Spengler Cup and World Junior Hockey Championship

Two hockey tournaments going on right now. The Spengler Cup is an annual tournament in Switzerland for individuals playing in Europe. A lot of former players head overseas for various reasons. Could be the end of their career, maybe they couldn’t cut it in the NHL or perhaps they just enjoy the less rigorous schedule to balance hockey and family life. The tournament itself is pretty entertaining with some tight games. It hasn’t caught on in North America but is very popular in Europe.

The World Juniors Hockey Championships (WJHC) on the other hand, is a tournament for players under 21, who for the most part, are highly touted draft picks with a lot of potential. Ten teams compete for gold, with Canada and US being heavy favorites this year. This tournament is broadcasted by TSN so it gets tons of hype and coverage. It’s a big ratings draw in North America…not so much anywhere else.

So why is the WJHC a bigger draw than the Spengler Cup?

The Spengler Cup has mostly players in the European leagues, so we don’t know much about them. The ones we do recognize are former NHL players past their prime. On the flip side, the WJHC players are all unknowns as well since junior league games aren’t huge draws. Both tournaments have a Team Canada, so national pride can’t be the factor either.

The media machine known as TSN does a pretty good job boosting the WJHC. Player profiles, game analysis, commentators, and expanded coverage on TV and their website all contribute.

The big difference between the two tournaments is the linking and alignment of fans to the product.

The potential of young players is heavily emphasized as most of them are already drafted or will be eligible next summer. The player will always have a familiar NHL team attached to them at all times. Working with the familiar constructs in a viewers mind builds that attachment right away. Spengler Cup broadcasts have less to work with when trying to connect with the familiar. Former players are long forgotten and have established themselves in the European leagues.

Second, since there’s potential in the WJHC, fans have something to take away from the broadcast and work with. The player has time to become a professional, so a fan can watch them develop, follow their stats and make their own judgments over time. It’s also easier and more interesting to discuss potential players with other fans. Guesses can be made about how good/bad this player can be and then eventually be verified. Former players are is less relevant to fans with no real future and thus, less interesting to work with.

It’s easy to blame a mega sports network like TSN for over-hyping an event, but really its collective fan behaviour that dictates what gets coverage and what doesn’t.

How blogging is like pond hockey

Ken Dryden talks extensively about the evolution of hockey in his book “The Game”. He stresses the importance of allowing young players to be creative without the rigid structure of organized hockey. He uses Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur as an example of a player who would spend time alone on the ice or with a few friends before and after practice to feel and develop his own game. Dryden talks about how skill and instincts are developed better when there’s less restrictions. The mind is able to wander more and think of new ways of playing the game.

Kids across different sports are placed under strict limitations by coaches. They’re expected to follow a team system or game plan and find a role to stick with for the greater good of the team. Rosters can’t have twelve Gretzky’s playing forward, so naturally, some players got be more offensive while others were put into supporting roles.

When the ice is open and there are less limits, like in pond hockey, a player has the ability to be creative. They can try different things without any repercussions. You get the chance to feel the game and be more imaginative.

I find this similar to blogging. When individuals can just write, without any worry of losing anything, some interesting stuff can come out. And if it doesn’t, big deal. It sticks around the web until someone can come along and maybe pick up from where it left off. Like pond hockey, there are some loose rules, but for the most part, you’re free to do whatever you want.

Being able to write is the same feeling you get when you’re playing on a frozen pond. The possibilities just seem endless when you can skate whichever direction, at any speed and include any movement. It’s a great feeling when the sunset is the final buzzer.

Dryden, K. (1983). The Game. Toronto: John Wiley & Sons.

Nordiques Fans to Demonstrate

Fans of the defunct Quebec Nordiques will be making a trip down to Long Island to attend a game between the Atlanta Thrashers and the New York Islanders. A group of 1,100 Nordiques fans will be there to show support for a team to relocate back to Quebec City.

The city lost its franchise back in 1995 as the team moved to Colorado. Ever since, fans have wanted a team back. Recently, the Government of Canada and the Province of Quebec has talked about supporting the development of a new arena to possibly bring a team back.

The plan for the 1,100 demonstrators is to cheer at the 15 minute mark of each period, marking the 15 years they’ve gone without a club in Quebec City. Both the Islanders and Thrashers have been struggling at the gates, drawing fans well below the league average.

The interesting thing here is how adamant cities like Winnipeg and Quebec City have been on getting the next NHL team that happens to relocate. They really do have a tonne of fan support, but professional sports is a business. Without stable sponsorship and support from the business community in those cities, a professional hockey team can’t fly.

Derek Zona took a look at a number of markets that don’t have an NHL team and the various factors needed to support one. Arguments can go either way, but looking at these numbers, it’s hard to justify relocating a team to Winnipeg and Quebec City.

The whole debate, all of the actions and the findings has been left to fans. Not the league, not a research company and not a University of College. The actions, as planned by the 1,100 Nordiques supporters, is fan driven. That’s what makes this whole story and debate so interesting.

It remains to be seen what the final results will be. But what is clear is how hockey fans are the ones taking action here. Both online through blogs and social media, and the real world by driving eight hours to Long Island to show support for a defunct team.

*Update*

Here’s the third period demonstration by Nordiques nation. Beauty. Montreal Gazette story here.

Terry Fox

ESPN’s 30 for 30 series has done an amazing job covering different topics and stories over the past thirty years in sports. I haven’t watched every single one yet, but the ones that stand out for me are “King’s Ransom”, “The Two Escobars” and now “Into the Wind”. Each one deals with the impact sports has on the culture and society it’s within. The stories go into the ramification of sporting events on nations and social issues existing at the time. Terry Fox’s story goes one step further, dealing with Canadian identity and how sports play a role in its development.

The story of Terry Fox is inspirational. A man determined to raise awareness about cancer by running across Canada brings a lot of pride to Canadians. “Into the Wind” gives a lot of unseen footage of Fox’s trek and the different challenges he faced along the way.

What stood out for me the most was the importance of Terry Fox to Canadian culture and identity. His “grittiness” was talked about in the documentary and symbolized the hard-working nature of Canadians, according to Leslie Scrivener.

I’ve always believed that sports reflect society. It reflects life and the stories we have. Both have a beginning, middle and an end. Both have ups and downs. Challenges, success, failures, triumph. Athletic performances like Terry’s mean so much more than just sports. They provide us with inspiration, faith and identity. Fans play an integral role watching, following and engaging with sports. They take away a lot from the game but also embrace its effects to play a role in their culture.

“Into the Wind” can be watched here.