The NHL has been roundly criticized for the Sun Belt expansion, which brought franchises to places as far-flung to the hockey community as Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and Phoenix.
"Hockey will not work in the South. Mr. Bettman's plan is not working out," said Jerry Moyes after the Phoenix Coyotes' 2009 bankruptcy hearing.
But, while several of these teams continue to have attendance issues, a culture change is slowly taking place in the Southern United States, as evidenced by the emergence of Californian prospects such as Beau Bennett, Rocco Grimaldi and Emerson Etem, all top draft picks from the last two years.
However, the best way to tell what's infiltrating the culture isn't prospects coming through the pipe: It's hip hop mixtapes, of course.
"Hockey" is a track from Southern Florida group Goons United by the New School (G.U.N.S.), and is as good an indication as any that the game is making some strides down south.
It's hip-hop, so a NFSW: Strong Language Warning is standard here. But I strongly urge you to power through, if for nothing else than the song's ridiculously and yet super-catchy hook ... and Journey sample.
Choice line: I'm skatin' on these ices.
The track is part of a sports-themed mixtape called "Overtime," but don't think the group made this particular record begrudgingly, just to flesh out their theme. ("Diving," on the other hand... that track only passes because the rappers claim to be diving into massive piles of money, Uncle Scrooge-style.) "Hockey" isn't a filler track. It's the single.
The track espouses hockey as a break from "ballin,'" which is cleverly milked for both its meaning of a) playing basketball, and b) living the ghetto fabulous lifestyle.
The hook: I'm tired of ballin'/B*tch I'm playin' hockey.
I'm sure we've all felt that way sometimes.
So it might seem a little awkward, but the next time Gary Bettman has to go before the NHL Board of Governors for a contract extension, he might want to spin the latest G.U.N.S. record to prove he's making headway in the Dirty South.