I’ll be the first to tell you that I wasn’t always the biggest Hockey fan. I will also tell you that one reason for that is because I grew up in Southern California. Not really a place to grow up on Hockey, when you have the Lakers, Dodgers, Angels and at one time two NFL teams.
Another reason is the fact that my father had grown out of it. He grew up on all four major sports in so cal. He is my biggest example of what a lockout/strike whatever you may call can do to a sports fan. 1992 and 1994 is when it started for him in the NHL. In both of those seasons the NHL had labor issues, but they didn’t compare to the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season. By then, my father had already said sayonora to the sport.
Now he was never a die hard fan. He grew up in the neighborhood of the Great Western Forum. The former home of the Lakers and Kings. He’s seen all those great players of the 60s & 70s. It just struck a cord with him seeing the way billionaire owners would argue with millionaire players. You lose interest very quickly. It becomes a business and not just a game.
Just a week earlier before the Gold Medal game, the United States had beaten Canada 4-2. In what many considered a tremendous upset, but in no way a 1980 Lake Placid type upset. It was the first time the USA had beaten Canada in the Olympics since 1960. Fifty years is a long time folks. Now with Canada losing to the US, it didn’t mean the end of the road for them. They just had to win the next three games to play for the gold. They did and what do you know, they had to face the US in a rematch.
The NHL had first allowed its players to participate in the Olympics in 1998 at Nagano, Japan. The US placed 6th and Canada placed 4th. No medals for them. Since then NHL players have been participating in the Winter Olympics without a lot of fanfare. The 2002 games at Salt Lake City, Utah matched the two countries for the gold medal which resulted in a 5-2 victory for the Canadians. Not a lot of excitement, except for Canada.
However this years Olympics were held in Vancouver, British Columbia. Canada was the host country and felt the Gold was there’s by right. Very wrong to believe that. In 2002, the US was already recovering from the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and I don’t remember thinking that we should be given anything. All the athletes representing the US that year earned their medals and never once believed they had a right to them. The Hockey team that year didn’t have the best players, but knew if they played their best, the fans would reward them with their support.
That helped the anti-Canada sentiment this year. Everyone touting them as the winners when the games didn’t even start. The US by most weren’t given a chance to even medal. They proved to everyone that they can play with the best team ever assembled and beat them. It became clear that there are some pretty damn good players born in the US and that it could only help the NHL that they participate in the Olympics from here on out.
I understand the point of seeing youngsters get the opportunity to play because most won’t make it in the NHL. To that point, that’s why they have the World Junior Championships. So that problem is solved. I also get that owners have trouble shutting down their season for two weeks. It’s a burden on traveling, scheduling plus your players possibly getting hurt. I get that. To the point, that’s why the Olympics are only two weeks and come around every four years. If your player gets hurt in the first game back from the Olympics are you gonna blame the games? Injuries are inevitable. To answer traveling and scheduling. Get over it. You’re rich. Don’t cry to me.
These games are proof to me that they need to keep it going the way it is. It only helps the NHL more than it hurts it. The NHL is doing a great thing with the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. This will make your sport grow exponentially. Seeing most of these players on the world stage no less will bring more attention to the last month and a half of the regular season and without a doubt the Stanley Cup Playoffs. How could you look at that in a negative light?
I watched the Gold Medal game with my father in its entirety. From the first drop of the puck to the last shot. He was truly happy to see Hockey again, I just knew it. And on the biggest stage no less. Other than a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, this was the biggest game you could see in the sport. USA and Canada, both rivals, playing for the Gold Medal. My quote to him during the game was this:
“I got you watching the Lakers again, and after this game I’ll get you back watching Hockey again.”
He still says he’ll never watch. But if this does get him back to watching Hockey again, who’s to say it won’t get the novice to tune in for a taste.