It is early October and the temperature is dropping. Although many Mississippians do not know it, that is a sure sign of another hockey season starting.
The South often forgets that there are four major sports. Since the Atlanta Trashers moved to Canada in 2011, there is a six-state area stretching from Arkansas to South Carolina that lacks an NHL franchise. This may appear to be an obstacle to fanhood, but rest assured: you can still be a hockey fan.
The South offers the Dallas Stars, the Nashville Predators and the Carolina Hurricanes for fans to follow. Furthermore, nearby Florida supplies the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers. The Predators and Hurricanes can regularly be seen on the Fox sports networks. Other marquee games are broadcast on NBC sports network, and on NBC on the weekends.
Available and present, hockey has plenty to offer even the most hesitant skeptics.
The most popular ice sport has an extremely high tempo, with game action faster than any hurry-up offense on the gridiron. Players continually switch lines, without any stop in game play.
Games are relatively low scoring, but with an average of 60 shots per game, there are plenty of lurching moments. Miraculous saves and crushing hits also make highlight reels and keep the fan thrilled through what amounts to be a lack of downtime.
Conference realignment will rattle the NHL this year, after a lockout shortened the 2012-2013 season. This realignment moves teams into geographically-based divisions, creating local rivalries. Hockey should maintain the gruesome rivalries it is known for, because no teams will cease to play due to realignment.
A change in scheduling, also new this year, will set the NHL apart from any of the other major American leagues. Every team will face every other team, in both away and home games. This gives fans the unique opportunity to see every club in the league play at least once, and also means that every team will be familiar with each other.
The popular outdoor games will continue this year, and expand to more games. Since 2008, the NHL has hosted the Winter Classic, a game played outside, usually in a football or baseball stadium. These games have drummed up excitement, and this year the league will hold 6 outdoor contests throughout the year, stretching from a game in sunny Los Angeles to Yankee Stadium in New York.
The NHL is not the only hockey that the casual sports fan should care about. Every American citizen should sharpen the skates of their hockey fanhood in preparation for the ice that is the 2014 winter Olympics.
Sochi, Russia will host the games in February, while the NHL breaks to allow its players from around the world to compete for the glory of their countries. The men’s Ice Hockey tournament typically draws the most excitement, and this year should be no different.
In 2010, the United States competed against Canada for a Gold Medal. The game drew the largest tv audience since the 1980 Gold Medal game, which the US won. In 2010, The US lost in overtime, receiving the consolation Silver Medal.
Looking to avenge that game and win a second-ever Gold medal in the sport, the 2014 men’s team promise to excite if nothing else.
The NHL will be sporting a new conference format, an innovative scheduling arrangement and plenty of young exciting talent. The Olympics offer an opportunity to support America as they quest after a Gold Medal, with maybe their most talented team ever.
If you are not a hockey fan, now is the time to become one.
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor