Viewpoint: Hockey deserves more fans

By Austin Eck

It’s tough being the youngest brother. The older brothers receive more attention, are able to do more activities and get to ride in the front seat of the car.

In the world of professional sports, the National Hockey League is the youngest brother. But hockey does not deserve to be condemned to the world of upper-tier cable packaging. A sport that unites power, finesse and excitement should receive similar play to the more popular sports.

Since the NHL regular season opened on Oct. 1, not one game has been carried on a major network, and the first game to be shown on NBC is slated for Nov. 29.

Nearly two months of the regular season will go by without a single game being televised on a major network. Prior to Nov. 29, NHL games will be seen primarily on NBC Sports Network — a channel that does not receive the same number of viewers as NBC or other stations like CBS or ABC.

Hours of national television get devoted football and basketball, but the media is not at fault because it is merely supplying consumers with what they want.

The reason people are not tuning in to hockey games is a lack of understanding and interest in hockey, especially in the southern parts of the United States, and it is not hard to jump to this conclusion. Of the 30 teams in the NHL, 11 teams are in the northeastern United States or southeastern Canada, but that does not mean the sport is limited to those areas. Two years ago, the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup, and last year the Kings played in the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. Also, the San Jose Sharks, another California team, have been a fixture in the playoffs for the past decade.

The lack of interest in the South is because of a lack of exposure to the sport. I would not have been exposed to the sport if it were not for my father, a Chicagoan.

There are not widespread youth hockey leagues in Texas. There are some, but they are found in larger cities that have ice rinks. Children in small towns cannot go out and play pond, lake or river hockey like my father did because ponds hardly freeze in Texas during the winter.

As a native Texan, I can say hockey has an appeal even when the temperature is 102.

The sport is fast and exciting, and the league has taken efforts to keep the pace of the game quick. Teams are only allowed one timeout, and if a game goes into overtime, it is a five-minute sudden death period followed by a shootout.

The last two minutes of basketball game can take up to 20 minutes of real time, but the last two minutes of a hockey game take about two minutes.

The hot-button issue with hockey is the violence. The hits are hard, but they are equal to the hits seen on a football field. But honestly, when people say, “the sport is violent,” they mean, “Players are allowed to fight.”

Yes, players fight, but saying players are allowed to fight is not entirely true. Fighting, or fisticuffs, is a penalty, so the perception that some people have of is not true. Fighting is not uncommon, but it happens.

Hockey does not deserve to be left in the backseat while its older brothers take turns riding shotgun. It emphasizes the same quality that every other sport emphasizes: athleticism.

This fall and winter, hockey will make regular appearances on national television, take some time and watch a game, and the sport will grow on you.

Austin Eck is a senior journalism major from Boerne. He is a reporter for The Lariat.