Just when you thought you would have to go without this winter, hockey is back.
It looked like the only way the fans would get their fix was to go watch minor-league, college or any other level of hockey. If the fans were up to it, perhaps they could go out, rent some cheap hockey equipment and play the game themselves.
Thankfully, the National Hockey League’s owners came to their senses and offered the players a 10-year contract that guarantees labor peace at least until sometime in 2020 or 2021. As part of the fallout surrounding the cancellation of many NHL games, this year’s season was trimmed from 82 games to 48.
The result here is there are not as many off days and plenty of action is shoehorned into a three-month period between January and April. It truly is an exciting time to be a hockey fan.
When the season started up on Jan. 19, there was plenty of speculation and wonder about whether the fans would return. After all, there was so much bickering between the owners and players that a lot of fans felt forgotten.
That did not happen. A recent story in Bleacher Report revealed all 13 Opening Day games played were sellouts, and games broadcast on NBC and the NBC Sports Network drew record ratings. Attendance topped 20,000 in many markets where arena capacity was between 18,000 and 19,000. Of course, many of those fans may have come because of discounts and incentives, but they still came out.
This illustrates something about hockey. To hear some people talk, hockey ranks right down with curling and skeet shooting as a niche sport, a sport that does not attract the masses. That simply isn’t true. Hockey remains one of the top sports in America alongside Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and NASCAR motor racing.
Although hockey may not be the national pastime in the USA, a check to the north in Canada shows that hockey is the sport to follow. Sports broadcasts lead off with hockey instead of being relegated to the back of the broadcast. Hockey fans both here and north of the border are rabid.
They are this way mainly because each city has its own superstar people tend to follow. In Pittsburgh, Penguins star Sidney Crosby is as well-known as the Pittsburgh Steelers or Pirates. Alex Ovechkin’s star with the Washington Capitals is huge. Of course, Wayne Gretzky’s face was recognized in Edmonton, Los Angeles and other places where he played, much like Mark Messier was well-known both in Edmonton and with the New York Rangers.
If you have not been on a road trip to see a game and have a few days, travel to a hockey city and pick up some tickets to an NHL game. Don’t worry about prices. Some ticket brokers may have seats for lower than face value depending on demand. Sit in the upper bowl or by the glass, depending on how much you wish to drop.
If you have never been to the city before, don’t just go for the hockey. Immerse yourself. Philadelphia may be Flyers country, but there is a vibrant sense of community and a deep love for sports and cheesesteaks. Chicago has world-class museums, dining and sightseeing. It all depends on where you want to go.
For now, rejoice in the return of hockey. Lord Stanley’s Cup will be raised this year. Which team gets the honor? That is the mystery not even 48 games will answer.