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More people should know Sidney Crosby

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Ollie Williams | 16:44 UK time, Saturday, 20 February 2010

"Let's make sure everyone knows whose game they're playing," blasts a prominent TV advert here in Canada as the camera sweeps low over the ice.

The problem is, fewer people than Canadians think know whose game they're playing. Most people don't realise the game exists. Ice hockey, outside a handful of countries, may as well be frisbee golf - of interest to a dedicated community, otherwise irrelevant.

An outstanding example of the stark dichotomy between hockey-loving Canadians and abjectly ignorant foreigners is Sidney Crosby. Crosby is the 22-year-old captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL - a league which spans Canada and the United States and is by far the highest-profile competition in world hockey. Crosby is also the talismanic forward on whom hopes of hockey gold for Canada's men rest.

Walk through Vancouver city centre and there are thousands of people wearing Canadian hockey jerseys. On the reverse of those, Crosby's name and number (87, representing his birth year) are almost ubiquitous. If he is not already a national hero in Canada, he will become one should he deliver that gold safely to the nation.

In Britain, Crosby could walk down any street and not get a flicker of recognition. You could ask a hundred people who Sidney Crosby is and I reckon one, maybe two would know. I don't think the rest could even take an educated guess.

Sidney CrosbyCanada's Sidney Crosby skates past a handful of his adoring fans. Photo: AP

As one of relatively few British ice hockey reporters, I probably know more than the average Briton about the game. That's not to say I'm approaching the human hockey encyclopaedias who broadcast for the North American networks, but I know my Guildford Flames from my Calgary Flames, and I know my Alex Ovechkin from my Nicky Chinn.

I also know what kind of ice hockey community exists in Britain, and it's one I'd currently characterise as down-at-heel. Many thousands of people go to watch hockey in the UK each week, and many of them take a healthy interest in the NHL and the wider game, but British hockey has seen much better days.

What spin doctors would call a "rebuilding phase" is in progress. I still find the end product watchable and enjoyable but there is a way to go until it reaches new heights, and a number of fans yearn for the halcyon days of 1996 - which shows how a fragile sport's fortunes can change in a very short space of time.

Ideally, from British hockey's point of view, Crosby and friends would rekindle British enthusiasm with some captivating performances at the Olympics. Many of the big games are being broadcast by BBC Sport either on national television, interactive television or online, which is a platform hockey is rarely afforded in the UK.

There has never been a bigger international hockey competition than the Olympic tournament on Canadian ice and the game between Canada and the US on Sunday is one of the most eagerly anticipated international encounters in a long time. While much needs to be done to boost enthusiasm for the sport in the UK, some great Olympic hockey would be a good way to start.

However, it may possibly be your last taste of Olympic ice hockey as we know it as these are troublesome times for two reasons.

The first is the deteriorating relationship between the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the NHL. Given hockey at the Winter Olympics takes highly-paid stars away from the latter's lucrative, televised league every four years, NHL bosses seem ready to question whether the Olympics is all it's cracked up to be.

Just as winning a Summer Olympic event in tennis or football isn't really the highest achievement that sport can offer, there is a question mark over whether Olympic gold is worth more than the domestic Stanley Cup - no matter how much the Canadians want to win at their home Games.

"It's naive to just think the Olympics are great, so go," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told reporters here earlier in the week. "We need to understand that there is an impact on our season and what can we do to balance that impact.

"If you look at this in a vacuum and all you are worried about is the two weeks of the Olympics, it is not a very difficult decision. But we don't exist in that vacuum.

"I was thinking of one statistic: $2.1bn (£1.36bn). That's the value of the contracts of the NHL players participating in this tournament. We have turned over, for two weeks, control of the most important asset of our game and that is our players."

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BBC Sport's Matthew Pinsent looks at Canada's national obsession with ice hockey (UK users only)

It's hardly a viewpoint designed to reassure fans that their interests are at heart, but in raw commercial terms it is difficult to argue with Bettman's stance. For the IIHF, however, losing the NHL's backing at the Games would be a devastating blow.

"We need you, Gary, 100%," IIHF chief Rene Fasel told Bettman at the same press conference. "This is the pinnacle."

The man fronting hockey's world governing body publicly begging a league chief is quite something. Can you imagine Fifa's Sepp Blatter doing the same to Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore? Olympic hockey minus the NHL players would be fatally damaged, and the IIHF knows it. So does the NHL.

Related to that is the Olympic game's second big worry: the lack of any real international competition outside North America. In the men's game the Swedish are defending Olympic champions and the Russians are a threat, but even Switzerland's valiant and ultimately futile battle against Canada the other night was seen as a big shock.

And that's nothing compared to the women's game, where the Canadians are so far ahead of anyone else that to call the Olympic tournament a competition is to stretch the definition to breaking point.

Gary Bettman and Rene FaselNHL boss Bettman lays down the law as IIHF chief Fasel fixes his gaze. Photo: Getty Images

At the time of writing, Canada's women have played three games in their group, winning all three and scoring 41 goals in the process, while conceding just two. The US ladies dominate the other group in similar fashion, but are still comfortably second fiddle to Canada. The US may win but, to mix metaphors on a grand scale, many fans see it as a cast-iron gold medal for the host nation.

Baseball and softball were kicked out of the Summer Games having proved similarly easy to predict. If more nations don't start challenging in women's hockey soon, the sport's Olympic credentials will start to look incredibly weak - if they don't already.

So Olympic ice hockey faces the extreme scepticism of the sport's biggest domestic league by far, in addition to the embarrassing one-sidedness of one half of its schedule. And while this is going on most of the world's population sleeps soundly, unaware the game is even played.

Yet there is Crosby, who signed a contract extension worth $43.5m (£28m) three years ago; whose life is the subject of an endless sequence of news reports, opinion pieces and gossip columns. A true sporting superstar almost unknown outside his home continent.

"Who in blazes is Rene Fasel? Which NHL team did he ever play for? What has he ever achieved in hockey that has any credibility with anyone?" asked a Canadian reader below an earlier blog. It may be a reasonable enough point, but it is a short-sighted view of hockey's future.

Hockey should be working to ensure Crosby becomes a household name worldwide, and Sunday's huge encounter between Canada and the US should be a platform for that to happen. Refusing to put up with the rest of the world because the rest of the world doesn't know as much about hockey will only ensure that remains the case.

Most Canadians will tell you the problem lies not with their own attitude to the sport, but with New York native Bettman, wresting control of the game away from the nation which nurtured it. Bettman is often perceived in Canada as a man prepared to sell the game's soul to get it a wider US audience. It is Bettman, not the Canadian team or fans, sounding the alarm about the Winter Games. He has commercial interests to protect and they do not necessarily chime with Canada's, or anyone's, love of the game.

Between Fasel, the "outsider" with no hockey heritage outside Switzerland, and Bettman, the New York lawyer who is "not a hockey guy by any stretch", many Canadians feel their sport is being torn apart by people who don't understand it the way they do. That, in turn, is stopping the wider world getting to know it the same way.

It would be a shame, in four years' time, if there were no NHL players at the Winter Games in Sochi - no superstars to appear on television across the globe - because they were being kept safely wrapped up for North America to enjoy. Everyone should know who Sidney Crosby is. Everyone should know the game he's playing.

Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    I regularly watch the NHL on the ESPN networks in the UK, and they do a great job in promoting Crosby, Ovechkin and all the big NHL stars. They should really be bigger names worldwide.

  • Comment number 2.

    My girlfriend's Canadian and I recently decided to get into Ice Hockey because of that, and I never realised it'd be so easy to. It's such a great game. I'm lucky in that I'm from Cardiff where we have an Elite League team and I love going to the games when I'm not in university (where it seems Aberdeen has no hockey club which is a shame). There's such a lack of coverage in Britain and I think if more was done to promote it, many more people would get into it too.
    What would help in a big way is if the BBC showed the Elite League playoffs in April or the Challenge Cup Final. After all, it splashes out on the Super Bowl and other minority sports.

    As for the Olympics, I think it is irritating and selfish of Bettman to have that attitude and it reminds me of the European football clubs moaning about letting their players go to the Africa Cup of Nations and international friendlies and such like.. If people watch the Olympic competition and see the stars of the NHL in their own country then they are more likely to start following the NHL, and that can only be a good thing for the business side of it. The worst thing a sport can do is become insular.

    As you said, Bettman has commercial interests but surely flaunting the talents of his product in the Olympic games is the best advert for the NHL possible.

    Incidentally, Ollie do you know why hockey has become less popular than in the '90s? I was growing up in the '90s and always knew of Cardiff Devils but sadly never saw them play til last year.

  • Comment number 3.

    What fascinates me is how American football, now only played seriously in North America, has broadened its appeal and reached out to the rest of the world, such that British broadcasters are covering it more than they used to (although now Five won't any more). Although a bigger sport than ice hockey in America already, one has to question what sort of marketing and strategy has enabled the NFL to get to where it is, while the NHL is at a bit of a crossroads regarding its vision. As teams progressively move away from Canada towards some larger markets in the USA, the heart is slowly being ripped out from the game.

    I would be the one of your hundred who knew who Sidney Crosby is, I guess. I even remember the BBC showing the British knockout cup final sometime from the 90's, and I'm only in my early twenties!

  • Comment number 4.

    Totally agree with you. Simple answer for the UK, show the hockey instead of the curling. My reasons. Well it's twice as tactical as curling, a million times faster, and insanely easy for anyone to pick up, with the added bonus of being truly excellent for your all round fitness and co-ordination!

    Browsing the online retailer (the U.K. site) named after a large South American jungle I was surprised to see that it had two items listed under its sport section for "Curling", however normality was restored when I clicked said link and discovered that both items were indeed bike related! Now "Ice Hockey" has 225. Everything you need is there! Including I might add the named and numbered club jersey for one Sidney Crosby. So BBC, kiss goodbye to the curling as soon as is humanly possible and get everyone over to the hockey arena. As well as USA-v-Canada you have the Sweden-v-Finland coming up as well, and that is some intense rivalry for you! Also Russia are struggling and the Czech Republic are looking strong too.

  • Comment number 5.

    The BBC did cover hockey in the 80's, and always covered the play off weekend from Wembley, and always did a great job.

    Hockey over in the UK grew in the 90's mainly due to the building of large arena's, once the money ran out, and the players who had been brought over at a cost went to other leagues willing to continue paying them the sort of money that the UK teams no longer could afford, the standard of hockey dropped, the fan base droppeed and teams left the bigger arena's.

    The one thing that really hurt hockey though was that the Super league didn't impose any criteria on development, if the clubs of that era had development plans we may not be in the mess we are in today, both at league level and also internationally. We had a great development programme in Durham, but when the Wasp's were taken over and moved to Newcastle the production line stopped.

    As for the NHL, it never has been a league to promote itself outside of North America, it's always been the third or forth major sport in the US. Gretzky improved the standing after "The trade", but it's never got near to the NFL, MLB or NBA. It has a certain standing in Europe, which it hasn't exploited either, considering the amount of European talent in the league. Bettman has tried to promote the sport to the US, but has done so at Canada's cost in relocating teams away from there to the US. I do think it's time for someone new with new idea's to promote and manage the league to come in, but who I don't know.

  • Comment number 6.

    Oh Ollie, Ollie, Ollie... If you are the best hockey journalist BBC can put forward... ;-)
    Granted that ice hockey is the number one professional sport only in such countries as Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and also extremely popular in the United States, Switzerland and Germany (countries with pro hockey leagues), it must be a "marginal" sport. Or maybe it only is a "marginal" sport from the British/English point of view? Cricket isn't so big, either, in Finland... ;-) (Nothing wrong with cricket, I'm a fan though it is a very marginal sport in my home country, Finland.)

    There has been a lot of hype about the two North American teams (Canada and the US) meeting in this, the historic hockey tournament, but the real contenders are Canada and Russia, packed with NHL and KHL talent. The rest of the big six (US, Czech, Sweden and Finland), with relative newcomers Slovakia, have a say. Switzerland has played well, and ready and rough Germany hasn't been too bad either.

    Your blog has a point, anyway, about the future of Olympic hockey. Will the NHL pros play in Sotchi in 2014? All the other international and national leagues (including the KHL, naturally) will let their players play in that tournament. What is the future of hockey?

    One thing I know for sure - the sport will thrive on the grassroots level, millions of little kids in dozens of countries donning their skates, trying to emulate their heroes and dreaming of their own hockey glory.

  • Comment number 7.

    In my opinion, (I in no way expect people to agree), the NHL is the most watchable North American sport for a world where Football (soccer) is the top dog.

    However, it's still not nearly as watchable as Football. I went through a couple of year phase of paying extra for a satellite channel that showed live NHL most nights, before I actually got a bit bored of it all to be honest! The following is just a few reasons why.

    -Simply too many games. Alot of the time you just can't help but think this game doesn't mean an awful lot. In the Premier League, every point really does seem to count. I also love the anticipation of 3pm on a saturday, that doesn't seem to exist with the NHL.
    -Franchise system means no relegation and no promotion, it just does not make sense.
    -Too many enfuriating delays, often during exciting and tense moments, so that they can take the time to ram commercials down your throat.
    -Ridiculous fog horns and spot lights when the home team wins.
    -Terrible commentators on the most part.
    There are probably many more factors that I've forgotten.

    Also, as a live spectator sport, I would have to say it's the worst I've experienced.
    -There's too much ridiculously loud music that prevents any sort of atmosphere to build. I've experienced better atmospheres at Football, Cricket, Rugby, Tennis, and even Golf.
    -The delays for commercials make being there a very tedious affair sometimes.
    -Over- dependent on fights. Yes I love the fighting, but the actual competition should be the primary affair, and all too often it just isn't.

    I think it's a great sport, but the NHL just isn't quite right at the moment.

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm a Canadian and a huge hockey fan, and I totally agree. My mom immigrated to Canada with her family from India way back in 1960, and they fell in love with hockey and have passed down that love. Most of my most fond childhood memories stem from the many hours of road hockey we used to play as kids...we couldn't afford the equipment to play organized ice hockey, but shinny (pickup) hockey on ice and road hockey are far more accessible to everyone, and almost every kid plays it here.

    I'd love to see hockey continue to grow, but not for pure commercial interests like Gary Bettman, but because it's a great game which our country has to offer to the world. I'm tired of the NHL money-driven brass trying to push hockey in the southern United States (at the expense of Canada and of the game's integrity, and where it will never really gain a big following), and I'm sad to see that countries which would have a lot of hockey potential (Germany, France, Norway and even GB, for example) have such low hockey enrollment and such a limited interest in the game.

    That being said, I think the men's competition at the Olympic Games is close (hopefully the women's game will continue to develop, because right now, you're right, except for our games against America, it can hardly be called a competition), and I know that in some countries (like the Czech Republic), the sport is practically as huge as it is here in Canada. Canada got a very rude awakening in 1972 when the Russians nearly beat us in the now-famous Summit Series, and countries like Sweden and Finland are also phenomenal (the Swedes' ability to move the puck, among other traits, is so impressive, and I hope the Canadians' power play unit especially can take a few lessons from them!). But its true that hockey is nowhere as popular as it is in Canada (and possibly the Czech Rep.), and although Canadians are so proud of that fact, it would be nice to see the game expand, and I hope it continues to grow. I think the game has a lot of global potential, especially in western and northern Europe. It's unimaginable to me that outside North America, hardly anybody has ever heard of Sid the Kid!! Cheers for this article.

  • Comment number 9.

    I appreciated the lack of condescension in the article. I think the lack of awareness of hockey outside of North America has been oversold a bit, as more appropriate to the UK itself, but the overall picture seems sound. Hockey is either the number 1 team sport or a close second in much of Northern Europe. First in Finland, Switzerland, first or second in Sweden, Russia, Czech, Slovakia, second (roughly) in Germany, Belarus, Latvia, Kazahkstan.

    That said, I agree on the Olympic sentiments. I think most Canadian hockey fans see the Olympics and international hockey as on a par with the Stanley Cup, or close to it. And yes, we see the indifference to the Olympics coming from the ownership of US teams, and the league which is now in US control.

    Junior hockey (U-20) is a huge sport--roughly comparable to US college sports, but with larger international presence. Every other world championship is held here because you can get live attendance of almost 500,000 over the course of a two-week junior tournament. For the world junior hockey championship, TV ratings, domestically, are as high as NHL playoffs.

    I agree it's a very debased view of the game that will prevail if the NHL doesn't go to Sochi. They think they own it, instead of seeing this as returning the gift of hockey to the countries who produce these fantastic players. There are now serious stars coming from non-traditional countries such as Slovenia.

    I gather that World football has addressed similar issues by sending U-22 teams to the Olympics? Is that the case. It is, just conceivably, a "young stars" option that would allow the NHL to continue to operate while releasing its next generation to the Olympics for high-pressure development. Not likely, but conceivable.

    Trouble is that the average quality of players seems to be increasing so steadily that that some of the best and biggest stars in the league are at around the 21-22 year old mark, as Ovechkin was 2 years ago, and Crosby still is.

    Does the U-22 concept work well? Or do teams rail about losing players to the Olympics? I gather from reading the British press that it's always a struggle at World Cup time to get the big names properly released and adequate practice time.



  • Comment number 10.

    I used to watch Ice Hockey in the 50s and it was popular. Quite a few teams in the league. My local team was Earls Court Rangers who had a great Canadian playing for them. Chick Zamick.

  • Comment number 11.

    If you look at the likes of Sweden producing the Sedin Twins, Finland with Teemu Selanne (the highest points scorer in olympics history) or even France, who have produced one of the best goaltenders in NHL history in Jean-Sebastian Gigure, it's clear to see the interest in Ice Hockey is high outside North America. What needs to be done though is getting an interest in Ice Hockey here in Britain. My local team is the Belfast Giants, who are 2nd in the elite league, but compare that to the NHL, heck even down to college hockey in Canada/USA they are terrible! People need to bring Ice Hockey into schools and youth clubs to create an interest in the greatest sport on earth!
    I personally believe that the BBC could do more, like airing NHL games, or trying to have the NHL host another season opener in London. People should know about Hockey.

  • Comment number 12.

    This guy is my sporting hero and i really don't understand why this sport isn't bigger in this country it has everything from pace to the adrenaline rush. I am a huge Boston fan and stream all the games over the internet and I just wish that there were more teams in this country so I could maybe learn to play. One day my dream is to go to america to watch a Bruins game and I am currently saving to do so!

  • Comment number 13.

    what time is the canada usa game on sunday/monday??? and where is it shown? bbc, or interactive/online??

  • Comment number 14.

    The BBC has as much to answer for as anyone in regard to coverage in this country.

    Where are the live matches? Where are the highlights? Where are the mentions of scores on national media? Where are regular updates for the websites?!

    No-where. And I don't understand why frankly.

    I'm talking about the Elite League by the way, it being the top level of hockey (not the EPL which I know you do occasional comms on).

    Maybe Ollie can shed some light on this?

    Also, I'd like to say how underwhelmed I've been by the BBC commentary team in Vancouver. You've got people in this country like Seth Bennett and Chris Ellis who commentate on the game regularly and yet we have Bob Ballard who appears to know next to nothing.

    I know he's done Games in the past, but this year, he has been woeful. Woeful. "Here come the powerplay killers" - that'll be the penalty killers then will it Bob? Jeez, I know 6-year-old's who know that. So very basic.

    Anyway, rant over. Well done for bringing the game some attention Ollie, please keep it up.

  • Comment number 15.

    new jersey devil fan,giguere is quebocois.

  • Comment number 16.

    Sadly Canada opted to soil these games by playing on a small NHL rink with international rules! So instead of Hockey skill or NHL brawn you'll get some nonsense in between. The rink size is a decision to score an own goal and ignore the skill of the game to a degree.

    Why?

    Don't Canadians like the game?

    Do they only like the knuckleheadedness of only NHL hockey? Only matched for Neanderthal-ism by the crass dunk obsessive NBA compared to actual Basketball.

    Or were they too cheap to adapt or build a proper arena?

    The Olympic competition is normally far more approachable than the NHL variety with it's checking and the tedious, predictable and pitiable 'fist' fights. Other clichés like commentators screaming "He Shoots" 50 times a game and "He Scores" just in case any blind people are 'watching' the so called action no doubt.

  • Comment number 17.

    Hi Ollie.

    No one expects Sidney Crosby to be recognized walking down a street in London. There are cultural differences that explain this. Noth America has its own unique sports culture which is entirely different than the rest of the world. While the rest of the planet embraces soccer, in North America soccer is a fringe sport, just like Hockey is in Britain.
    This in no way dimishes or discredits either sport, but only highlights the differences in sporting cultures around the world.

    Ask a Canadian to name any player on the English soccer team and they will give you a blank stare. have the entire team walking down the middle of Robson street in Vancouver and people will just assume they are British tourists. Ask a Canadian to name as many teams as they can who will be competing in the world cup 'NEXT YEAR' they will say Brazil and not know that the world cup is being held this year.

    The point is, even soccer with all its worldwide appeal is irrelevant in North America. But again, this proves nothing and does not diminish the popularity of the sport elsewhere.

    The main thing is that people be passionate about sports that matter to them, which can enhance the lives of those who care.

  • Comment number 18.

    In response to TWSI the reason they are playing on a NHL size rink is because the NHL said they would'nt let the players into the olympics.

    And tbh most of the fans enjoy the fights more than the game.And NHL hockey is alot better than any other hockey league.

  • Comment number 19.

    Ice hockey is going to be at a huge disadvantage in terms of international exposure simply because of the nature of the sport. You need natural ice, or a covered rink which is very expensive in terms of infrastructure and maintenance. Not to mention the prohibitive costs for players, even children - a young hockey player needs his own stick (probably several), skates, protective pieces all over his body, not to mention a helmet... all of this means that modern hockey can only be organized, unless you're lucky enough to live near a frozen lake. It is impossible for anyone to play ice hockey as they would a kickabout after school/work, touch rugby/American football, basketball, baseball, cricket, and so on. This is a huge hurdle because most communities (especially in developing nations) can't afford the facilities, and even for those that have them people can only play at designated times when everyone can get together.

    You can talk about exposure, but the reason that football is so popular isn't that it's always on TV, it's because you can watch the stars on TV then stuff your beer belly into a replica shirt and go kick a ball around with your mates. It's because even the poorest child in the poorest country can go barefoot and kick something around in the street. You can put top-quality ice hockey on TV and in the news every day, but you simply cannot overcome the hurdle that for almost everyone, it will remain solely a spectator sport and a curiosity that they will never actually get the chance to experience for real. Even here in Canada, you see initiatives and advertising trying to make hockey an inclusive sport that every child has a chance to play, because the reality is that even in its (arguable) homeland, playing ice hockey, despite its patriotic bent, is not something that the average Canadian can just go out and "do" when they want to.

  • Comment number 20.

    A couple of points from me. I know who Sid Crosby is as he plays for my favourite team, the Pittsburgh Penguins (current Lord Stanley's Cup holders, thank you very much!!). However, I don't expect many people in this country to know him. Ice hockey is a minority sport here, the NHL games start at midnight so demand not only an ESPN subscription, but also dedication to the cause. There is a small community that discuss the game regularly on BBC 606 and the fact that there are a smallish number of names that always appear, it's clear Ollie's points are valid.

    In the NHL the game is lightning fast, highly skillful, contains plenty of agression and is simply the best hockey there is to watch. Unfortunately the British game pales in comparison. I am a huge hockey fan but I just cannot watch the pedestrian, no hitting hockey played over here. I am a big football fan, but I don't watch Conference football because it's poor quality and lacks interest for me. Sadly the British leagues are of that low standard.

    Now, the second point is about the clown "InterestedForeigner" from the last blog bleating on about calling it "hockey" and getting his/her facts very wrong along the way.

    Well done Ollie for putting the righteous Canadian in their place.

    Great blogs by the way.

    Just one final point, I am not sure the game is quite as unknown in this country as you say. When the NHL played their two opening games at the O2 a couple of years ago, the tickets (all 120,000 of them) sold out in a matter of days. That's pretty good going.

  • Comment number 21.

    Even here in the USA hockey is often looked at as a second class sport compared to the importance of football, baseball, and basketball. There's a lot of reasons for it such as the recent lockout, loss of a contract with ESPN (which at this point pretty much owns US sports coverage), and a huge amount of infighting at the highest levels of the game that you've mentioned.

    I grew up playing hockey through my college years and can contend that the sport at the pre-professional level has a following of unparalleled devotion, but the volume of support pales compared to our other major sports. Sure, there's a big barrier to entry in ice hockey compared to the other sports, but there isn't a barrier to picking up a stick and shooting pucks at your garage door or playing roller hockey. The NHL has been trying too hard to build from the top down rather than the ground up, and is losing opportunities not only in Europe but also here in the USA.

  • Comment number 22.

    Again, what other nations chose to be their favorite past time in terms of sports is irrelevant to Canada and Canadians. We love our Hockey, period. If Americans love football, great. We like it too we love our Hockey more than all other sports combined. This fact seems to bother some people considering all the put-downs here.

    Street hockey is incredibly popular and you can play it with just a stick and a ball. No need for ice to enjoy the sport. Canada loves Hockey and always will. There will always be an NHL, and Canadians passion for hockey is greater than American's passion for any of their sports (although basketball is a Canadian sport as well).

    So let's not worry about the future of Hockey. It will be fine. Enjoy the sport that you love, but do not feel threatened if Canada chooses to love a different sport than yours. I think there's a little anxt being expressed here about that. Put it on ice (get it!!!).

  • Comment number 23.

