Tuesday, January 03, 2006

And you Wonder Why Hockey Never Seems to Take Off in the States

Yesterday, I complained about about poor reffing in the NCAA College Bowl Games. Today, I complain about the complete lack of coverage of the World Junior Hockey Tournament in the United States. For those of you who may not be aware, the World Junior Hockey Tournament is the best two weeks of hockey you can find anywhere outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A couple of years ago, Canada and the United States met in the championship game, and I was appalled to find out that the US media was ignoring the game completely, instead deciding to air some Ali-Frasier bout that took place twenty-five years ago. The US Junior Team went on to win their first ever World Junior Hockey Championship that year, and I could not find a mention of it on the news or in the newspaper headlines the next day.

Contrast this with Canada. Growing up, I looked forward to Christmas break each year, when I was treated to two straight weeks of continuous WJHC coverage on TSN. What a disappointment it has been for me since moving here to the United States.

I wrote Fox Sports Net about the possibility of broadcasting Saturday's New Years Eve matchup between the USA - Canada, but did not receive any response at all.

Fox Sports Net owns the rights to televising the US games in this tournament. For some reason, they have decided to only televise the games on Fox Sports Net North, available in Wisconsin and Minnesota, I believe. Here in Ann Arbor, I am stuck watching Fox Sports Net Detroit, featuring an (exciting, I gather) early season Oklahoma State-Pepperdine College Basketball matchup.

To make matters worse, USAHockey previously announced that they would provide a live radio feed on their website. I pulled up the site, and was very disappointed to listen to twenty consecutive minutes of the worst elevator music you could ever imagine before turning it off in disgust. Finally, after a little digging, I found an alternative live feed of the game on Team 1040, a Vancouver-based radio station. Leave it to a Canadian website to bail me out.

What I'm getting at is this -- time and time again, I here about how Hockey ranks like tenth among sports popularity in the United States of America, below the likes of Figure Skating, Synchronized Swimming and World Series Poker. What do you expect when you fail to promote the one of the most exciting tournaments around. Put the game on TV, and give fans a chance to appreciate the quality of hockey available in this tournament. Last years tournament featured Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, two emerging stars in the NHL, along with Dion Phaneuf, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Patrice Bergeron. This year, the Russian team features Evgeny Malkin, a player that could one day challenge Crosby and Ovechkin for the NHL Scoring lead. Other emerging stars in this years tournament include Finnish goalie Tuukka Rask, who managed to put together a 53-shot shutout over Sweden in the Quarterfinals, Phil Kessel, a potential number one draft pick on the Americans, Jack Johnson, a dominating defense force from the University of Michigan, and Robbie Shremph, also on the US squad.

Going into the tournament, the US squad was favored to win the tournament, given the number of quality players on this squad. They are in tough tonight against Russia here in the Semi-finals, which is going to be a close battle. If you're interested, Russia is currently up 1-0 after the first period.

Oklahoma State-Pepperdine - give me a break! If you're going to insult hockey by skipping a semi-final matchup involving the US Junior Team, at least have the decency to feature a ranked team, instead of showing a completely meaningless regular season matchup between two mediocre basketball clubs.