The Stanley Cup is the oldest, most fabled trophy in sports. But the average student on John Brown University most likely has no idea that National Hockey League’s 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs start in less than a week.
Senior and St. Louis Blues fan Chris Byington said while he finds the lack of hockey fans on campus disappointing, it is not surprising because of the lack of good professional teams in the area.
“Unless you are born in that city, you won’t know about it,” he said.
Fellow senior Ben Onnen, a Pittsburg Penguins fan, said while he agrees people are not likely to follow hockey unless they have a local connection to a professional team, he feels that many students do have that connection through the Blue and the Dallas Stars, both of which have clinched playoff bids.
“The attitude of hockey fits the South, but it will take awhile to catch on,” said Onnen.
While hockey may not be growing in popularity at John Brown, hockey viewership in the United States is steadily rising.
In 2010, game six of the Stanley Cup Finals was the most watched game in the NHL in 36 years with 8.3 million viewers. The next year game seven topped it with 8.5 million viewers in the US and 18.3 million including Canada.
Hockey in North America reached its highest audience at the 2010 Winter Olympics when Canada barely beat the Americans for the gold medal in overtime. 27.6 million Americans and 26.5 million Canadians watched at least part of the game.
The only other hockey game to have more American viewers was the famous Lake Placid game against the USSR in 1980.
The 2010 Olympic gold medal game had more viewers then most major sporting events in the previous year, including the Masters, the Daytona 500 and the NCAA’s men’s basketball national championship among others.
While fans will have to wait two more years for a possible rematch of Canada and America’s Olympic teams, many of the world’s top players will be facing off for the Stanley Cup.
“I’m really excited. Playoffs are always up in the air,” said Onnen, “This year more any other year.”
Byington agreed, saying that the teams are all rather even, with most of the top teams within a few points of each other.
“I would rather have that then a blowout,” said Byington.
In any sport, the post season is when anything can happen and the competition gets more intense. Onnen said NHL playoffs bring bigger hits and bigger plays.
Onnen did warn that people who are not hockey fans are likely to get bored because each round of the playoff has at least four games, like the Major League Baseball’s World Series.
Getting to watch their teams play on TV instead of having to search for games online is exciting in itself for hockey fans. Onnen said the lack of access to games is one of the most frustrating parts of being a hockey fan.
Onnen and Byington have both been hockey fans their entire lives, beginning with playing hockey with their brothers. They both said that if more people grew up around hockey like most sports fans do around other sports, there would be a greater appreciation for hockey.
Onnen said he knows that is very difficult because hockey gear and equipment is expensive and rinks are hard to find in the area. He still feels that fans of other sports would enjoy hockey if they gave it a chance.
“It’s a refreshing sport because there are a lot less politics and more people just loving the game,” he said.