Winter Olympics boosts interest in hockey
National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman went on record a few months ago casting his doubts as to whether he will continue to send NHL players to the Winter Olympics. He questioned, among other things, the appeal that Olympics in foreign markets would have for American fans and if pausing his sport’s season in order to participate in the Games is worth it. Mr. Bettman, I hope you were watching the gold medal game.
In what was arguably one of the most memorable hockey games ever played, Team Canada, with the support of thousands of rabid fans, defeated Team USA in overtime, 3-2.
It was a smashing hit, with more than 27 million viewers in the U.S. alone.
The game featured a frantic last-minute equalizer by the Americans to force overtime and a game-winner scored by the NHL’s crown jewel, Sidney Crosby.
Rest assured, the audience did not come away disappointed. Zach Parise’s game-tying goal with
fewer than 30 seconds to play demonstrated why hockey boasts the most exciting last minute in sports.
In one-goal games, the trailing team pulls its goalie for an extra attacker with about a minute to go, and chaos ensues. As the seconds ticked down in Vancouver, Team USA barraged Canada’s goalie, Roberto Luongo, with a flurry of shots.
Fans were at the edge of their seats; unlike football and basketball, hockey’s final minute does not feature a series of time-outs or fouls. The action is non-stop, and this game gave 27 million people a reason to watch more hockey.
The end of the game was good for the NHL, too, even if the Americans didn’t win. Sports are defined by their stars, and since Wayne Gretzky’s retirement,
hockey has struggled to find one. At its best, a sport boasts a star that transcends the game and gives even casual fans a reason to watch.
Now, hockey has Crosby, who not only is a national hero in Canada but could become a villain in the eyes of heartbroken American fans. Love him or hate him (those of you close to me know I am choosing the latter), Crosby has become a household name. This could not have happened without his participation in the Olympics.
The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia, several time zones away from the NHL’s prime markets. Bettman has questioned the value that his league would get from sending its stars to a place that would not allow NHL fans to be able to watch the games live in prime time.
However, if hockey four years from now is anything like the game on display Feb. 28, the fans will find a way to watch. The Vancouver Olympics were a blessing for the sport.
Your move, commissioner.
Freelancer Alex Harkaway can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org