By: Abby Miller
With a new season underway, the NHL has some work to do PR-wise. It may not be obvious to the casual sports fan, but a lot has been going on in the rink that is noticeable to hardcore fans. The game is getting dangerous. I’ve seen more ugly hits, cheap shots, sticks to the faces of players, and more unnecessary dirty behavior in the few games I’ve watched of this young season, than I have in all my years of being a hockey fan. It’s dangerous for the players, and it’s dangerous for the well-being of the sport.
More negative press is the last thing the NHL needs after its infamous lock-out and Todd Bertuzzi’s violent attack from-behind on Steve Moore several years ago. But if games continue to be played the way they are, negative press is sure to come. It’s only a matter of time before a dirty player takes a cheap shot on a player and ends their career. And when it happens, ESPN and all of the sports networks will play it over and over again.
The diehard hockey fans will know and understand that that’s not what hockey’s about, but the casual fan, the fan the NHL is trying so desperately appeal to and really needs, will see that clip on ESPN and be turned off to hockey. To a casual fan, it’s just some idiot with a stick beating someone over the head with it, while a little black piece of rubber slides across the ice.
But that’s not what hockey is. It’s a game of skill and grace. It’s a game of inches, a game of intensity, and a game based around hard work. Anyone who has tried to skate on ice while chasing a puck with nine other people on skates around you understands what it’s like. A few years ago, the NHL launched an advertising campaign based around the saying “Can you do your job on ice?” I’m unsure if it had any success, but it was so true and I found it very intriguing. The ice is what makes hockey so different from any other sport. The ice makes hockey such a fast, physical, bruising sport.
The way things are going right now, the NHL is just setting it up for another moment that makes it look like the joke of all the major professional sports leagues in the United States, unless it cleans up its act. The officiating needs to step up and the league needs to step up by giving out fines and suspensions for dirty play. If it doesn’t, the NHL will be making headlines soon enough, and not for good reasons.