. (ESPN actually does have a solid online website that gives it the coverage it deserves, which is another reason the lack of it from them maddens us.)
It’s been said that we hockey fans are the greatest on the planet. This is true because we can pack arenas large and small and we hang on the edge of our seats come playoff time. People may question my sanity for defending hockey, but I’ll continue to defend it.
It’s time for some games to watch this weekend.
Boston at Philadelphia, 1 p.m. ET (NESN, Comcast Sports Philly): Brad Marchand has been red hot for the Bruins, but can they finally beat the Flyers?
Anaheim vs. Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN, CBC, RDS2): Hockey+Dodger Stadium+Hollywood could equal interesting. Quick point… if someone scores, will they flip their stick a la Yasiel Puig?
Minnesota at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. (Fox Sports North, Comcast California): The Wild still struggle on the road, and run into a tough Sharks team.
N.Y. Rangers vs. New Jersey at Yankee Stadium, 12:30 p.m. ET (NBC, CBC): Hockey at Yankee Stadium. Enough said.
Phoenix at Vancouver, 8 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Arizona +, Rogers Sportsnet Pacific): Can the Canucks keep the ship afloat without Tortorella?
It’s that time of the week where I give the good, the bad and the ugly with the First star, Worst star and Who blew up the Death Star?
The Hurricanes Nathan Gerbe channels his inner-Tomas Hertl with this between the legs goal.
Oh, Zach Parise. You look awful in the official Team USA Olympic garb. No wonder the State Department told American athletes not to wear Team USA gear in Sochi.
Who blew up the Death Star?
All I can say is poor Jimmy Howard?
Gotta feel for Detroit... pic.twitter.com/4F8WLdWPXp— WolfKeeper (@WolfKeeper) January 21, 2014
That’s it from me. I’ll see you next week with another blog. Take care.
Dan Mount is a producer for Spadora on Sports. He is also an NHL columnist for TJRSports.com.