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Hockey has a bad reputation

Hockey has a bad rep.

Long joked about as a sport less popular than televised poker, hockey has taken some damaging hits in recent years.  Its popularity began to dip and it then became the first sport in North American history to lose an entire season to lockout.  When it returned, hockey was gone from the national television coverage once provided by ESPN and instead shoved between bull riding and cage fighting every Monday and Tuesday on Versus. 

On ESPN's main page, hockey used to be listed after NASCAR. Yes, NASCAR; a sport in which people drive in circles for hours and, according to some, is only exciting when drivers spin out of control and crash into each other.

Hockey's grit, displayed through fighting and hitting, lead some to presume the sport is too violent. Low scoring games fuel complaints that hockey is too boring. Many cities that harbor professional hockey teams are far too warm to experience a winter of frozen ponds giving way to the presumption that hockey is simply not relatable. 

When pit against such American sports powerhouses as football and baseball, hockey often gets placed on the back burner.  On major news sites, Detroit's Stanley Cup win was featured in a small box below the major news stories.  When Eli Manning and the Giants won this year's Super Bowl, they were the major news story, as were the Boston Red Sox when they took home a World Series win. Even basketball, a sport newly marred in scandal, made top headlines with the Celtics' championship win.

You know hockey is in trouble when even a golfer believes no one watches it anymore.

In the face of adversity, however, hockey is prevailing.  This year's Stanley Cup playoffs were of the most watched in recent history. While ratings may never be what they once were, as is true with many other professional sports, hockey has begun to pull itself from the dredges and force itself into the spotlight. Once thought of as a sport without an American fanbase, hockey is gaining momentum. Revenues are up and people are watching. Long after the beginning of the offseason, hockey remains relevant: Mike Myers' hockey-centered comedy, "The Love Guru" just hit theaters. 

There is a unique beauty about hockey one will not find in other sports. Combining all the graceful elements of ice-skating and puck handling with the harsh reality of checking and fighting, hockey has an incredible diversity to it. Hockey is among one of the fastest sports and, at any moment, the course of the game can change drastically. A battle of strength and mentality and, at times, a true test of perseverance and drive, it is hard to pinpoint something overtly negative about hockey, hard to explain why it has been at the bottom of the American sports barrel for so long.

Instead of slowing down in the last few minutes, like basketball, hockey presses on or, in some cases, speeds up.  As the remaining minutes tick by, the lagging team, barring a blow out, seemingly re-energizes and battles until the final horn. 

When a hockey player tests positive for performance enhancing substances, he receives a mandatory 20 game suspension. In the realm of the NHL, purity of the game means something.

If one hockey player makes a questionable hit on another, the action is reviewed by the league and punishment is handed down. Toronto is always watching.

If sports fans admire athletes for their dedication and athletic skill, hockey players are arguably among the toughest and most conditioned in the world of sports. Throughout the 82-game season, there isn't much time to recuperate.  Players attack the sport day in and day out from October to April and potentially then some. They play hurt, they play through pain, they play with broken bones or freshly acquired wounds. Playing hurt is not the exception, it's the rule: If a hockey player can play, he will.  By the final game of the season, nearly every player is nursing some kind of injury and it is difficult to imagine any other sport in which this is true. That fact alone may not be enough to steal fans from other sports but it most certainly deserves their admiration and perhaps even attention.

If that doesn't do it, the game itself should. Hockey is truly incredible and once the little nuances and bits of history are made clear it only becomes more intriguing. 

It's hard to say what is in store for hockey in the coming years but the potential demonstrated this past season gives hockey fans hope that the sport will grow. After all, hockey as a sport is very much like the men who play it.  You can pepper it with insults or ignore it completely, knock it around or use golfing to belittle it but unless it's broken completely, hockey won't go down without a fight.

 

By Shaela Moen
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer

 

Luc Bourdon had an impression on many throughout the hockey world as seen in Shaela's article above and Kevin Chaves' Bourdon article earlier this week.

 

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