I grew up in Pittsburgh and now live and work in Cleveland, OH. As I sit in my office at work in Cleveland, I originally was getting frustrated and upset with all of my co-workers, most in their 30s, 40s, and 50s (I am the only one in my 20s) coming by my office and say things like "Whats goin on with your Pens" or "How bout that game on Saturday." Some were being snide, others were being consoling me, others were genuinely interested in my input on the game and situation in the series.
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I however noticed something as more and more co-workers swing by. Although the Penguins may be losing in the series, the NHL is winning altogether because these people never talk hockey with me. They obviously know I am a Penguins fan by my collection of Pens bobbleheads and pucks on my shelves, Crosby banner on the wall, and recently my rally towel I got from the games I attendeded in the Conference Finals, but they have never up to this point really talked hockey with me. Some of them don't know the difference between the Red Wings and buffalo wings but they are interested in this series and most of all...THEY ARE WATCHING NHL HOCKEY!! They watched the game Saturday night on NBC and not just the highlights on Sportscenter and not the hyped (and entertaining) Kimbo Slice MMA bout. This series is captivating an audience in a city that has not had a hockey team since the late 60's. Granted most Clevelanders lean towards the Pens more than the Blue Jackets, but the coverage in Cleveland is non-existant for the Pens and they even pre-empted the first half of Game 5 against the Rangers here for an Indians game.
The fact that a generally non-hockey market is catching Cup Fever makes me proud of what the NHL is doing. I question a lot of things the league does like any other fan (Versus contract extensions, constant salary cap increases in a limping revenue sharing system, etc.) but this gives me hope that the NHL can again surpass the NBA and jump back into the Big 3 in American sports with football and baseball (and hopefully get an ESPN contract along with that...).
So as I await the next co-worker to come by and either rib me or reenforce my hope of a seven game series victory for my Penguins, in the back of my mind I am quietly basking in the fact that NHL hockey is relevant in each one of those people and that even in Cleveland, OH, even in an older demographic, even among people who know little about the game, Cup Fever can spread.
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