    An interesting blog, nice for me read sitting here in Kazakhstan where incidentally I attended a hockey match just this past week, the game is not off people's radar here so it seems.
    But you correctly point out that it is a marginal game for most of the world, that is a fact unfortunately. This is not a dig at rugby, a sport I thoroughly enjoy but it reminds me very much of the popularity of rugby in the UK, NZ and not many other places. And then there is the blinkered US where they play three sports and call themselves world champions in each of them, sports that which almost no one anywhere else ever plays(basketball, baseball and american football)! Culture and tradition play a huge part in this in what people consider "their" sport. You will never make inroads to the US sports scene with hockey in a similar fashion as football and rugby will always dominate the UK sporting life. Having spent a large chunk of my life in Canada I know full well that Canadians view hockey as a global game which it most certainly is not. I think that it is a terrific sport, I grew up with it and cherish it but having globe trotted I know that most places only have a passing interest in it and the UK is one of them. Sidney Crosby is no more likely to be recognised in the UK post-olympic games as he is anywhere outside of Pittsburgh in the US, a most over-rated hockey market and almost non-existent outside of the northern states. I only have to look at the sports pages of any US newspaper and even if they have an NHL team the stories related to it will appear after baseball, basketball, college sports, high school sports, nascar and almost anything else.
    Which brings me to my biggest concern in your article and as a hockey fan and Canadian you are correct, Gary Bettman has been the biggest catastrophe to hit hockey. He can even have the audacity to claim that the olympic tourney is not the pinnacle. Again, maybe that is the case with his american owners of NHL teams but having just recently been in Canada I know that Canadian people were chomping at the bit waiting for this one and only international competition of any value to begin (forget about the so-called world ice hockey championships held every spring in Europe, they are a joke tournament devoid of the real name players who are tied up in Stanley Cup playoffs). So Bettman is concerned that the NHL's assets are not on the ice in such sterling hockey outposts such as Phoenix, Dallas, Tampa, Miami, Nashville, Columbus and God forbid Atlanta, for the second time round, another failure. He has presided over the demise of Winnipeg and Quebec City as NHL cities yet steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the hopelessness of the aforementioned US cities as viable NHL locations whenever it is mentioned for them to be relocated to Canada where they will get solid support. Canadian cities are simply a nuisance for this man but the six Canadian teams in a league of 30 provide 40% of the gross NHL revenue!
    Bring on the Olympic tournament and please, bring a hockey man to the head of the NHL, not a new york lawyer whose only interest is pandering to his american owners in hockey dead markets instead of recognition of where the games true passion lies.

  • Comment number 24.

    Totally agree with Dave Pritchard,Bettman has tried to force hockey on to markets that have no comprehension of the game, the NHL needs the olympics just as the olympics needs the NHL stars.You make some great points Dave,rather insightful.For the dude who was ragging on the curling, give it a chance, its the kind of sport that grows on you.

  • Comment number 25.

    I find this a slightly muddled blog. It has tried to pull together and mixed up partially linked but separate issues of the commercial franchise system in the NHL, sports where the Olympics may not be the highest accolade, and the challenges that face sports that do not have global reach, without really seeming to understand any of these. An over-emphasis on the dominance of Canada in the womens' competition, which is not the major issue, has only brought further lack of clarity - and all we end up with is a slightly simplistic conclusion.

    There are some very relevant topics in this, but they could use being addressed by someone who has more than a surface level of understanding. What comes across here is a journalist who has picked up on a few things they have heard and read, and bundled them all into one piece, and once knowledge runs out on one topic quickly switch to the next one.

    I do, though, agree that it would be fantastic if hockey had a wider awareness. When I've spent time in Canada I've found it a supremely entertaining game to watch. If only it could replace here our own marginal interest over-played sport, cricket, but hockey in summer would seem a strange thing.

    But the biggest problem for hockey seems to be the NHL commercial franchise system - and a more considered study of that would have made a better article. Alas, what we get more often these days is superficial journalism that flits around to keep the pieces churning out, rather than bother about such things as research.

  • Comment number 26.

    Ollie, I am wondering why, as Britains leading ice hockey reporter, you have disregarded all the other leading teams? Ok, so USA vs Canada is important sue to the local rivalry (all the other top teams are European) and the particular brand of hockey that these two teams play but it is hardly a game between the two overlords, with everyone else just bystanders. The quote "the lack of any real international competition outside North America" is especially galling. Take a look at the past 22 Olympic ice hockey tournaments - Canada have won 7 but the USA just 2, The USSR/Russia have also won 7 and have recent silver and bronze medals, Sweden have won 2 of the last 4 and the Czech Republic have a gold and two bronze medals from the last 5 tournaments. Add Finland and now Slovakia to those countries and you have as many top international ice hockey teams as there are Test cricket teams. Personally I would rate the US as probably 5th or 6th in the world, certainly not indicative of a "lack of any real international competition outside North America". My point is further strengthened by World Championship performances. OK so we now that the NHL pushes it weight around regarding this a bit but still, the USA have not made the final since 1960.

    I spend a lot of time in Prague and can tell you that ice hockey is still the most popular sport over there, discussed in every pub, bar, office or factory or wherever. Slovakia has an equally ardent following and have shown that they can muscle up with the big boys.

    The smart money would be on Russia, Sweden or the Czech Republic alongside Canada battling for gold, the USA would be a major upset.

  • Comment number 27.

    Refering back the post by New Jersey Devil fan, with regards taking hockey into schools in UK, you'll probably be surprised that most of the teams have done such a thing. The prohibative factor is the ice rinks themselves. As someone else pointed out, they are expensive to maintain, and most of the revenue comes from open skating sessions. I seem to recall practises used to be held at around 10.30pm at a few rinks as that's when the ice is free, after the lessons and open skate and that was for the top teams. I dread to think about the junior teams.

    Over recent years, skating has become more popular with the small rinks popping up in towns over Christmas, and also due to a small show on the other channel, Dancing on Ice. I thought I read that attendances at rinks spike when that is on, it's at that time when drives to capture anyone interested in skating and possibly hockey should be focused as well as during Winter Games, when hockey gets some national media exposure. I'm guessing that those of us who have posted are amongst the converted and love our hockey, some of us the long converted, it shows my age to think I saw Gretzky play in the UK. Keith Gretzky not Wayne, whom I saw in Edmonton.

  • Comment number 28.

    The fundamental problem with UK hockey is that there are not enough ice rinks in the UK. This means not enough teams to maintain interest over a season. Back when I followed it the Panthers played the Steelers up to 10 times a season. That is not really conducive to maintaining interest over a 8 month season. Additionally it means there is not the pool of talent to pick players from as few kids get the opportunity to skate regularly.

    I think perhaps also hockey needs de-americanising to really appeal to British sports fans. At the panthers games I used to attend 10 years ago, most of the crowd was under 16. Fine you'd think for building an audience for the future, except that clearly isn't what happened. I suspect that people just grow out of the razzle dazzle nonsense surrounding the game while older potential fans are put off by it in the first place (not to mention the jingoistic rubbish lifted straight from the NHL. When did you last hear the national anthem at a football league game?).

    Aside that it's an almost perfect game for British football fans to get into; fast, furious and occasionally violent. Certainly the only North american sport that has got a chance in the UK.

    (My experience is that it's a much bigger game in Europe than Ollie thinks; certainly it's huge in Scandanivia and Central and Eastern Europe. I would be interested to know how it competes with football there and what the average spectator experience is like.)

  • Comment number 29.

    I though Ice Hockey was the most watched indoor sport in the UK? Maybe i'm wrong.

    I am a Cardiff Devils supporter and we get crowds of around 1500 each week and 2000 for the bigger games. Teams like the Nottingham Panthers, sheffield steelers and Belfast Giants get much more.

    Anyway the problem IMO with ice hockey in this country is that it is poorly run. The Elite league (the top league) only contains 8 teams and becomes very repetitive as well as being dominiated by the same 3 or 4 teams each year which have the financial clout to recruit the best imports.

    I would love to see other teams step up from the EPL (the next league down) to play in the Elite league, however it is just not financially viable for them if they want to be competitive (as the number of imports allowed increases from 4 to 10). In fact it recent years it has been the other way around with teams stepping down rather than up.

    IMO What I think needs to happen is a better development plan for British players at all clubs and a possibly a system of revenue share between all the clubs (similar to how the NFL works). I also think if the league was better run with better officials and more consistent rules than they would be able to secure better sponsorship and better a TV deal to help promote the game to a wider audience.

    There is certainly the appetite for it in this country as the many thousands who watch Ice hockey week in week out will testify its a fast exciting game with a great family atmosphere!

  • Comment number 30.

    It's true, hockey does need to grow especially outside North America.

    Yes, it's big in the former soviet countries and in Scandinavia as well, but even then some people think it's bigger than it actually is.
    I find it funny though that people (even a Finnish guy posting on here) expect it to be the number 1 sport in Finland when actually it's Floorball (Salibandy in Finnish) that is the number one sport there.

    So ice hockey needs MORE advertising and much more promotion than it currently gets. I was in Sweden last week and took a picture of a huge advert on one whole side of a building for the local hockey team because it's something we don't get here (I did the same thing when I was in the States as well). I started playing ice hockey from when I was 6 with Guildford and the biggest advert I can remember (outside of the leisure centre) was one in the local paper. Why is there nothing about it anywhere?!

    Like many people have said, lots of other big sports in America are getting more popular over here and it worries me that ice hockey has declined so much. I know more people that can explain the rules of baseball or american football, than actually know the offside or icing rules (obviously noone remembers the dreaded two line pass rule which was actually a way for the game to develop further and be more appealing).

    Something needs to be done but with the current leaders in sport bickering amongst themselves, nothing is being done. Maybe another NHL lockout might make things more interesting - I can actually remember people asking me what was happening because things like that made the news!

  • Comment number 31.

    Ice Hockey is an expensive sport. Unless you have cold winter weather, and therefore a bunch of frozen lakes, people need ice rinks to learn how to skate. They also need skates, helmet, padding, hockey sticks, and other kit to even practice. Cost is a major reason why hockey can't become a global mainstream sport.

