Hockey’s Unknown Fan Builder

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By Peter Christian

When I tell people that hockey is the sport I love most, I usually get an odd look followed by a snotty, “Why?”

No matter what I tell them, they always just shrug and turn away with that look still plastered to their face. I could try and convince them that hockey is great, but I’d have greater success convincing Kate Bosworth to compete in next year’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest alongside Joey Chesnutt and Kobayashi. Most people made up their mind about hockey and the NHL long ago. The wasted lock-out season just cemented their already bad bias. No story or logic is going to convince the masses to welcome the sport into their life. It has been my experience that there is only two ways to convert a non-fan into a fan. The first is the conventional method: go to the games. It’s simple, but expensive. One game isn’t enough to get someone to jump in, but a handful over the course of the season sure is. The problem is that not everyone can afford to go to a game once or twice per month just to see if they like the sport.

So what is another option to get some more fans invested into the NHL and the sport as a whole?

The answer is too easy and like the sport itself it gets lost underneath its football, baseball and basketball counterparts.

FANTASY HOCKEY!

I’ve been playing fantasy sports in some fashion for 15 years and even though hockey is my favorite sport, it was the last sport that I tried playing in a fantasy manner. I even played Fantasy Golf and Nascar before signing up for a fantasy hockey league. Yet over the last three years I have fallen in love with it. It provides all the same things that the other sports do (reasons to follow other teams, a time waster at the office and a reason to care about a late Sunday game between Carolina and Phoenix that would otherwise be forgotten) but it offers so much more to new fans of the sport.

Unlike other fantasy sports, it is rare that you find a player whose value on the ice is outweighed by his fantasy value. Unlike other sports you can really get into the nuts and bolts of the game simply by paying attention to the fantasy statistics. As a fantasy owner in a fantasy hockey league you really get the importance of having more shots on goal (more chances to score, ask owners of Alex Ovechkin), you also understand that players scoring Power Play Points are doubly valuable in fantasy (PPP get to help in two or three categories) while also help build or stop momentum during the game. I could go on, but I won’t. Instead, I ask to just sign up for a league. Forget that the NHL has run itself into the ground under bad leadership and just have fun learning about new players (whose names you can’t pronounce) and watch them help you to another fantasy league victory.

What’s Your Favorite League Overall?

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By the TSB Staff

October brings the busiest time of the year for sports, and the multitude of choices might cause overload for the fan. It’s a plethora of choices on parallel with the amount of art displayed in the churches and museums of Florence, Italy. When I visited the “flowering city on the Arno River,” I was amazed by how much marble and canvas had been aesthetically crafted across the city, the multitude of options made it hard to choose what I wanted to see it first and fit it all in the time I was allotted. That’s what it currently feels like as a sports fan in autumn, especially so on the weekends. So how do you prioritize which game you want to watch? I unleashed my editorial staff to make their case for each one. –PMB

H. JOSE BOSCH:

College football is, without a doubt, the best sport in America because college football appeals to that small part of all of us that never wants to truly grow up. College football takes us back to the times when the beer was cheaper, the breasts were perkier and the days never ended; they all just blended together in one hedonistic mess.

College football has bands and student sections and cheerleaders and almost all of them are under the age of 25, which makes for a lot more fun for everyone else who is over 25. They look better, cheer better and have a lot more fun. At the best stadiums they create a toxic environment that is America’s closest answer to the mass hysteria you see in South American soccer stadiums. While bags of urine aren’t thrown on the field, bottles of urine certainly roll their way down stadium steps from time to time. And that is almost as awesome.

College football reminds us of our own football glory days. Those times in college when we tried to convince our friends that we totally could score a touchdown from five yards out if we were given four downs. Why? Because college football still seems so accessible to the former athlete. We went to class with these guys, ate at the same student union and went to the same parties. So many of them seemed so normal that you almost felt you could be a part of that group.

Who watches an NFL game and thinks they can compete at that level? But, for some reason, even though almost all Division I football players could easily kick our ass, we somehow believe we could hang with them if only some coach from the past had believed in us.
College football also has true upsets and underdogs. It still absolutely sucks for the favorite when they lose a game for two main reasons: without a playoff a loss can mean your national championships hopes could vanish and they don’t have the solace of a big paycheck to come home to. Oh, not to mention they have to walk around campus for a week while everyone else around the critiques why they sucked so much.

If those kinds of raised stakes aren’t enough to pump you up than you seriously have no soul.

College football is the best sport in the country. Period.

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PAUL SCHMIDT:

There’s lots of reasons to love college basketball. There’s the obvious arguments, like the college game is pure, without the obvious faults of the pro game. They always play defense in college basketball, and the wide variety of talent bases and schemes always make for intriguing game play.

