I received an email today from Yahoo Sports, inviting me to join a fantasy hockey league. Is it that time already? Yes sports fans, the hockey season is less than a month away. As an avid hockey fan, I have to wonder: Does anyone care?
We all remember the fallout following the 2004 lockout. Hockey was lost for a whole season, and those who were barely hanging onto the game, lost interest all together. The sport that had been struggling in the lexicon of American sports, had seemingly breathed its last breath. While 2005 didn’t present much promise, there was a bright spot in a miserable season.
Sidney Crosby, a highly touted star, made his debut in the National Hockey League. While his first season quietly went under the radar, so did the 2005 hockey season. But the future was starting to build, while the past was fading away. Not only did Crosby make his debut, but so did Alexander Ovechkin, Henrik Lundqvist, and Cam Ward. Among those playing their final seasons were Hall of Famers Brett Hull, Mario Lemieux, and Steve Yzerman. Even the Carolina Hurricanes made their debut, on the Stanley Cup that is. Still, it seemed as if nobody was paying attention.
The 2006-07 season came and went just as quick. Maybe the thing that stuck out the most that season, was when Chris Simon of the New York Islanders was suspended an NHL-record 25 games for striking a New York Rangers player in the face with his stick. Hockey was again frowned upon. Perhaps the biggest slap in the face was the rating for the Stanley Cup Finals. It was the lowest rated Finals in history. Overall, the ratings were down 20% from the 2006 Finals.
In 2007-08, there was a little bit of solace in the Winter Classic. On New Year’s Day of 2008, the NHL hosted the first ever outdoor hockey game in the United States. Hosted in Ralph Wilson Stadium in New York, the Buffalo Sabres took on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Tied at 1 through three periods, the game went to overtime, and eventually a shootout. Sidney Crosby won the game for the Penguins in front of an NHL-record 71,217 fans. Despite competing with College Bowl Games, the Winter Classic drew a 2.6 rating, the highest rating for an NHL regular season game since 1996.
The 2008 season drew a little more attention, thanks to the goals chase between Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. The two were the highest scorers in the league, and were ultimately battling for the MVP Award. Because of an injury to Malkin, Ovechkin ran away with the title, scoring an astonishing 65 goals. He was the first player to score 60 or more goals since the 1995-96 season. Hockey was starting to get noticed a little bit more.
The NHL Finals were some of the more riveting in recent history. The Detroit Red Wings battled the Pittsburgh Penguins for 6 games, with many comebacks and spectacular plays in between. The Finals drew one of the highest ratings ever for an NHL game, a respective 4.4 out of 5. However, it didn’t take long before people forgot about hockey again.
So now the 2008-09 season is getting ready to begin. With games hosted on Versus and OLN, will anybody take the time to notice? The game is entering a new era, complete with the next line of superstars, lead by Sidney Crosby, the face of the league. Another Winter Classic will be held, this time in historic Wrigley Field in Chicago. Whether people will take notice is another thing.
Hockey is coming. The stage is set. Do you care?