Dear puckheads of the United States of America and parts of Alaska,
As we know, the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Chicago Blackhawks begin on Saturday night on NBC. The good news is that the ratings for the last two Stanley Cup Finals, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, were impressive: an average of 8 million viewers watching Game 7 last year. In other words, we've come a long way from Game 3 in 2007, baby.
But the work is far from complete. The apathy from not-yet-hockey fans towards what should be our signature event as is palpable around our great nation; not only in the media but among friends and families.
So with that, here are a few obligations for all U.S.-based puckheads during the Stanley Cup Finals, in order to create awareness of championship round and continue The Game's growing insurgency into popular culture; with the ultimate goal of one day out-rating the NBA Finals, thus causing ESPN's headquarters to implode like the house at the end of "Poltergeist."
1. Buy Nielsen Families Beer, Watch Hockey With Them. Television ratings are a nebulous and unreliable measure of popularity of major sporting events, in a culture that demands group viewing for such events ... but it's the girl on our arm, so we're dancin' with her.
Nielsen Families are the lucky ducks whose viewership and habits are measured for the creation of the nightly ratings. How can they help hockey? We refer you to Chuckgasmic, a fan site for the NBC action/comedy "Chuck," which spells out specific instructions on how Nielsen Families can maximize their impact on a given program, including use of a DVR:
"If you must DVR it, be sure to watch the episode prior to 3AM that day and DO NOT skip any commercials. You must watch your DVR recording as if it were live. You can actually watch the recording within 3-days and have it count but for it to be counted in overnight ratings, watch it prior to 3AM."
Who knew, right? Now find that Nielsen family in your town and buy them a lovely fruit basket with a Bobby Hull jersey inside.
2. Insert Hockey References Into Other Sports Conversations. The NBA fan at the office coffee machine is talking about Kobe Bryant's triple-double in the previous playoff game. You jump in with, "Yeah, he's like a combination of Toews, Kane and Byfuglien."
NBA fan smiles with nervous confusion, goes back to his computer and searches for whatever the hell that reference meant so he doesn't feel left out. Repeat with baseball fans, but add more meaningless stats to really entice them.
(The example above sadly ends three hours later when NBA fan's 732nd attempt at spelling "Toews" and "Byfuglien" correctly in a Web search fails.)
3. Hell, Insert Hockey References Into Every Conversation.
"You liked that restaurant? I found it to be positively Burish."
"Why are you looking at me like I'm Dan Carcillo or something?"
4. HockeyBomb Social Media. Twitter and Facebook are the national conversation. If you're someone that occasionally talks hockey on social media, double those efforts for the next two weeks. Engage your friends in hockey talk, make Twitter trending topics, send little Facebook hockey gifts and photos ... all of it. Seriously, that old high-school classmate -- the one who always smelled like tuna fish, that you friended accidentally last week -- is going to love discovering the hidden joys of Antti Niemi(notes).
5. Drink Beer. This really has nothing to do with growing the sport. But we find the Finals to be much more enjoyable after a few frosties. What's your beverage of choice for the title round?
6. Finally: Hold Local Media Accountable. I wrote for a local newspaper for nine years. I've seen dozens of editors bend to the will of a vocal minority, altering coverage plans to quell an uprising. If you don't believe your local rag is giving hockey its due during the championship round, call or email the sports editor and let them know about it. If you're watching the local news, and Champ Kind or that bubbleheaded blonde on the sports desk isn't showing at least one highlight from the Cup Finals, call or email the newsroom and demand it.
Seriously: As much as you want to believe complaining about lack of coverage is a hassle or ineffective, it's not and it isn't. It's how you get your news covered. How on earth do you think the WNBA ever gets a column inch or a second of air time otherwise?
7. Above all else: Don't be apathetic. Yes, it's hard watching the Flyers potentially take the "1975" arrow from our comedy quivers. Yes, it's going to be even harder to watch a mercenary coat-tail rider like Hossa potentially get his name on the Cup. And yes, just like every other year, the minute your team is eliminated from the playoffs was the minute you stopped watching hockey.
But it's on us to elevate our sport by celebrating our sport. The NHL isn't perfect, and its broadcasting partners sure as [expletive] aren't. But the more apathetic you are, the less attention the Finals get and the more everyone else will continue to treat you like a sports leper in this country.
We know hockey's the greatest sport in all the lands. We know it's way more popular than it's ever given credit for being here in the States. But it doesn't win the beauty pageant in the ratings or the coverage, and it's on us to change that.