I am a Flyers and a hockey fan. I have been a hockey fan in a town where the Philadelphia Eagles have a death grip on the hearts, minds and sports talk radio souls of our area. Heck, even the Phillies and 76ers (ban) - who are just god awful - get more airtime than the NHL. There are those who say that hockey doesn't matter, save for a few towns in Canada, and that the NHL is barely a viable professional sport anywhere not inundated with snow from November on.
They are wrong. Hockey does matter.
It doesn't matter whether you have never touched a skate blade to a fresh surface of ice or have had Bauers on since you could walk. It doesn't matter whether you have intimate knowledge of the famed rivalries between Boston and Philadelphia, Toronto and Montreal or Edmonton and Calgary or just caught AO on a breakaway while channel surfing on that four letter network. It doesn't matter if you are a new fan and don't know the first thing beyond your own team or the oldest, most sage hockey historian (Scoop). It doesn't really matter if you think Nashville "deserves" a team or not. (I happen to think they do.)
For those kids in places like Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, St. Cloud and Hamilton - who have been living, breathing and playing hockey since they could say Toe Blake - you know what an amazing game this really is and should consider yourselves lucky. In those areas, Hockey will survive even after the NHL is long gone. You matter as a hockey fan. Your passion, love for the game and desire to bang a puck around on a frozen pond long after most kids have gone in for frostbite treatment...matters.
What ALSO matters is there are kids out there - especially in non-traditional markets like Nashville - who have yet to learn or are just beginning to learn what a truly amazing game the NHL is. They matter too. Those are the kids who might see guys (AO, Sid, Briere, Vanek, Getzlaf, Heatley, Spezza) flying around on ice making moves that defy physics and stop and take a second look. They might see a thundering bodycheck from any of a number of Dmen that makes you wonder if that forward will ever completely remove himself from the dasher. They might see a lightning quick, high glove hand save from the likes of Luongo, Kipper, Brodeur or Fleury and wonder "how in the name of Pelle Eklund did he even SEE that, let alone save that laser from the point?" and really want to watch another one.
Those are the same things that hooked me, and I am sure many of you as well. For me, those guys were the Flyers of '74-75 and '75-76. Fog on the ice at the Aud in Buffalo. Bobby Clark doing ANYTHING to win...and I mean anything. Reggie Leach unloading one of his 11 game winning howitzer blasts from the point in '75-76 and setting an NHL record 19 playoff goals that still stands today. Bernie Parent making saves that still mystify me 30 years later and torment me as to why and how Bobby Clark the GM could not understand the utter necessity of a stud goalie. (IMHO Bernie still holds the record with 47 wins no matter what the record books say - sorry Marty). Dave "The Hammer" Schultz earning his paycheck five minutes at a time - to the tune of 472 penalty minutes - another NHL record and continuing to illustrate the failed idea of the instigator rule. Those were the guys that got me to love this game, that made me glad to watch a grainy, 8" black and white just so I could see Bill Barber score one of his 50 goals and 62 assists in '75-76. They made me a fan.
Forgive the personal journey down amnesia lane. I am a fan. I am hooked. God help my soul.
Being a hockey fan matters because I am a little scared that kids out there will believe the mainstream media who relegates hockey to somewhere above a novelty and just below Women's 9-ball tournaments on that four letter network. That kids will be robbed of watching some of the greatest athletes in any sport, anywhere. That they will not become intrigued enough by today's stars to sit down and watch the stars that came before them and changed the way the game is played - like the '84-85 Edmonton Oilers. (With no disrespect to Montreal or Toronto - the single, best team to ever take the ice IMO).
What matters is that the NHL is not doing its part to bring those fledgling fans, in the formative stages of their hockey lives, along in a way that will promote a lifelong love of our great game. The NHL does not reach out and challenge the non-traditional markets to love the game. They do this in spite of the NHL. Just read the reports from EK about the passion and outpouring of support and $$ from the citizens and corporations of Nashville. Those kids wearing a Preds jersey who may have never seen a live game deserve a team. Now, I am sure there would be equal or greater passion from the fans of Hamilton or Winnipeg or Quebec. It is in their blood and their National consciousness. I want hockey to succeed everywhere where fans are willing to come out and support it. Did Nashville support one of the better skilled teams last year? The attendance numbers would say they did not. The results of the recent rally might argue differently.
If the NHL does not do justice to marketing itself and its game to young fans, then shame on them. At that point it becomes a grassroots effort. We the fans have to promote the game, spend our money and use our voice to reach and teach younger fans about what makes this game so great. THAT is our calling and our burden. The game is great. The talent every NHL player possesses is unimaginable to someone like me. I know I love it. I know I plan my week around making time to catch some of it on TV or sometimes get to a game amidst the rigors of life with a wife and nine and three year old. If we don't reach out and inspire the next generation of fan - my little guy calls the game "hockeypuck" - I am not sure I can trust the current NHL leadership to do so for me. Mr Bettman and his minions need to showcase the immense talent in the league, explore and revel in the age old rivalries that make hockey games into life and death struggles and allow each potential fan the chance to watch a grainy, 8" black and white tv and become hooked.
That is why being a hockey fan matters.