Monday, June 09, 2008

Oh Canada (or at least the closed-minded towards warm weather hockey cities part)

DISCLAIMER: I'm going to reference Canadians a bunch of times, and am not intending to lump every Canadian together. But to save myself and you from having to wade through explanations whom exactly I'm objecting to, I'm pointing it out now. If you are a Canadian and you don't feel negatively towards NHL hockey in warm American markets, welcome aboard.

So I was perusing an unofficial San Jose Sharks message board and general awesome internet meeting place, I was pointed in the direction of this piece.
This is an opinion piece that was touched on by Yahoo! Sports author Greg Wyshynski in his column below.

Basically, it's another piece of drivel from an ignorant Canadian who seems to believe that the NHL only belongs in Canada and nowhere else. Now, I have no problem with opinions, as the cliche goes, they're like . But as an American hockey fan who was born and pretty much raised on the game that I have read plenty of times I shouldn't be allowed to have, it irks me just a bit.

Over the past 20 years, the National Hockey League has seen its product extend to the warmer parts of North America, thanks to the advances in cooling technology. Since 1991, we've seen franchises pop up in hot weather cities like Anaheim, Atlanta, Dallas, Nashville, Phoenix, Raleigh, San Jose, Sunrise (Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area), and Tampa, with additional franchises in Columbus, Denver, Ottawa, and St. Paul.

Without getting too much into the major history, Canada lost a pair of NHL teams in the mid-90's despite being wildly popular in their communities. With the Canadian Dollar in lé toiletté (French) and no monetary parameters in place, some of the NHL teams north of the border had trouble keeping up with cities in the States that were booming. As a result, the NHL saw the relocations of franchises in Quebec City and Winnipeg to Denver and Phoenix, respectively.

Now, in that time, we've seen tremendous growth of youth hockey in each of those cities, and a general growth of the sport among the community. Just a couple years ago for the first time, a California youth team won the Silver Sticks tournament, a North American tournament held annually. Indoor hockey rinks in Texas have gone up something like 400%. Hockey has become a hot ticket in towns where ice doesn't usually exist anywhere but in a cocktail glass. But for some reason, this seems to be insufficient progress for "hockey-thirsty" Canadians.

In this line of thinking, having an NHL team is not so much a privilege as a right of passage, a pot of gold at the end of a vulcanized rubber rainbow. Cities in the north where ice is available outside in the winter (apparently water freezes and turns into ice, this is an unconfirmed rumor as of this post) are automatically more "qualified" to have a professional team. Just because hockey has been played by kids on a lake in December in a small town in Northern Saskatchewan, they somehow deserve a NHL team more than kids who have to play their hockey indoors, or someone who hasn't been blessed with the ability to see or play the game yet.

As a "Southern US" hockey fan, I'm tired of hearing that I, along with all of my latitudinally challenged US brethren, somehow don't deserve hockey. Because we don't sell out our building every night, we are somehow inferior. Because we don't swarm the team stickboy on the streets when he's just out for a cup of coffee, we are somehow inferior. Because we follow other sports in addition to hockey that are collectively more popular, we are somehow inferior.

Attendance is an issue that is brought up a lot and yes, there are southern cities that have trouble drawing crowds. However, there are plenty of northern cities that have attendance troubles as well, but they're always given a free pass for some extenuating circumstances. For example, the Chicago Blackhawks recently endured the passing of one "Dollar" Bill Wirtz, a shrewd and cheap businessman who ran his on-ice product into the ground, making them a poor hockey team and driving fans away. That's fine and valid, but why is that grounds for a free pass, when a team with Atlanta's history isn't? The Thrashers made the playoffs for the first time in their 9 year history last season, after posting some really bad seasons. They sold out their playoff games, and were really popular down the stretch. Yet, because the team is floundering in mediocrity again, which is keeping some fans away, they're somehow unfit to house a team altogether. Doesn't make sense to me.

I've lived my whole life in San Jose, and due to incredibly lucky timing, have gotten to grow up with an NHL team in my backyard (not literally, of course. After all, I live where it's warm). I played street hockey in high school parking lots from the age of 7 until I got a pair of roller blades, and then I played roller hockey on those same parking lots until high school, when I played on my school team. I've been a Sharks fan since the beginning, and have seen much more hockey than my feeble mind could ever recount. The day the Sharks win the Stanley Cup will be the greatest day of my life, save for my future wedding and birth of my children.

To any Canadian, or really any elitist hockey fan that believes that I, along with anyone else who lives in an area in which hockey has never been considered to be king, shouldn't have a hockey team, I invite you to leave a comment, because I would love to pick your brain. I really truly wish to understand why you feel the way you do towards southern hockey, why you don't think it should be there, and why you don't think it should have a chance to grow and flourish into what you have. We like hockey, you like hockey, why can't we like each other?

GO SHARKS (2008 NHL Entry Draft in just 10 days)


Post a Comment

<< Home