There’s two things in my mind that always set college basketball apart from every other sport.  First would be the student bodies and fan bases. Quite simply, college basketball fans are the most rabid and informed of all fans. The arenas are, in general, conducive to making things as loud as possible (I say in general because if you’ve ever been to Allstate Arena, where DePaul plays, well…). Every fan base has its own crazed section: You’ve got the Cameron Crazies, the Izzone, The Paint Crew, The Orange Krush…just to name a small few.  Some stadiums you just don’t sit down.  At Florida, in one half of the stadium you wear blue, the other half orange.  In short, the crowds, the stadiums, the atmosphere and yes, the cheerleaders, all make college basketball what it is in person and at home on TV.

The second…quite obviously…is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  There is nothing quite like it in any other sport. The NCAA has even tried to re-create the same atmosphere with its other sports by holding selection show specials, and amping up the one-and-done atmosphere (most notably with the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament and the NCAA Baseball and Softball College World Series’), and have only gotten into the same zip code with atmosphere and dedication of its fans once (surprisingly, the NCAA men’s hockey tournament).

Is there any greater day than Selection Sunday, with the culmination of all of the major conference tournaments, and then finding out if and where your team is going in the Big Dance?  Is there any event that really lets you feel like the little guy has a chance to win?   The NCAA Tournament is just the perfect combination of sport, marketing and opportunity.  Maybe it was all by accident — but it certainly was a happy accident.

Let’s say in the next NCAA Tournament, that a 16 seed beats a 1 seed for the very first time. That, right there has not only become the biggest sports story of the year, but one of the biggest news stories as well.  The David-vs.-Goliath story, the anything-can-happen story. The perseverance wins over all story, saying that if you work hard, and put your mind to it, that you can overcome any obstacles and achieve anything.

How many other sports do you know that can accomplish that in just one game?

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PETER CHRISTIAN

My favorite league? Come on. There’s no doubt it’s the NHL. Sure it’s run by some second rate moron who wouldn’t get in to Death Valley Community College if he applied today, and the league’s ratings suffer because the TV contracts they have are about as lucrative as an eyeball on your kneecap. However, from a pure entertainment standpoint it is the clear winner in my mind. I love all sports but hockey is the sport that clicked first for me. I’m happy watching any part of any game of hockey at any level, so it’s only natural that the league that showcases the world’s best talent is my favorite. But that’s not the only reason.

The NHL has a little bit of everything. Flashy players? Check. Gritty, hard hitting action? Check. Jump out of your seat, Holy-Shit-did-that-just-happen moments? You bet.

Hockey combines athleticism, hustle and hard work with a specific skill set that really defines the personality of its players. Hockey players on principle are guys that are extremely loyal and aren’t afraid to take or throw a punch to prove a point all while showcasing their very specific talent of being able to skate on a pair of blades that are less than a quarter inch wide while using a curved stick to handle a rubber disc on ice. Think about that for a minute. I don’t mean to take anything away from athletes of other sports, but when you really think about all that hockey players DO before they even add in the components of the game (checking, poke checks, goalies, offsides and penalties) it is quite the amazing feat.

Currently the NHL is at a tough spot because they have too many teams (from a financial standpoint) but are exactly where they need to be from a talent level. So if you focus on what’s on the ice only, you’ll be happily entertained, you’ll constantly be on the edge of your seat and you’ll get to see a good mix of scoring, hitting, fighting, strategy and world class skating.

That’s why I love the NHL.

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TOM LEA

You know that time of year when the weather changes and people start to complain about aching joints and muscle pain. Well, considering that time of year is now, at least in the Midwest, some of you probably don’t need to be reminded.

Anyway, when that time of year rolls around for me, I don’t get muscle or joint aches, I simply get the shakes. And it’s entirely because I am so pumped for the NBA season. I mean, once October rolls around and NBA preseason action starts, I am salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs at the thought of the start to the regular season. So, as I sit here and write this, a mere 9 days away from tip-off to the Cavs-Celtics game, I am doing so drenched in sweat while fighting with my hands so they stop shaking long enough to allow me to type.

Now, one may ask where I get this borderline psychotic love for a professional association that so many can’t stand. I simply respond, on TNT.

I mean, where else can you get quality play-by-play announcers and the best studio show for each and every telecast? You got guys like Barkley, Marv Albert, Kenny the Jet, the Czar and Craig Sager. If you didn’t know any better and just looked at a picture of those guys, you would think they are the stars of some VH1 celebreality show. Only they aren’t fighting for anyone’s eternal love, they are just fighting to get enough love for one night. And in Albert’s case, doing so while avoiding harassment charges.

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In all seriousness though, you have some of the most athletic human specimens in the world playing a sport that showcases their skill better than any other. When you see how high some of these guys can jump, how quick they can handle the rock and how well they act like they give a shit each and every game- it makes for high quality drama.

