The case for the NHL

John Paynter, Sports Editor

In North Carolina, competitive sports have been a historical trademark that this humble state takes very seriously. From intense college rivalries to wild professional football seasons, teams in the area have made a serious name for themselves.

This year, however, stands out to North Carolinians for its peculiar nature in the sports realm. Some may call it “unexpected” or even “odd.”

Despite its popularity, or lack thereof, hockey has made its way into the mainstream media in North Carolina for the first time in a decade with the Carolina Hurricanes advancing into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mind you, the team has not made a post-season playoff appearance since 2009, and stood at the bottom of the rankings for some time.

Despite barely clinching one of the few wild card spots for the playoffs, the Hurricanes beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitals in a stressful seven game series that came down to a double overtime win.

This is big news for North Carolinians, especially for the few long-time hockey fans in the state. Not only will it shift the perspective of hockey being a sport primarily played in the northern region of the continent, it also will catapult the industry and the overall popularity of the sport in North Carolina, which is long overdue, considering its fast paced, intense, and fun-to-watch nature. All of which tend to satisfy the competitive nature of sports fans in the state.

This does beg a multitude of questions surrounding the popularity of the sport, especially in North Carolina. Why exactly is the NHL, and hockey as a whole for that matter, often overlooked in North Carolina when compared to craze of basketball, football, and even baseball?

The answer to this may seem clear in that professional hockey has been a relatively recent occurence, with the first NHL franchise sprouting in 1997. Some could claim that ice does not often naturally form here in the winters so it is not as easily accessible. However, the rapid growth of hockey in states like Texas, Florida, California and even Tennessee easily debunks this argument. No doubt hockey has its roots in northern states and Canada where kids are forced to make do with what they have in the harsh winters.

However, my question runs a little deeper. Why has the popularity of the sport lagged so much in the sports realm? Especially considering that it has the lowest predictability rate in professional sports. This is due to the importance of team play rather than individual players, which tends to make more exciting games for fans and players alike.

Unfortunately I do not have an answer to this question, my only hope is that the future of hockey in North Carolina is bright. Where every seat in the PNC Arena is home to a passionate fan, where high schools across the state each have school hockey teams, where kids are putting on ice skates soon after they learn to walk, and where hockey is in the heart and soul of sports fans across North Carolina and the World. But until then, Go Canes!

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons