You may have noticed something curious the past few days: suddenly a lot of people who couldn't give a damn about hockey are very interested. The U.S. defeat of Canada on Sunday night -- which was not even an elimination game -- earned television ratings higher than last year's game seven of the Stanley Cup finals between Detroit and Pittsburgh and was the highest rated sporting event in Canadian history.
That's hardly surprising. The Stanley Cup finals ended in the middle of June last year when days are long and winter is a distant memory for most of North America. Parts of the finals were telecast by a network, Versus, that many people do not get as part of their cable subscription package. Not that they're missing much. Versus normally specializes in fishing and hunting programs featuring some of the biggest rednecks known to man.
This is all a long way of saying it's quite odd that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has been so critical of NHL involvement in the Olympics. For one, in the 1990s, he championed suspending the NHL season to accommodate the Olympics. But since then the U.S. team sometimes struggled, hockey didn't get much quality television coverage and short-sighted NHL execs and owners began questioning the decision. Because, you know, no one should have to wait two weeks to see Nashville and Atlanta square off.
As a result, Bettman is saying the NHL may not send its players to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. That's strange. Last time I checked, hockey was a popular sport in Russia and I would expect one of the world's largest countries may enjoy watching some of the world's best hockey players duke it out.
Look. The opening of the Olympics to professional athletes is hardly ideal -- at least not in my view. In many sports, the Olympics are now just another stop on a long tour. In hockey, it's a shame that the national teams hardly have a chance to practice together before the tournament begins.
That said...so what? If you didn't almost puke from excitement during U.S.-Canada on Sunday night, you should check yourself into a morgue. You're dead! If you haven't already figured out a way to separate yourself from work this afternoon for the U.S.-Switzerland and Canada-Russia doubleheader, you may want to consider a lobotomy because you're
The point is that hockey is enjoying the kind of exposure it almost never gets and Bettman and his numbnut friends who run the NHL should appreciate that -- and exploit it. This is the time the league should offer ticket deals and be running clinics to teach people to play the sport -- especially adult men and women who work in cubicles and need something to remind them that they are living, breathing human beings.
And, quite frankly, the NHL should take a lesson from the Olympic tournament. It's fun because it's a two-week, wham-bam-thank-you-m'am affair -- exactly unlike the NHL playoffs that take TWO MONTHS to complete. That's plain stupid. Instead of shunning the Olympics, Bettman should be embracing them, replicating them and plotting to make the 2014 tournament in Sochi even better than the one in Vancouver.