    Re the Olympics v NHL debate, it's one that's been raging forever. The annual World Cup is of deflated value because it's a) annual and b) lacks the NHL stars. The Olympics, therefore, is the most important tournament for hockey fans world wide. For NHL stars, it's a chance to show themselves to a wider audience (I never watch the NHL, but follow my national team slavishly in the Olympics, whilst many choose to follow the NHL precisely to monitor how their national stars are getting on), and it's the best indicator of the state of hockey in different countries.

    In my view, the value of the Olympics ice hockey tournament is the fact that players fight for their country and their team mates, rather than just for the $Xm they receive to play for club teams. Stopping it would rob ice hockey of a large chunk of its importance as a sport.

  • Comment number 32.

    I miss the mid nineties- when ex NHL players came to play here- todays crop aren't very good! Hockey's still a great night out tho!

  • Comment number 33.

    I live in Nottingham and regularly go to watch the Panthers. Ice Hockey is a great sport and could do well in the UK if we had a decent number of ice arenas. Panthers home games, particularly on a Saturday night, are usually full with over 5000 people.

    There is no reason why it couldn't be a success in other parts of the country, Nottingham is by no means the largest city in the UK.

    The key is to have a modern arena, close to the city centre with good access.

    The biggest problem is that there are no teams or decent facilities at all in London, Birmingham or Manchester. The UK could host a dectn 8-10 team league if we have the arenas.

  • Comment number 34.

    How is the BBC making this great sport more accessable to the British public ? By only showing live games via the "Red Button" and repeating them at unwatchable times.
    The Canada Vs USA match can be seen at 01:00(live),05:00,11:30 & 13:00 on Monday morning/afternoon.
    Not much good for a working person to catch.
    Thank heavens for Eurosport.At least I can Sky+ the game.

  • Comment number 35.

    As someone who has followed the sport at a grassroots level in Germany since early childhood, I have to disagree with the above comments about it being prohibitively expensive. At our local rink, children who wanted to start in the game were borrowing everything except the scates and jerseys for practice and matches. Only when they carried on with the sport, they would buy their own equipment.

    I think one of the problems, and not just with ice hockey (yes, I do call it that way) but also with football and the other big spectator sports is the commercialisation of the game. As in Ollie's previous blog, the players become assets. Now they may still be passionate about the game but the problem is that the club becomes a brand and has to be profitable for those who run it.
    This will take a lot of the idealisation out of the sport, I think the Olympics should on an ideal level be the pinnacle of the respective sports but with the commercialised nature of many sports that is simply not possible. Which I find a shame. I love watching how much a gold or even just participation means to many athletes and find it an incredible shame that the all pervasive culture of brands and brandloyalty prevent that to a degree.

    Since moving away from Germany I have been a supporter and follower of my local club and find the level of exposure this sport gets in Britain quite disappointing. These guys almost get no exposure which means that sponsoring is very hard to come by. It is also shocking how many people in my neck of the woods (Fife, Scotland) are unaware of the Fife Flyers...

  • Comment number 36.

    The likes of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin aren't likely to ever be massive names in the UK whilst there is no coverage in the media of the game at all. That's not surprising considering that 90% of the games take place in the middle of the night UK time. Also with the huge number of games in the regular season and the drawn-out end of season playoffs, the British media don't really have a focal point to concentrate their periodic interest on in the same way that they can for say the NFL's Superbowl. The Olympics in my eyes are just the opportunity that the ice hockey in general needs to show what a passionate, flowing and exciting sport it can be. This evening in particular with USA v Canada, Russia v Czech Republic and Finland v Sweden is such a potential highlight, that the BBC should be all over it. Rightly so, the Times newspaper has, for the first time in my living memory, devoted a column to Sidney Crosby and the huge weight of expectation on the Canadian hockey team. I just hope they keep this interest going right through to the medal matches next weekend.

    Assuming the BBC isn't going to flood primetime TV with highlights of ice hockey, it's difficult to know how someone who is unaware of the sport in the UK is going to become aware of it and get into it. I live in Manchester and travelled a lot to Toronto as a child, where I picked up a fascination for ice hockey (and for my sins became a Leafs fan). Following the NHL now involves either paying a fair amount for ESPN or making a conscious effort to watch all of the free highlights on the league's website. I can't imagine that there's going to be thousands more like myself (who aren't Canadian but do take a big interest), so the sport is likely to remain in the periphery of British awareness.

  • Comment number 37.

    AberdeenBluebird .... I had a season ticket for the Cardiff Devils from 1995 to 2005 and I can tell you that one of the main reasons hockey has declined in the UK is simply down to lack of press coverage. Any sport needs to be fed with publicity and new punters.

    BBC Wales used to do a great little weekly round up programme which I can't remember the name of but focused on the league generally and the Devils specifically. A new programming guy came in for sports and he cancelled the programme. Obviously it was a minority programme but I lost count of the number of petitions I signed with literally thousands of names asking for the show to come back. Cardiff were, at the time, hugely popular and the sport in general was not in bad shape in the UK. Since then it has become more and more marginalised and teams have gone through one financial crisis after another which also doesn't sell the sport.

    As you said in your post, there's some great hockey in the UK and there have been some great home grown players (Tony Hand, Stevie Lyle to name just two)but it is relying on an ever shrinking band of faithfulls to bail teams out of one problem after another and that won't last forever.

    Such a shame for a sport that can be watched by all ages (let's face it ... many families wouldn't be foolish enough to take kids to see the Bluebirds these days)and has such great links to an awesome league like the NHL.

    Ollie - your article is great, maybe you could start by convincing the BBC to get behind ice hockey in the UK.

  • Comment number 38.

    Well luckily for me I live in 'Ice Hockey City' (Not saying much), Nottingham, and have been going to games on and off since I was 10. Bit tougher now I'm in Edinburgh, they do have a team but they play in a small shack quite a few miles away from where I live.

    Anywho, British ice hockey is seeing a slight increase in publicity, getting some match highlights being played on sky regularly now. Also I notice in Nottingham that if the panthers get a big win they are often the big story on the back page of the local papers. And I think the fact they can draw crowds of 7,000, and regularly get crowds in excess of 5,000 (beating Notts County over the last few years) shows that there is an appetite for ice hockey there, just that in other cities it isn't being tapped.

    Problem is the quality of the game has taken a hit since the Superleague. But at least we now have a (relatively) financially viable game- albeit 2 clubs dropped out of the EIHL last season. There are more opportunities for British players to get in the squads now, and there have been improvements in the international game which could hopefully see us in the Olympics one day. Also I don't necessarily believe the lower standard of hockey would be offputting to the general audience; as if they had never seen the game before they would not be able to differentiate between different levels of class.

  • Comment number 39.

    While I don't disagree with much of the sentiment (though I think the US women's team might take issue with saying the Canadians are "so far ahead of anyone else", having beaten them more often than not recently and in three of the last four World Championships), suggest to fans of 29 NHL teams that what the sport needs is MORE publicity concentrating on Crosby and you'll elicit groans at best.

    Although Bettman and the league's US broadcast partners clearly believe promotion of the "star" above the game itself is the way to go, it is more often than not a turn-off to the established fans of the game. As much as we'd perhaps like it to be, hockey won't ever be a mainstream sport in the UK (or in large swathes of the US) - though clearly, the present struggles of the game in the UK are a set of problems in themselves, largely divorced from the conflicting strategies of the IIHF and the NHL.

    As others have touched on though, hockey has a long and rich heritage across much of northern and central Europe, so the suspicions of the media and sporting public in the UK (rightly or wrongly) that it is just another gimmicky Americanised sport are misplaced and don't help the development of the game. And how many games (red button coverage aside) are the BBC planning to show live before the final? One? Two? There are three great games today, but I'm not holding my breath to seeing much time devoted to any of them.

  • Comment number 40.

    Strange blog this. As far as the Olympics go, the main reason no-one in the UK knows who Crosby is because Hazel Irvine and Claire Balding haven't told us who he is. Virtually no-one knew Amy Williams 3 days ago. Maybe there is a genuine complaint here but I'm not sure it should be coming from a BBC journalist.

    As for the state of Hockey in the UK generally (leaving aside the question of its global reach), there are a good many reasons why its not as popular as it is in North America, many of which relate to accessability and have been highlighed in posts above. However, I don't think the Olympics has any real bearing on this. I'm not sure that if the BBC gave it prime time attention there would be any real change. Its not particularly a TV friendly sport and therefore not the best advert for the game.

    If the game is to progress in the UK it needs to start giving youngsters easy opportunities to try the game out, in tandem with the ability to watch it on a regular basis, not just every 4 years.

  • Comment number 41.

    I think this is a cracking article, and agree with it nearly 100%. I would never watch Olympic hockey again if the world's best weren't playing.

    During the 'halcyon' days of UK hockey I used to go watch the London Knights at the London Arena nearly every week. Then they folded, now there is no team in London at all (a market of 10m people, including a huge US / Canadian / Eastern European / Scandinavian ex-pat population).

    Does anybody else see something wrong with this? Hockey needs to sell itself better.

  • Comment number 42.

    It seems a bit silly to single out ice hockey.

    Wouldn't it be the case that most Winter Olympic Sports are unknown "outside a handful of countries"?

    How many countries participate in luge or biathlon?

  • Comment number 43.

    MM (above) - the difference between hockey and those sports is that one is a fast-paced and sometimes violent (i.e. what British people seem to like) TEAM sport. It is also not as repetitive.

    There is definitely some truth in saying "it's not in our sporting culture", but I don't buy that. Culture can change over time.

    The main problem, as somebody pointed out above, is that there aren't enough rinks in the UK. I tried to join Edinburgh Uni's hockey team, and ice time was at 3am on Saturday morning. No thanks.

  • Comment number 44.

    What a load of rubbish. I think you'll find one or two more people who know what ice hockey is than frisbee golf. It is the one of the most popular sports in a number of countries, unlike the other major North American sports, and even in this country I think most people understand the basic principle of getting the puck into the net even if they don't know all the rules.

    Also, yes, the Stanley Cup is the biggest trophy in the sport, but the Olympics is an international tournament. My Canadian friend, an ice hockey fanatic, certainly views it as highly prestigious and the pinnacle of international hockey. This article's suggestion is like claiming the Champions league in football renders the World cup superfluous.

    I don't know all that much about Hockey and I'm sure the suggestions about the tensions between the NHL and IIHF are correct, however I find the other rubbish stated completely detracts from what sounds a very genuine issue.

  • Comment number 45.

    To Jason (comment 30 above)- Just to clarify. When I referred to ice hockey as the number one sport in Finland, I was looking at the big picture. Floorball is indeed a popular sport with large numbers playing it recreationally and even semi-professionally. However, hockey is the only sport that is played on a truly professional level in Finland. While football and Finnish baseball are also popular spectator sports, it is the Finnish national hockey league that draws the biggest crowds, gets the most media coverage and attracts the most sponsorship. Even people who are not generally interested in sports take an interest in how the Lions (the national team) are doing during World Championships or Olympics. Tens of thousands of people packed the streets of central Helsinki and the market square to celebrate Finland's first (and so far only) ice hockey world championship in 1995. Didn't see that happening when Finland won the floorball world championship in 2008... (I don't wish to disparage floorball in any way. It is a great sport and I've played it myself.)

    Several commentators have pointed out that ice hockey is an expensive sport to get into because of the gear needed and the cost of building and maintaining indoor ice rinks. Can't argue with that, at least when it comes to playing the sport in warmer climates or professionally or semi-professionally in colder countries as well. However, in countries that enjoy a colder climate it is very easy to play recreational hockey. All you really need is a pair of skates and a stick (a helmet would be well-advised as well). You don't even need frozen ponds - in Finland (probably also Sweden, Russia etc.), when the temperature dips below zero in late autumn, to remain below zero for the next few months, school sports grounds are sprayed with water, which naturally freezes. Hey presto! Thousands of free outdoor rinks! This, of course, isn't possible in warmer countries, like the UK, which probably explains hockey's status as a fringe sport in the UK. It isn't easy to relate to and become passionate about a sport that isn't a normal part of your everyday life when you were a schoolkid.

    Ice hockey will never become a global sport like football, but neither will other winter sports. Winter Olympics are a small event compared to summer Olympics but I'm glad we have, in ice hockey, a fast-moving, exciting team sport to complement the other Olympic winter sports.

  • Comment number 46.

    I fell in love with the game about twelve years ago and went on to play at university. I've watched every single game live so far, even without commentary (which sometimes proves more interesting). I'd argue that it's not just the IIHF that needs the NHL players, it's the entire Winter Olympics. Ice hockey adds some much needed credibility to a line up of sports that are niche at best, obscure at worst. Quite frankly the best thing for both the NHL and the IIHF would be if the event was moved to the summer Olympics to gain much more exposure and to let players play in the postseason.

    The BBC has largely ignored ice hockey and I think it could have done far more to promote the sport not just during the Olympics but also at other times. It'll be very interesting to see if the USA v Canada game is on BBC2, or if it's stuck on the red button.

  • Comment number 47.

    I completely agree with David Pritchard's assessment, but it bears repeating. The role of hockey globally is very similar to that of rugby. A top tier of three or four nations can all realistically expect to win gold, three or four below them can all imagine causing an upset here and there, and after that the quality of teams is not as competitive.

    That being the case, thuogh, it's a stretch to call the sport globally "irrelevant" as our blogger does here. It isn't global like football, but it does command the attention and passion of about a dozen countries, which makes it more relevant (arguably) than cricket, rugby, and almost all of the American professional sports.

    I'd add that, despite Gary Bettman's bottom-line mentality (and he is universally reviled in Canada), Olympic gold is the ultimate trophy for hockey nations. It's as big as football's World Cup - while there is also a World Cup of Ice Hockey, any hockey fan would rather have their country win Olympic gold than the Hockey World Cup, which is clearly the secondary international tournament.

    Finally, to anyone complaining that hockey is a terrible spectator sport, I find it unbelieveable! Compared to watching football, which to me is essentially watching 22 men go jogging for 90 minutes, with possibly one goal scored the entire time (and frequently none), hockey is fast, hard, has a high frequency of scoring, and players don't pretend they've been shot in the chest if an opponent touches them while skating past :-)

  • Comment number 48.

    I'm a Canadian and a resident of Vancouver, and I just stumbled across your blog. I can tell you that it always comes as a great shock to us that people in other countries know so little or care so little about our game.

    And yes, we do consider hockey to be "our" game LOL.

    Hockey is in the blood of Canadians. It's injected at a very young age. Babies soothe on hockey pucks, toddlers get their first pair of skates when they're 2 or 3 years old, it's not uncommon for them to learn to skate before they learn to walk, children play on backyard rinks in winter and in the streets in summer, joining a league is a given, and almost every kid dreams of eventually playing in the NHL.

    It would be almost impossible to inject the same kind of passion for the game into the British, but some small gains could be made.

    You can start by calling it "hockey" in your columns instead of "ice hockey" ... calling it "ice hockey" assumes that there is some other kind of hockey that matters and to Canadians and indeed, all fans of the game, that just isn't the case.

    Hockey is hockey ... grass hockey needs defining ... street hockey needs defining ... hockey simply doesn't :)

    Enjoy the rest of the tournament and your visit to my beautiful city ... and of course, GO CANADA GO!!! ▌♥ ▌

  • Comment number 49.

    (Ice) Hockey is obviously one of the best sports in the world, and everybody should know who Sidney Crosby is, as everyone should know who Darren Lockyer is.

    There are only five sports in the world, and they are Rugby League, Gridiron, Aussie Rules, Baseball and Ice Hockey. All the rest are just games.

  • Comment number 50.

    'The problem is, fewer people than Canadians think know whose game they're playing. Most people don't realise the game exists. Ice hockey, outside a handful of countries, may as well be frisbee golf - of interest to a dedicated community, otherwise irrelevant.'

    Hi Ollie, interesting article. I'd just like to take issue with the above statement - in fact, this is the case far less for hockey than for most if not all other Winter Olympic sports! Yes, the sport is clearly restricted to those countries whose conditions suit it; however, this is true for any sport being played in Vancouver at the moment. I'm sure you'll find that Crosby and Ovechkin are far bigger stars throughout Canada, Russia, the USA, Finland, Sweden etc. (aka the countries who matter at these Games) than ANYONE from any of the other sports, with the possible exception of Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn (who, though incredibly talented, clearly benefit hugely in the media departent from being American.) Thus in a blog on the Winter Olympics it's hardly credible to call hockey a niche sport. Curling - that's a niche sport.

    In fact, this is borne out financially: Forbes recently identified Shaun White as the top-earning Winter Olympic athlete (the list excluded 'salaried professionals' i.e. NHL players), making USD 7.5mn a year. Well, Crosby and Ovechkin both earn upwards of USD 9mn a year.
    [Sources: http://www.forbes.com/2010/02/09/top-earning-winter-olympic-athletes-business-sports-top-olympians.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_player_salaries_in_the_NHL#2009.E2.80.9310_season]

    Therefore the statement that 'most people don't realise the game exists' is meaningless, redundant and just plain wrong.


    Furthermore, hockey is an incredible spectator sport in person. Probably the best and most exciting there is. But it's terrible on TV. There doesn't seem to be an obvious way around this unfortunately....

  • Comment number 51.

    Furthermore:

    'Related to that is the Olympic game's second big worry: the lack of any real international competition outside North America. In the men's game the Swedish are defending Olympic champions and the Russians are a threat, but even Switzerland's valiant and ultimately futile battle against Canada the other night was seen as a big shock.

    And that's nothing compared to the women's game, where the Canadians are so far ahead of anyone else that to call the Olympic tournament a competition is to stretch the definition to breaking point.'


    This is just BS. The Canadians are terrified that the Russian men will beat them: Ovechkin, Malkin and Datsyuk are three of the world's best ten players. And as mentioned before, the USA womens' team are the clear favourites. The Canadians are expected to win silver.

  • Comment number 52.

    Erm... it seems a bit hypocritical for a BBC journalist to be writing this article. People don't know who Crosby is because the BBC have been treating ice hockey like a second class sport during these Olympics. Curling is definitely better than people give it credit for, but the amount of airtime it's being given is ridiculous, especially considering Freeview viewers now only have access to one additional stream. That's bad enough, but I assumed that I'd at least be able to watch the hockey on one of the online streams. But apparently cross-country skiing and biathlon are considered more interesting by the BBC. Even tonight, I'm not sure if the BBC will be showing Russia v Czech Republic, even though it has the potential to be the most exciting group game.

    So no, people don't know who Sidney Crosby is because the BBC don't care.

  • Comment number 53.

  • Comment number 54.

    I'm absolutely delighted to be one of the estimated 1% of Britain's who know the legend of Sid the Kid... however, as talented as Crosby is it'll be Big Red that take home the gold. As good as Crosby is, Ovechkin is that little bit better.

    49. At 4:15pm on 21 Feb 2010, RussianWelshKangaroo wrote:
    (Ice) Hockey is obviously one of the best sports in the world, and everybody should know who Sidney Crosby is, as everyone should know who Darren Lockyer is.

    There are only five sports in the world, and they are Rugby League, Gridiron, Aussie Rules, Baseball and Ice Hockey. All the rest are just games.


    How is it that one of these sports isn't even better than another that shares half of its name?!?! (rugby of course ;) )

  • Comment number 55.

    As a Colorado Avalanche fan, someone whose team does not have a superstar like a Crosby or an Ovechkin, I find the use of plastering Crosby's face over everything very wearing. I'm not the only one, I know many fans of other teams from both here in the UK and overseas who would happily see Crosby gone as the face of the NHL. Unfortunately however, he, as you said, could well be the only hope for making the league something that can be marketed worldwide. Aside from it being a sad state of affairs if someone who jumps people in faceoffs is made the main selling point of a league, he is not even the best player in the league. I'd sooner have Ovechkin (at least before he decided that Tim Gleason shouldn't have knees) or Matt Duchene (once he has a few Art Ross trophies under his belt and a Stanley Cup or two mind ;)) as someone to give to the world. These people could as well, as the embody everything that the lockout induced NHL is supposed to, fast, hard-fought hockey that is always competitive.

    I realise i've rambled a bit, so i'll sum up. Crosby is not the be-all and end-all of the NHL. Use more folk than someone with a face so punchable he could be used as a piece ox boxing training equipment, and the game will get the recognition it deserves.

  • Comment number 56.

    Why should I care who this kid Crosby is? Why should I care about Ice Hockey in general? If people want to like it and enjoy watching it that's great. I'm glad they're having a good time. I like Rugby. Should I expect Canadians to give a damn about the 6 nations or the talents of players such as Shane Williams, Brian O'Driscoll, Dan Carter or Brian Habana? No. Because its not a well-attended sport out there or in North America. I would like it to get more recognition worldwide but this is unlikely given the nature of the competition and the continued dominance of that most boring and chavvish of games : Soccer.

    So I don't know who Crosby is. Big deal. Would most people know who Tim Berners-Lee was if he walked down the street? I like sport, hence the fact I read this article. And I appreciate the point made. But I really wish we would stop trying to create demi-gods out of these professional sportsmen. They're good at what they do and they help provide entertainment and a degree of much needed self-worth for fans when the team they play for and the team they support has won. We should appreciate what they do on the field of play and then they should become anonymous. Because in real life they're pretty similar to the rest of us. They just happen to be able to kick a ball, hit a puck or run faster than the rest of us. Again, big deal.

    P.S Ice Hockey is unlikely to catch on around most of the world because most people don't live in polar regions where there is ice for much of the year. Ice rinks are also more expensive to build for schools than football pitches.

    P.P.S Who cares about North American sports in general anyway, apart from those who have lived there or want to live there? The same goes for every sport. Your favourite sport is adopted as much for cultural reasons as aesthetic amd entertainment reasons. How else do you explain the popularity of that global borefest: Soccer.

  • Comment number 57.

    I am a Vancouverite residing in London for 10 years...

    In response to 'Trish' - while your note was certainly well meaning, it was also a little naive. You have to understand that in the UK, 'hockey' is field hockey. Your suggestion is like the rest of the world demanding that North America call soccer by its correct name - football. Of course, this wouldn't be acceptable to North American's as our football means a different thing. NA needs to understand that there is a great big world out there that doesn't always see things the way we do...

    There is a HUGE misconception about Olympic hockey that is being highlighted in almost all coverage of the Games so far. The reason Canada and the US haven't historically performed well at the Olympics is because up until recently, we have only sent amateur players while the other countries sent their own pro's. The NHL never allowed its players to participate. Hence the 'Miracle on Ice' in Lake Placid in 1980. The Soviet Union was essentially the Red Army team. They played together day in day out. Any great club team (just as in soccer) will beat a National team of All-Stars. Why? Because of cohesion and continuity. You can have the best team on paper or the best players in every position but not be a good team...

    Though an Olympic gold is very precious to Canadian's, I would challenge that the Olympic tournament could be a World Cup of Hockey or any other competition outside of the Olympic brand and it would mean just as much. In fact, our expectations of Canadian Olympic success is totally irrational. At this level of play, there is not much to divide the top 6 hockey nations. On any given day, especially in a one-off game or tournament like this, any one of the top countries is capable of beating any of the others. The European ones tend to gel more quickly than either Canada or the US. Why? Well, most have a longer history of playing together and come from the same development programmes. This fact doesn't help Canada (or the US), despite having the strongest team on paper, as only one practice before their first game for a team that has never played together before is not much of a foundation upon which to shoulder our countries considerable expectations. This, of course, is ridiculous. Should our players fail to win gold, and there is a real chance that we won't, logic should tell us that our inability as fans to reason these facts will be the cause of the inevitable public fallout. I mean really, if we don't win we will somehow turn this into some massive reflection on Canadian hockey development when it has nothing to do with that. Canada has WAY more depth of talent than any other nation in the world. We could enter 4 teams in the Olympics that would all have as good a chance as the other to win it. No other country can match this fact. There is no better indication of our strength in depth than the World Junior tourney played every Christmas. Canada dominates and has done so for years...

    As far as the World Championships go that are played every spring, North America doesn't care about this tournament either despite its popularity in Europe. At pro level, unless our best are playing, we don't pay attention. We don't send strong teams to the World's and the teams we do send (again as the Olympics) play against teams that have played together for a while. Just look at our struggle against the Swiss the other day. Case in point. The Swiss play consistently together and look more of a 'team' than almost any other in the Olympics so far (and they are filled with Canadians playing for them and are coached by one, too) None of the hockey experts are surprised, as they know that the Swiss are competitive in their own way and have cohesion. Even if you're Canada, that's tough to play against when you're a team that has just come together for the first time...

    The only way to make international hockey more relevant and consistent would be to create a system where National teams, at the pro level, can play together more - similar to a soccer structure. This can only be accomplished with the cooperation of the NHL. We could easily have a World Cup of Hockey (yes we've had the WCoH and the Canada Cup but not for ages and not regularly)every 2 years and have our National teams play together more often. This would really show where we all stood at pro level. Until then, every 4 years, Canadian's will continue to demand wins from our team despite the reasons I've outlined above. And the Olympic gold will be decided by the top 6 country that gels the quickest with the reason for their win being no more than this....

  • Comment number 58.

    GO CANADA GO!!!!! I have been waiting for this game throughout the whole Olympics! As a Sharks fan naturally I love Heatley, Thornton and Marleau. However, Sidney Crosby is my favourite player. I often begrudge the fact he is a Penguin and not a Shark. I usually find myself supporting underdogs, but not when they're playing against Crosby. So for tonight I'm an honourary Canadian, I will be sporting some Maple Leafs on my cheeks, opening friends eyes to the joys of Ice Hockey and having a few beers along the way. I will finish this post as I started it...

    GO CANADA GO!!!!!

  • Comment number 59.

    I remember around 10 years ago when Fox sports introduced a "gimmick" in their TV coverage of an All Star Game whereby a flare followed the puck (like it was a comet). This demonstrates 3 things:-

    1. North America also has a problem with the fact that it is difficult to follow the puck on TV (if you have no knowledge of the game);

    2. The technology is there if the BBC wants to make Hockey more user friendly;

    3. It didn't catch on because established hockey fans didn't like it and didn't need it. You can't please everyone.

  • Comment number 60.

    It seems that yet again people are failing to see the major problems that occured in British hockey in the 90s.
    The league reconstruction, including creation of the "Elite League", destroyed more hockey teams in this country than it saved. Just as you decry the NHL for chasing the money, we in Britain also did the same.
    The old BNL provided a level of ice hockey that was sustainable within this country - it might not have been the best, the facilities may have been old for many teams, but it was sustainable on numbers through the doors.
    Instead new rinks were built to house fans that don't exist and all the historic teams throughout the country that could not afford this were left out. The Fife Flyers (Some of us in Fife have heard of them!) were the oldest surviving Pro team in the UK, and held great success on crowds of 3-4000 and now limp around a shadow of their former-selves.
    Dundee pumped money into a new rink and discovered quickly that there was nobody to support them. Edinburgh have gone through at least three changes in the past ten years (and despite what Simon@38 says, are based pretty much in the centre of Edinburgh - nobody struggles to find the rugby when it's on!) and consistently failed to attract fans.

