Hockey season is nearly upon us once again, pre-season training camps and exhibition schedules are in full swing, fantasy hockey drafts are the talk of the work place and hockey fans everyway wait with baited breath for that first puck to drop on the 07/08 NHL season.
For once i'm happy to say that here in Ireland and the UK, people are actually talking about Hockey, its in the papers, its on TV. Don't get me wrong we are no strangers to hockey (I'll leave my "Bobby Orr's roots in Ireland" story for another blog), there is a cult following to the game, a small but passionate, not to mention sleep deprivated (due to time differences Live games such as those on Hockey Night in Canada begin around Midnight!) fanbase exists in the country, though certainly starved for high quality hockey.
I've got my tickets and my flights booked, i will be at the 02 Arena next week, keen as mustard to see Nagy, Frolov, Giguere & Bertuzzi at their finest, it will be a proud moment for hockey in these parts and hopefully for the NHL as well.
Though not everyone is so happy about the NHL Premiere. Recent reports that the NHL has ignored advances by the local governing body Ice Hockey UK to help turn the weekend into a showcase of the local game as well as the NHL, have left a bitter taste in the mouths of many involved in the game in the UK and Ireland.
Ice Hockey UK are understanably embarrassed that the NHL has ignored them, and it underlines the NHL's main aim in all of this - to sell their league and their merchandise to us!
I guess it is sort of comparable to owning a small local shop and suddenly finding a Tesco or Walmart opening across the road.
Current Coventry Blaze and Great Britain National coach Paul Thompson commented on the matter:
"The timing of the NHL games could have been better. The weekend could have been a showcase for British ice hockey as well. I wanted there to be a Great Britain exhibition game before the NHL match. It would have been a great experience for our guys and a great showcase for the sport in this country."
Its a nice idea and i understand why IHUK would be seething over the matter. But at the same time i can't bear to think of just how dire a british hockey game would look up against an NHL game, i'm embarrased enough about the state of the beloved game in these parts without letting a large portion of the world know about it.
But what do you think? Do the NHL have a responsibility to respect the local bodies of hockey? Afterall these guys work tirelessly to promote the game 365 days a year, the NHL will swoop in to a big fanfare and flashing lights, soak up the cash and hit the road. On the other hand local hockey has failed to capture the imagination of the masses, perhaps premier hockey events such as this will change that, perhaps it will have the desired knock on effect on the nation inspiring kids to play the game and increasing the popularity at local level.
I cant help but think - Would this have happened in Russia, Sweden or Finland?? Somehow i doubt it.