Hockey’s not winning popularity contest in south | Sports

The Stanley Cup Final is happening right now but if you’re like me, you probably haven’t watched an entire hockey game in quite some time.

Compared to other sports, hockey’s just not popular, at least not in the south and unless your local team is playing, you’re not going to watch. My guess is as soon as the Final is over, Tampa Bay fans will move on right away from the Lightning to watch the Ray and prepare for the Bucs.

I recall fondly watching the Dallas Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup Final. It was a triple overtime game where Brett Hull made the winning goal but of course, it was filled with controversy. I can name a handful of names from that year’s team but I can’t do that for current players. My true fandom lies in the other sports with Cowboys, Mavs and Rangers. Watching the Stars hoist the Stanley Cup was cool and all but it didn’t have nearly the same effect as watching the Cowboys and Mavs win it all or what it would mean if the Rangers were to win a World Series.

What else is about hockey that’s struggling to keep up with the other leagues? Can you name every team? How many current players can you recognize?

If you are a die-hard hockey fan in the south, you are sadly in the minority. I have nothing against hockey itself and it takes a crazy amount of talent to play it but I can’t put it above the other sports.

My thinking is part of the reason for the lack of hockey fandom in the south is obvious- the weather. You just don’t hear stories here of people who can’t wait to strap on their skates to get on the ice and play some hockey. Strapping on cleats to play football or baseball or a pair of basketball-friendly shoes to shoot some hoops is much more common.

There are just some names and faces that are impossible not to recognize, whether in sports, entertainment, politics or some other form of life. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, you’re going to recognize guys like Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal and many others. You don’t have to be a football fan to know who Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes and Emmitt Smith are and likewise, people are naturally going to know who guys like Nolan Ryan, Babe Ruth and Mike Trout are.

If Brady or Jordan walked into a restaurant anywhere, they’d be hounded for pictures and autographs. My guess, however, is that Anton Khudobin usually has no problem eating dinner without being hounded for pictures and autographs. Sure, there might be some of that going on, and people whispering his name at other tables, trying to figure out whether or not it’s him but it’s nothing in comparison with other athletes.

Wayne Gretzky and Mike Modano are probably a couple of the few exceptions to the rule but overall, they’re not even as close to the same level as football and basketball.

It’s hard to deny baseball currently has a similar issue but it hasn’t always been that way. It’s a mystery to me what caused it for baseball and when but it’s still not nearly as big of an issue for baseball as it is hockey in the south. Fans are beyond loyal and bleed their team colors. They not only know details of all the players for their team but can tell you all about them.

Another thing that comes to my mind is the fact that the best athletes in America aren’t paying hockey. There’s a reason there’s no college conference strictly known for its hockey. Heck, even the schools in the north are known more for football. I don’t recall hearing about a big-time hockey rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State. You might hear about it in the Midwest but on a national level, it’s just not there.

If I may remember, I might tune in for one of the Stanley Cup games but if I don’t, I won’t be terribly disappointed. I wouldn’t be able to say that about the championship round of the truly-can’t-miss NFL, NBA or MLB.

Hockey’s just not winning any popularity contests in the south.

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