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No Miracle On Ice

A miracle would be required to bring the NHL to North American arenas this year, and that’s a shame. Killing a major sport’s season over a labor dispute is unprecedented in North American sports, and the punishment will likely be severe.

The irony in all of this is that today is the 25th anniversary of the US hockey team’s ‘Miracle on Ice’ victory over the Soviet Red Army team.

The US Olympic team was a group of inexperienced scrappy amateurs who took down a vaunted Red Army professional juggernaut who had played together for years.

This NHL season was taken down by highly paid professionals and wealthy team owners who couldn’t figure out how to split up the golden eggs without killing the golden goose. They had years to fix this problem, but both sides refused to flinch in this most pointless game of chicken.

Pro hockey is easily the least popular of the major four sports. Football, baseball, and basketball all enjoy great popularity in the arenas and on TV. Kids play these sports and try to emulate the stars of the game. Hockey is a tough sell. It doesn’t translate well to TV, thanks to the size of the puck and the speed of the game. American kids don’t play hockey like they do basketball because hockey equipment is terribly expensive, learning to skate is a chore, and playing one-on-one just isn’t much fun.

Fans literally swore off baseball in 1994, when the season was ended prematurely due to labor strife. Many things have happened to help bring the fans back:

1. Cal Ripken broke Lou Gerhig’s consecutive games played streak.
2. Sammy Sosa & Mark McGuire chased Roger Maris’ home run record, and were so darned pleasant to one another in the process.
3. The Red Sox and Cubs came tantalizingly close to facing each other in a World Series.
4. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Florida Marlins defeated the Yankees in a World Series. Anybody defeating the Yankees in a World Series delights huge numbers of fans.
5. The Red Sox won a World Series after coming back from a 3-0 championship series deficit with the Yankees.

What on earth could the NHL offer to repair the damage?

1. Gordie Howe returns to the ice in a part of a seventh decade. (His NHL-WHA career spanned from 1946-1980, with a couple of stunt appearances in the minors in recent years).
2. Tampa forward Martin St. Louis breaks Wayne Gretzky’s single-season goal record of 92. He was competing with Jody Shelley of the Columbus Blue Jackets for one game, but Shelley is unpleasant by trade.
3. The San Jose Sharks and the Carolina Hurricanes came tantalizingly close to facing each other in the Stanley Cup Finals.
4. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Phoenix Coyotes each defeated the Montreal Canadiens to win the Stanley Cup. Anybody defeating the Canadiens in the Finals delights huge numbers of fans.
5. The Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup after coming back from a 3-0 Eastern Conference Finals deficit with New York Rangers.

Somehow, it just isn’t the same.

ESPN ran a poll on their website to see if readers cared if the NHL season was lost. More than 100,000 votes came in, and more than 68% came back saying ‘no’.

The tickets are too expensive. The players are perceived as spoiled brats for their role, and additionally stupid enough to walk away from pay cuts that would still leave them as millionaires while going to Europe to play for chump change in obscurity. The owners are perceived as rich by virtue of being owners, and nobody sympathizes with the wealthy.

Fortunately, in their mercy, EPSN is airing a 25th anniversary special tonight on the US Olympic Team’s Miracle On Ice. It airs at 8:30pm Eastern. It will be a cool, refreshing drink in a very nasty desert.

This item did not previously appear in my blog, Kole Hard Facts of Life, but probably should have.

About Mike Kole

  • http://www.roblogpolitics.blogspot.com RJ

    Another reason most Americans don’t care about the NHL: Most hockey players are foreigners.

    While both pro baseball and basketball have quite a few “international” players, the majority are still from the US. This isn’t the case with pro hockey.

  • http://www.kolehardfacts.blogspot.com Mike Kole

    It was so good watching the re-broadcast of the Miracle on Ice tonight. It was the reason I became a hockey fan, having had no real exposure to the game prior to the 1980 Olympics.

    Amazing to see the Soviet players, who 8-9 years later all became NHL pros: Sergei Makarov, Vyacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Karlamov, etc.

    RJ- I remember the influx of players from the Soviet bloc in the late 80s, adding the Czech & Slovak players in particular. It was thrilling to see them all join NHL teams. They brought a ton of talent and vastly improved the game, and became beloved by the fans. The Russian Five in Detroit stand out in particular.

    I think the one thing that really holds Americans back from enjoying hockey is money. It’s damned expensive to play on the ice, and tough for a kid and family. The youngster has to learn to skate, which is a real chore. The practices come at ungodly hours. The equipment is very expensive ($800 or more for a goalie, $300 each for the rest), and the kid grows out of it yearly.

    People become fans of the games they play as kids. Most Americans play baseball, basketball, or football. Few play hockey as kids.

    The NHL would be wise to push no-checking roller hockey in warmer climates and in summer leagues, to get more kids to play the basic game. It would create a wider appreciation of the sport, which would translate into a wider fan base- no matter if you can pronouce Kryzstof Oliwa’s name or not.