My roommates love to watch ESPN. While I am not necessarily a fan of what the network offers, I do, from time to time, watch. Every time that I watch ESPN, I keep my fingers crossed (metaphorically, not literally) as I hope to hear something about hockey. For me, hockey is an exigent part of life. I ensure that I know all that is happening in the sport at all times; I make an honest attempt to shed team bias and enjoy every facet of the game. (I think I am successful, given the eclectic collection of hockey apparel/memorabilia in my room.) ESPN reporters seldom mention hockey. And, on those rare instances when they do mention hockey, most (if not all) comments are glib, if not largely ignorant of the current happenings in the sport.
The reasons for ESPN’s lack of hockey content matters not. It merely serves as an archetype for the sport’s current place in American society. And most people say “so what” and move on as if interest in a sport never mattered to them (imagine if I said how much I dislike football, which I have done and people have been upset).
Irrespective of what your opinions about hockey currently are, something unique is about to happen in the sport. There has always been an innate rivalry between the United States and Canada vis-á-vis professional and international hockey. Perhaps it is because the countries are contiguous; perhaps it is because the NHL spans across both countries. In either case, the rivalry exists and continues to flourish. Moreover, the rivalry is going to reach an apex via the two top prospects for the NHL’s 2015 entry draft: Connor McDavid and John (Jack) Eichel.
Again, I can imagine a lot of you shrugging your shoulders and ignoring this.
However, even if hockey makes your blood boil (though I cannot fathom why it would), the impact of these two athletes transcends the sport itself — their presence in the sport’s culture speaks volumes of not just a hockey rivalry, but an international one.
The players are entering the league at, ideally, the same time. They will age concomitantly. They will be faces for their respective nations/franchises for many years to come (especially amongst the youth as Sidney Crosby et al. begin to exit their prime). McDavid and Eichel have already faced each other on the international scale, representing their respective countries at the 2015 under-18 International Hockey World Championship; they will likely face one another again, with higher stakes, at the 2018 Olympics (and possibly the 2016 World Cup of hockey, if such a thing comes to fruition).
McDavid and Eichel do not represent simple hockey players from distinct countries.
On a more grand scale, the two teenagers represent the future of an international rivalry, reaching far beyond the NHL. America’s ignorance of hockey comes with an ignorance of a nationwide event. International sporting events are huge in America (think of soccer — how many of you followed the World Cup religiously?).
With Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks sidelined for the remainder of a season which would have likely led to a phenomenal feat — likely becoming the first American player to win the Hart Memorial Trophy (league MVP) — Eichel will enter the league as the centerpiece of a franchise. He will more than likely be that team’s MVP for many years to come; teamwide success will dovetail Eichel possessing the league MVP. While this is not to rule out Kane and other Americans of similar accomplishments, the extra piece of Eichel makes the nation’s presence in the NHL a much more tangible and venerated aspect of the sport.
March 6, 2015