That does not mean, loyal readers, you should just start clicking on these ads willy nilly. If something there interests you, by all means, go for it, but mindless clicking is probably a good way to get me in trouble, which I don’t want. And if those ads aren’t there? Well, just ignore all this jibber jabber, then. All for nought.
Now, let’s talk about some sports, shall we? This Olympic hockey tournament has been as good as advertised. We go through this dance every four years, it seems, about whether the NHL will allow their players this Olympic break to go represent their respective countries. And I understand why. That’s two weeks of empty arenas, two weeks of no games, which throws a pretty big wrench into the middle of trying to plan an 82 game schedule over six months. It exposes your best players to more minutes and more chance of injury in games that, from an NHL perspective, mean nothing. I mean, I get it. There are solid arguments that, if my lifeblood came from NHL revenue, I wouldn’t really care for the idea, either.
As a hockey fan or somebody who cares about hockey marketing, however, the Olympics are publicity that money just plain can’t buy. The NHL would be nuts not to send their players to Korea in 2018.
I (along with many others, I’m sure) have written on this before, but it bears repeating. The Olympics do massive ratings, both summer and winter. Being sports, they are also one of the last things that many people will actually watch as they are airing on TV. Yes, you can stream things live, thanks to the time difference, but most people watch things as NBC presents them.* This is especially true on the weekend, and especially true of the Olympic hockey tournament, which is the crown jewel of the Winter Olympics.**
*This has provided some problems, though, as outlets like ESPN and SI blast results as they happen, spoiling what you would likely be watching that night during prime time.
**Unless you feel that is figure skating. There is an argument for that, too. But I stand by what I wrote.
Another well documented opinion: playoff hockey is another beast entirely from regular season hockey, and it is glorious. Here is what makes Olympic hockey so great: it is the perfect marriage of All-Star Game and playoffs. The rosters are boiled down to the cream of the crop on a national basis, which is as good a basis as any to assemble the greatest players in the world. That satisfies the talent portion of raised interest. And, well, these players care about this tournament, and care very deeply. If the NHL had said no to sending their players to Sochi, there would have been a mass walkout of Russian talent, if not all European talent. There is a good chance some US and Canadian players would have followed suit. Playing for your nation matters, especially when the tournament is intensely competitive as the Olympic tournament is.* That satisfies the playoff atmosphere.
*At least the men’s. The women’s tournament could have been, and perhaps should have been, a best of seven US vs Canada affair.
And then add the mass appeal to this. Hockey still lags behind football, baseball, and basketball in this country, but most people are at least passingly familiar with the game. The Winter Olympics are filled with very unfamiliar sports that certainly draw interest, but probably not two weeks worth of interest. The chance to cheer for your nation every four years in a sport that you know something about draws tons and tons of casual fans* that the NHL will never convert on a yearly basis. But, little by little, some of those casual fans will start paying more attention to the NHL after the tournament and will become true fans. And, yes, these things do matter. The US’s surprise run to the silver medal in 2010 I’m sure played a nice role in lifting the NHL’s profile for the playoffs. And in a nice piece of dovetailing, you saw a resurgence of a few teams in key cities. Especially Chicago, but in Vancouver and Philadelphia as well. I can tell you that the Blackhawks were all but invisible around here my entire life until they won that Stanley Cup. I was a little bit of an early adopter, but a season or two, but until 2010, you would have been floored to see somebody wearing a Blackhawks jersey. Or hockey apparel in general. Since then? It’s all over. It seems you can’t turn around without either running into somebody else who is either wearing Blackhawks** stuff or will at least talk with some knowledge of the game.
*Or even non-fans.
**And sometimes even other, more far-flung teams.
Would there have been a nice boost just from Chicago winning the Stanley Cup? Of course, and that would have grown after winning again last year, too. But I refuse to believe that the Olympic run, starring Jonathan Toews for Canada and Patrick Kane for the US,* had nothing to do with that.
*Amongst others, of course, but those are the biggest names. Sorry, Sharpie and Duncs.
And, by God, look at this past Saturday. My Twitter was going nuts as the US and Russia slugged out a game that meant nothing more than placing. I went out to my hometown bar* for my mom’s 52nd birthday along with some other family and friends. All of them, it seemed, either had heard and were excited by the game or had watched it themselves. People who I don’t think could even tell you how many teams are in the NHL suddenly knew and loved TJ Oshie like he was a nephew or something. That is not an insult, either. It just shows you the power of the Olympics.
*Well, one of them. Covington is not a big town by any stretch, but we do have two major bars along with a few peripheral ones. But, I by far frequented the Northside more often and greatly prefered it to Bar Noble.
I’m sure you could probably draw a nice line of growing Olympic hockey excitement and popularity starting with the Miracle on Ice in 1980. I haven’t done any research on it, but it’s telling that the first comparison people latched onto for Saturday was that old game, even though there were really no parallels to draw other than Russia was playing the US on one of their home soils.* You don’t think that, if you were around St. Louis, you might not pay more attention to the Blues after watching that display? And, well, the Blues aren’t half-bad this year, which helps.
*A bit of a non-sequitur: it’s an absolute crime that the Squaw Valley throwbacks aren’t the main jersey for the United States. Those things were gorgeous. I mean, really, knowing that is your closet, why would you ever wear this?
For those curious, the United States will square off against the winner of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which at the time of this writing, looks very likely to be the Czech Republic. That will be tomorrow at (I think) noon Eastern time. Canada will be squaring off against either Switzerland or Latvia at the same time. That would set up a US-Canada semifinal,* with the winner of that game playing Russia for gold if the Olympic organizers get their wish. Of course, Sweden might have something to say about that, if Finland doesn’t first. Or, hell, even Slovenia might surprise you. They’ve certainly surprised me to this point.
*Assuming everybody wins. No reason to look too far ahead, as Russia learned in Vancouver.
Basically, this tournament is just too much fun for the NHL to sit out. Please, please, please, NHL owner types, let these guys go to Korea. The nations are begging you!