- Grove City, Pennsylvania


April 24, 2014

EXTRA INNINGS: Olympics, outdoor games hurt NHL

OPINION — THERE’S A REASON why professional hockey is again only the sixth most popular sport in this year’s survey of the annual Harris Poll that asks fans ages 18 and over about their favorite sport.

The NFL leads (35 percent), followed by major-league baseball (14), college football, (11) auto racing (7), and the NBA (6). Hockey comes in at five percent, just two percent ahead of college basketball.

Although hockey’s “playoffs” began last Wednesday, the playoffs are, in reality, the start of the “regular season,” which drags on for two intolerable months in which more than half of the teams participate.

With only 14 of the 32 NHL teams left out of the post-season that consists of four best-of-seven series, you have to be really bad to miss the chase for the Stanley Cup. So what the NHL calls the seven-month, 82-game “regular season” is in effect is “pre-season” action, designed merely to allow teams to jockey for seeding for a possible 28 post-season games.

Once televised only on networks that nobody ever heard of, the NHL still has problems getting recognized nationally. Despite the best national telecasts in years, the figures still pale those of other sports.

And despite what a few hockey-crazed Pittsburgh sportscasters would have us believe, if the Penguins did not have the two best hockey players in the world, the small but vocal and rabid groupies in Pittsburgh would have no outlet.

Make no mistake about it: The fans in Pittsburgh are PENGUINS fans, not hockey fans. Do you ever hear two of them drooling over a Carolina-San Jose match? After the Pens are eliminated, for most of us Pens fans, it’s as though the NHL stutters its doors until the Pens begin training in September.

Tune in a sports talk show almost anywhere outside of Pittsburgh and try to find hockey talk; it’s like an NBA fan trying to find basketball talk on 93.7 The Fan.

In an effort to get the other 95 percent to notice it, the NHL has turned to gimmicks like expanding its Winter Classic game into six games this year, played in outdoor stadiums. So if these outdoor games are so appealing, why waste hundreds of millions of dollars building new indoor arenas. Let’s play ‘em all outdoors.

The league has also allowed itself to kowtow to the International Olympic Committee by shutting down for almost three weeks every four years. Unlike no other sport, professional hockey shuts down to lend some of its players—151 this year — to the Olympics.

Imagine the NFL taking three weeks off in mid-season. It’s bad enough that Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s contrived World Baseball Classic interrupts the first few weeks of spring training every four years.

I’m with Ed Snider, owner of the Philadelphia Flyers, who told Ken Campbell of “The Hockey News” that it’s ridiculous.

“I hate [the Olympics],” Snider said. “I think it's ridiculous to take three weeks off in the middle of the season. No other league does it. Why should we? There's no benefit to us whatsoever. If anything, I can only see negatives.”

Like loads of injuries.

The Pens’ Paul Martin just returned to play earlier this month after being injured in this year’s Olympics. Other injuries were worse:

ä Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg had back surgery due to an injury.

ä New York Islanders’ John Tavares suffered a torn MCL.

ä New York Rangers’ Mats Zuccarello fractured his hand.

And for what?

“First and foremost,” Pittsburgh sports writer Bob Smizik wrote in February, “the NHL looks like a garage league by closing down … just so a small percentage of its players can go off to compete for their respective countries. The NHL is either saying a gold medal is more important than the Stanley Cup or indicating it is so desperate it will do anything for a little attention.”

If the NHL wants to be taken seriously outside of Pittsburgh, dump the outdoor games and let the Olympics return to the “Miracle on Ice” days.

Jim Sankey is a sports columnist for The Allied News.

Text Only
  • THE CHECKERED FLAG: Up and down week for Sodeman

    LAST FRIDAY I headed south to add I-77 Raceway Park to my track attended list, which made for 162nd track all-time.  I-77 is located south of Ripley, West Virginia just off Interstate 77.  This season, I-77 moved from the crowded Saturday night line-up to Friday night racing and teamed up with Ohio Valley Speedway.  I-77 normally runs Super Late Models, Semi-Late Models, E-Mods, Mod Lites, and 4-Cylinder Mini Stocks.  With the Sprint Cars on the schedule, I decided to make the trip and they were joined by the Super Late Models, Semi-Late Models, and E-Mods.

    July 21, 2014

  • THE CHECKERED FLAG: Blaney still running hot on area tracks

    LAST THURSDAY I headed southwest to Atomic Speedway, formerly known as KC Raceway.  The 1/3-mile high-banked dirt oval is located an hour south of Columbus, Ohio just off Route 23 near Alma.  It was my first visit in a couple years.  A big crowd turned out on Independence Day Eve as the All Star Circuit of Champions Sprint Cars were back along with the Super Late Models and E-Mods.  The Ohio Speedweek event the week before drew a huge 62-car field and Thursday’s event drew 33.
    After an astounding Speedweek winning the final three races and four of six, Dale Blaney returned to the track that he last got defeated at.  On the Speedweek show, Jac Haudenschild made the winning pass of Blaney, while Blaney finished second.  Last Thursday, even a seventh starting spot didn’t derail Blaney for long.  The Hartford, Ohio racer worked his way to the front and made the winning pass of race-long leader Tim Shaffer on lap 16.  One caution three laps from the finish was all that slowed Blaney’s run to another $5,000 payday.  It was Blaney’s fourth straight win, sixth of the season, and all-time leading 105th of his career with the All Stars.

    July 13, 2014

  • EXTRA INNINGS: Bucs fans loved Burnett, but let's leave him in Philly

    THERE IS NO no doubt that A.J. Burnett made a huge impact during his two seasons with the Pirates.
    When he arrived in the spring of 2012, so did hope for fans wearied by teams that hadn’t seen a winning record in 20 summers.
    While he certainly did not turn the tide by himself, he turned the wheel. His swagger sometimes didn’t play well with management, but even the Buc brass had to appreciate the new culture that Burnett helped his teammates create.

    July 9, 2014

  • NCAA Football: Rock 6-1 after 17-3 win over Cal U

    Slippery Rock University rode a length-of-the-field scoring drive by its offense and a goal-line stand by its No. 1-ranked defense late in the first half of action Saturday to a 17-3 win over 14th-ranked visiting California (Pa.).

    October 19, 2011

  • steez pc.jpg NFL: Steelers top Jags as Mendenhall makes return

    Mike Tomlin isn’t ready to say the Pittsburgh Steelers are back. Not after watching his team sleepwalk through the second half against Jacksonville on Sunday.

    October 19, 2011 1 Photo

  • wheldon, dan pc.jpg IndyCar Racing: Crash takes Wheldon’s life

    Every race car driver heads onto the track understanding this race could be the last and hoping it won’t be. On Sunday, IndyCar drivers got a harsh reminder when the worst happened to one of their own.

    October 19, 2011 3 Photos

  • pens pc.jpg NHL: Sabres beat Penguins 3-2

    The Buffalo Sabres have had trouble with the Pittsburgh Penguins whether Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin play or not.

    October 19, 2011 1 Photo

  • canadiens logo pc.jpg NHL Quick glance: Montreal at Pittsburgh

    A breakdown of the National Hockey League game Thursday night between the Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting Montreal Canadiens.

    October 19, 2011 4 Photos

  • High School Highlights: Oct. 19, 2011

    A look at the last few days in local high school fall sports action.

    October 19, 2011

  • washington, ron pc.jpg Leading Off: Oct. 19, 2011

    News and notes from the local, regional and national sports scene.

    October 19, 2011 5 Photos

Featured Ads
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide