NHL Needs Olympic Hockey
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 02:02
On Feb. 11, Ethan Chess and Drew Cunningham wrote in their column “The Third Half” (The Hoya, A8) that the NHL should not suspend its season and allow its players to play in the Olympics. While I understand their reasoning, I disagree with them. The NHL needs to continue sending its players to the Olympics in order to cash in on the marketability the Olympics provide.
Just look at last Saturday’s instant classic between the USA and Russia. The USA-Russia game was the most-watched hockey game in NBC Sports Network’s brief history, and the final half hour of the game was the most watched 30 minutes in the history of the channel. Oh yeah, this game was played at 7:30 a.m. Eastern Time. It was even more watched than Game 3 of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals between the Bruins and Blackhawks. Stanley Cup Finals games have the benefit of being played during primetime, but last Saturday’s Olympic game was finished before just about anyone on the West Coast would have dared to wake up on a Saturday morning.
The three mostwatched hockey games of all time in the United States are as follows, in order: 1980 “Miracle on Ice” against the USSR, 1980 gold medal game against Finland and the 2010 gold medal game against Canada. The three most watched hockey games … ever. That 2010 gold medal game was also the most watched TV program in Canada’s history.
The Canadians didn’t just watch the game; they were hopelessly devoted. Edmonton’s water supply company published a graph of the water consumption during the 2010 Olympic finals and the graph showed that water usage was far below the norms during play and skyrocketed during intermission. Meaning, Canadians were waiting for intermissions for bathroom breaks. If you don’t believe me just google “Edmonton water usage during Olympics 2010.”
To put it simply, Olympic hockey reaches fans that no other tournament can — including the NHL’s own Stanley Cup Finals. Think about T.J. Oshie. Team USA’s center became an overnight household name just because of a shootout — a part of the game that’s not even really part of the game. Oshie plays for the St. Louis Blues, a team that has been very good in recent years but is not universally known. Oshie’s Twitter followers increased by 50,000 during the game, and everyone in America apparently agreed that if you have ever sold a t-shirt before, you have to create one about T.J. Oshie.
My interest in hockey is actually a perfect example for how important the Olympics are to the NHL. I was a diehard hockey fan until the NHL’s season-long lockout in 2004. I had trouble coming back to the game until the 2010 Olympics reignited my passion. I didn’t know who Zach Parise was, but I almost instantly became one of his and Team USA’s biggest fans when he scored the tying goal against Canada in the gold medal game. Now, I’m one of a select few diehard hockey fans on this campus, all because of the Olympics. With the 2010 USA-Canada gold medal game being the most watched hockey game in 30 years, I think that a lot of American fans feel the same way as I do.
Chess and Cunningham proposed the idea of hockey’s own tournament every two or four years, similar to soccer’s World Cup. Although it is a nice idea, it would not be nearly as effective as the Olympics. The Olympics reach casual fans and sometimes turn them into diehard fans better than any tournament ever could. A casual fan would not have woken up at 7:30 a.m. for a game in a preliminary round in a tournament other than the Olympics. Sure, a hockey tournament similar to the World Cup could be a huge event down the line, but thinking that it would be as influential as the Olympics in the near future is naive at best.
There’s also one component that Chess and Cunningham discounted completely: The Kontinental Hockey League, Russia’s top league, is trying to steal players from the NHL. It already wooed Ilya Kovalchuk, who retired last year from the New Jersey Devils so he could play in his home country. Russian players remain in the NHL because the NHL is simply better, but if the NHL doesn’t allow foreign players to play for their home countries in the Olympics, many international players will feel that it isn’t worth staying to play in the U.S. or Canada. The NHL would undoubtedly hurt its talent pool by disallowing its players from going to the Olympics.
Chess and Cunningham have valid points, but they have overlooked just how much the NHL benefits from the Winter Olympics. When Canada and the U.S. face up in the Olympic semifinals, we’ll see just how many people in our country tune into the game religiously, and that should give you some perspective on how far-reaching the Olympic men’s hockey tournament really is.
Tom Hoff is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. DOWN TO THE WIRE appears every Friday.