Do you believe in miracles? As in, do you believe that Sunday's U.S./Canada gold medal game, a ratings blockbuster, will christen new hockey fans, convert the non-believers and usher in a golden age of popularity for the NHL? You know, all the stuff the Olympic experiment was supposed to have done but never has?
Chris Good is a writer for The Atlantic and, reading his piece, a bit of a lapsed puckhead. He seems like a guy who was gut-punched by the lockout and has slowly been drawn back to the game until Sunday pushed him headfirst into his fandom again. We imagine he's not alone.
For someone with a tangential relationship to the NHL -- even someone like me, who collected hockey cards as a kid, played hours of NHLPA '93 on Sega Genesis and street hockey with friends even through college, before the expansion rounds and the devastating lockout caused a rift -- the 2010 USA Olympic hockey team has provided a reason to care about hockey again.
The "growth of the game" stuff was paramount in Team USA's run to the gold medal game, with everyone from Ryan Miller(notes) to Ron Wilson addressing what their accomplishments could mean for new fans. Detroit Red Wings players who watched the game commented that it would help the sport.
It could, I suppose. The hockey played on Sunday was electric, wonderful and heart-stopping. The atmosphere, and the stakes, made for a classic game seen by 27 million people.
But those conditions are frankly impossible to replicate, as is the level of play: Name an NHL team that has Jonathan Toews(notes) or Bobby Ryan(notes) on its fourth line. If new hockey fans pick up the NHL season midstream and catch the Stanley Cup playoffs, will they appreciate that war of attrition in the same way they appreciated the 67 minutes of kinetic tension in Vancouver?
I don't think they will. I think many of them are Olympic Hockey Fans.
It's the same thing that happens with soccer in the U.S.: We seen legions of World Cup Soccer Fans appear in the States, going to pubs at 8 a.m. or waking up in the middle of the night to catch games.
These people are not watching MLS; they're also not watching Man U. They love soccer in the same way that, say, someone addicted to curling during the Winter Games isn't tracking down the VanCougar when she's sliding the rock in the Canadian Professional Curlers Association or whatever it's called.
The NHL is a different product than Olympic hockey, and that's why you always get some yutz saying it needs to be more like Olympic hockey by dropping fighting or contracting franchises or realigning into national teams or some nonsense. The NHL's problem isn't creating new hockey fans; it's creating new NHL fans, who are willing to commit their time and money to watching that product like they would an international championship game.
Where does the gold medal game help? It helps in the fact that Ryan Miller and Zach Parise(notes) can be sold on NBC and Versus as "Olympic heroes." It helps the young fans who saw what hockey looks like on that level of play and now want to strap on some skates in a warm-weather American city. It helps every hockey fan in the U.S. who has to hear the "nobody cares about hockey" harangue from MSM, only to have 27 million reasons why people actually do.
But I'm not sure it helps the NHL.
I'd like nothing more than to see interest in the NHL spike thanks to the Olympics, because it means more NHL participation in the Olympics. I'm just cynical about it. Do you think Sunday's game was a transcendent moment for hockey in America?