Do you want to know why the NFL and international soccer have bigger fan support than our beloved NHL has? The answer is not just one thing, but a big part about it is the same reason all of us die-hards devote so much time and energy to seeking out our favorite sport.
It’s one simple word – “Passion”.
For those of us that were old enough to remember the 1980 US Men’s Olympic team, one of the biggest things that drew me to the sport was seeing the US reaction AS A TEAM when Mark Johnson scored the tying goal. And let’s not forget the Mike Eruzione game winner.
It was a show of immense emotion, reflecting just how hard it was to win against their opponent.
Flash forward 32 years and the most recent show of emotion, Nail Yakupov’s 60-foot slide after scoring the tying goal with only a few moments remaining in regulation to send their match vs. the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings into overtime. The game was a tough one for these young plucky Oilers. A goal had been overturned wrongly, and there were a series of bizarre penalties reflecting the new rules in the NHL. Yakupov’s goal was a catharsis, a release of tension and frustration that only someone with prior experience in a similar situation would understand fully.
Now, I’m sure many of you have played hockey, or sports in general, on an organized level sometime in your life. I have been in situations during my brief tenure as an athlete that have provided me an open window understanding of the feeling of release that comes from surmounting a challenge that seems so daunting while you’re in the moment. Honestly, all one wants to do is scream, “I AM IRON MAN,” from the highest peak and celebrate like a champ in every valley.
If you look at other professional leagues, you see a lot of that. Maybe not in baseball as much, but it certainly goes on in the National Football League. It leaves the viewer, you, dear casual fan, with a lasting image that lingers for years. And you see it a lot in elite international soccer leagues as well. In fact, soccer players have a penchant for writing messages on their under armor just in case they score that big goal. Even in US Women’s Soccer, Brandi Chastain ripped her shirt off in victory after providing the needed score to win the inaugural Women’s World Cup. The image was iconic. It was epic.
If the NHL wants to attract the casual fans like moths to a bug zapper in mid-summer, they will have to let their players live a little. Coaches at all levels need to stop placing such a stigma on celebrations that are currently labeled over the top. Showing emotion like Alex Ovechkin every time he buries a goal should not be looked down on, it should be celebrated and canonized. If I were John Collins, the NHL marketing guru, I would make sure a still shot of Yakupov’s epic celly was on the front page of the NHL website, in larger than life, brilliant color. I would also make sure that it ended up on some propaganda film that he will inevitably send to prospective sponsors to demonstrate the greatness of the game. Collins should make these incredible displays of passion part of the NHL brand, and if that’s already part of the plan, I would make sure that it would be highlighted even more.
Call these players what you want. Some people would call them douchers, blowhards, show-offs, and classless. You know what? Hockey needs more douchers.
And that is the last word.