And when the playoffs come around, I mean, I seriously go into a 50 day love affair with my TV. I seriously don’t have a social life and any thing I do have revolves around watching the games that night. I’m beyond obsessed. So much so, that I probably need to see a therapist.

In fact, I just bought the NBA league pass for my computer, so I will have every NBA game at the very same fingertips I am writing this piece with. The thought of that is scary enough. But hell, it’s almost Halloween and I’m in that kind of mood. This is the first time I have ever done this and I am having a hard time typing right now because my hands are shaking with sheer excitement.  This season on The Sports Bank I plan on doing a weekly write-up where I will discuss the best games I saw during the week, the funniest thing I saw during the week, developments, surprises, trends, etc. I will also have a counter where I put up the games I watched and the total number I have.

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Patrick Kane and Company Head to Europe

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By Paul M. Banks

It’s known as the “Grand Tour,” a rite of passage for college kids. Upon completion of college, or perhaps during the summer in-between, college students often go sightseeing in continental Europe. Patrick Kane, and many of his Chicago Blackhawks teammates are college age or younger. Since they find themselves playing in the NHL instead of going away to school, they can consider this week’s trip to Switzerland and Finland, their Grand Tour.

On Monday afternoon, the Blackhawks played the first of two European exhibition contests at Zurich’s Hallenstadion Arena against HC Davos.  Chicago won Monday’s contest 9-2; including two goals from star left-wing Patrick Kane, who I had an exclusive with back in Chicago, just before the team flew across the pond.

“It will be cool. Hopefully, we can get some Blackhawks fans over there that can cheer us on pretty good. From watching soccer games on TV and being in world championships things like that- those European crowds can get pretty crazy with waving the flags, the face-paint and things like that. I’m sure we’ll enjoy it,” he said.

I also asked him about the power play, which has struggled mightily in exhibition matches. “Once we get out there on the power play, we pretty much know what to do. We’ve been with each other for a couple years here, so hopefully we get some practice in the exhibition and we work on it there,” Kane said.

The Blackhawks will join the Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Florida Panthers as National Hockey League teams selected to participate in “NHL Premiere,” launching the 2009-10 regular season. The Blackhawks and Panthers will play “home-and-home” games at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland, on Fri., Oct. 2 and Sat., Oct. 3. This will be the Blackhawks’ first-ever regular-season game in Europe, but not Kane’s first trip to the old continent.

“I’ve been there a couple times. Not everyone gets the opportunity to do that, but we’re excited about it and getting the season started…I’ve been to Germany, Russia, I haven’t been to Switzerland so that will be a goal for me. Finland, it can be pretty dark when you’re there in the winter, but luckily we’re going there a little bit earlier, so that’s pretty nice,” Kane said.

The trip should also help build chemistry within a team that had an off-season filled with adversity. “Going overseas for a couple weeks really helps us bond, as we really get to hang out with each other. Usually, when we’re at the rink we hang out, but then we go home and do our own thing and come back the next day.  But there, we’ll probably be together 24-7,” Kane said.

Patrick Kane’s Video Game Released Today

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By Paul M. Banks
Following an off-season that even the most optimistic person would describe as excruciatingly disastrous, Patrick Kane has something extremely positive to look forward to. The EA Sports video game NHL 10, with the Chicago Blackhawks right wing on the cover, hits North American retail stores Tuesday, September 15th.

A native of Buffalo, NY, Kane is just the second American-born player to be featured on the cover of the top-selling EA Sports hockey videogame franchise. New York Rangers goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck was the first when he was featured on the cover of NHL 97. Kane is the youngest player ever chosen for the cover of the NHL franchise and his image will front all packaging related to NHL 10. The physical image of Kane remains on the product, despite the public image of Kane suffering a huge black eye last month. You’ll remember on August 9, Kane and his cousin, James M. Kane, were arrested in Buffalo for allegedly assaulting a taxicab driver.

They were eventually cleared of any felony charges, but indictments on less severe misdemeanor assault, theft and harassment charges still loomed overhead. On August 27, the Kanes pleaded guilty to non-criminal disorderly conduct charges, and the court ordered them to issue an apology to the driver. So essentially, the storm has passed from a legal perspective.

The Redwood City, California tech firm Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: ERTS) did not issue any further statement on the release date in regards to their cover choice. But they did explain their rationale when going public with the decision on June 22nd.

“At EA Sports we believe in identifying the most talented up-and-coming athletes in the world to help us develop the most authentic sports games,” said Jordan Edelstein, Vice-President of Marketing for EA Sports. “We believe Kane is one of the next great American hockey stars.” So it appears Kane has recovered nicely from “being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” as his endorsements (and legal freedoms) remain in tact. Box art and screenshots of Patrick Kane are available here

Returning to on-ice news, Kane began training camp on Sunday, skating with Team A (Red) at the Hawks’ pre-season camp.  The team is divided into three squads: A (Red), B (Black), and C (White).