    The structural changes in hockey in the UK have killed off a low-level sustainability for all in favour of three or four teams making a bit of money.

    British ice hockey may not be dead, but it certainly smells funny.

  • Comment number 61.

    I'd like to see a resurgence in the British Ice Hockey scene, surely the BBC can put some money in and kick it into gear. Mid-to-late nineties was the golden era of UK ice hockey, but I think the numerous changes in leagues put people off. There's two different championships now, the Elite League and the English Premier League. The Elite League is considered to be the better of the two, but there's enough teams in this country to surely invest and regrow the support bases. I was a Manchester Storm fan until they went bust, and when the Phoenix moved to Altrincham it just became too far away for me to get to games.

    It doesn't matter if the teams aren't as good as the American and Canadian teams, with time and decent coaching and investment we could have our own benchmark, and not have to rely on jaded Americans that weren't good enough for the NHL to play in our teams. And then who knows, we could attract real talent and challenge the dominance of the big leagues. The infrastructures are in place, most towns have a decent sized arena that could be used if the crowds were there, indeed Nottingham Panthers are one of the best-supported teams in the country and play in the Nottingham Arena. They get bigger crowds than most League 2 football teams!

    Come on, BBC, there's a chance here to make a unique mark on a sport that seems forgotten by Sky, and a chance to breathe new life into what is a truly great game!

  • Comment number 62.

    Hi all - today is a busy day but I'll be back on as soon as I can to answer your comments, since there's plenty to discuss! Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.

  • Comment number 63.

    I think to a large extent the main reason for the lack of popularity of Hockey is down to the fact that there are so few rinks. We've just got ours back after an 18 month closure because the council couldn't afford to keep it running. We have to fight tooth and nail to get ice time to rebuild our club and get back into the leagues. We fight Figure Skating, Synchro Skating and the public session that make the rink it's money.

    Investment is non-existant because other than the odd bit of press we can't offer companies a good return for sponsorship money. There is NO TV coverage other than wee scraps on Sky and of course the NHL on ESPN. It really bugs me to see the investment that sports like football get to put on a sport that is quite frankly boring as sin. There is some brilliant hockey in this country at all levels, not just the Elite League maybe the BBC could help this issue.

    I'm Head Coach in our club as well as club Chairman, we do the schools bit we advertise as much as we can but without investment in the sport ie TV to enable us to sell the sport, we can't hope to expand our game.

    As for young Mr Crosby, he is a bit special and I get him in my face every day because my 16 year old daughter is madly in love with him... like my wife the ageing Take That groupie, my little Grotbags is a Sid Kid, Posters, Penguins Shirt, Penguins everything horrific for a Leafs fan like me!!!

  • Comment number 64.

    Like jimbullard21 (comment #41), I attended every home game the London Knights played and several away games too.
    I thought the atmosphere and [mostly] attendance at the London Arena was fantastic, especially given the fact that I don't remember the Knights being advertised anywhere outside the Docklands area [apart from the odd ad or interview on Heart FM who were one of the sponsors...]. Now, when the Knights disbanded, the fans had nowhere to go really, unless we fancied a trip to Guildford, Slough, MK or several other local teams. As someone mentioned before, a culturally diverse city of 10m+ with a large number being North American, Scandinavian, Eastern European...you get the picture...without a professional-level ice hockey team is just crazy, given how popular the Knights were.

    Along came London Racers, playing out of Alexandra Palace (anyone outside of London know how to access it via public transport?) initially, and then on to Lee Valley Ice Rink (again...anyone?), which was great, seeing Dennis Maxwell back on the ice in London...but given that both these 'arenas' had poor facilities and capacity, it just wasn't the same.
    Then along came a problem with the protective glass and away went the Racers.
    Now, the closest East/North London has to a professional team is Haringey Greyhounds (playing in English National Ice Hockey League, South Division 1) or Lee Valley Lions (Playing in English National Ice Hockey League, South Division 2).

    However, it gets worse the further down country you look...
    Devon/Cornwall have NO ice rinks with a hockey sized pad at all...you have to travel up to the John Nike Centre in Bristol to have that luxury, which by National Rail, is no cheap thing.

    Luckily, I now live in Kent and can afford the luxury of watching the Invicta Dynamos AND Mustangs on a regular basis, who coincidentally, are in the same leagues as the London teams respectively. Now given that the Medway Towns have nowhere near the population of London just seems crazy!!!

    The point of my ramblings? Like mentioned several times, Ice Hockey in the UK just doesn't get the coverage it deserves. Now to those saying that ramming it down peoples throats wont help, look at it this way...BBC cover it regularly, more people will eventually get into it, the more people that get into it, the more people go to watch their 'local' team, making the sport more financially viable. Eventually, more teams will start to spring up across the country, allowing more people access to this fantastic sport. I mean come on, football started off like this back in the day and look how insanely popular that is now. Largely down to advertising and media coverage...

  • Comment number 65.

    Interesting comments by many, just thought I'd chip in to give people an idea of why Britain hasnt produced much talent in Ice Hockey...

    I first watched Ice Hockey at the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, aged 10. Coming from Leicester, one of the biggest cities in Britain not to have an ice rink, I was unable to try a sport which I so enjoyed watching.

    To continue my interest I watched Skys thursday night live matches from the Elite League for a few seasons. However this ended after a few seasons, what with the itv digital fiasco...

    Buying NHL computer games which built up my interest, and using the old VCR, I recorded matches off Channel 5 from the NHL, including my favourite team the Detroit Red Wings with players such as Yzerman, Shanahan, Lidstrom, Hasek, Datsyuk to name a few. However Channel 5 stopped showing this, so I couldnt watch them anymore.

    I've now moved to Cardiff, and as a couple of the Devils players work where I work (when not away playing) I've managed to get a few cheap tickets. However im 26 now, and have had no chance of playing a game I so enjoy watching without going to extremely unaffordable lengths. Its fast, powerful, skillful, tactical, graceful even with the way they skate.

    Just to point out in 1936, Britain won Ice Hockey Gold at the Olympics, the first time any other country had won apart from Canada, who had never lost a match before that tournament at the Olympic Games. Out of the 11 players, 2 were born in Canada to British parents, the rest were British born.

    Could a film of such an achievement be made to inspire future generations that we have a history in this fantastic sport which is worth taking part in?

    And isn't it time T.V. realised the power they have with sport, and its popularity? Better coverage of Darts, and Speedway have provided a renaisance in their respective sports. Live weekly ice hockey coverage would be a great boost for the Elite League....

  • Comment number 66.

    I have to agree with everybody saying how difficult it is to get into the sport. When playing for Huddersfield Uni our training time was from 10pm - Midnight Saturday night in Bradford! It really is incredibly difficult to get into the sport and get playing regularly.

  • Comment number 67.

    I agree with the comments about curling being shown far too much air time. And this article totaly contradicts the BBCs attitude towards ice hockey. Even the biggest game of the group stages (canada - USA) is not on the actual BBC channel until the second period i am lead to believe. How can others learn about ice hockey if the BBC pass it of as a minor sport. Whereas in reality it is the biggest sport of the games

  • Comment number 68.

    A post mentioned that an England football team player could walk down the street in Vancouver and nobody would know who he/they are. Nonsense. Football/soccer is very popular in Canada, in fact more amateur people in Canada play the sport when compared to hockey. Look it up if you don't believe me. As for the England team, I'll bet plenty of people know who Beckham is obviously and even Rooney or Gerrard. And lets make this clear, the only country in the world where hockey is the no. 1 professional sport to watch is Canada. Yes, no European country, including Sweden, Finland, Czech, puts hockey above football. That's laughable!

  • Comment number 69.

    Anybody on here watching the CAN - USA game at the moment? Absolutely shocking stuff from the British commentator...he sounds so mundane...
    And now Hazel Irvine has insinuated that hockey players eat raw chunks of meat during the periods!!!
    I think the BBC should employ David Longstaff or even Chris McSorley to commentate for them...
    Also...anyone think Brodeur is gonna cost Canada the match?

  • Comment number 70.

    I agree #69 - That commentator was very poor. But mainly because of his constant complaints about Brodeur! Brodeur had a poor game, I doubt he'll play the next game, but the comments that seemed to blame the Canadian loss on him were well out of order. He was (partly) responsible for one goal; all the others weren't directly attributable to him.

    Other comments such as slating the Canadian powerplay for being poor (final few minutes of the game), when in fact they had drawn the man and then got a shot on goal saved by the US netminder, show that the commentators really need to be (ex-)hockey players rather than interested parties.

  • Comment number 71.

    With due respect the commontators haven't had the greatest of tourney's have they. I seemingly recall them suggesting that the NHL teams would be looking some of the players not in the NHL as they come up to trade deadline day and many more goofs.

    With respect to Bob Ballard, and I don't really know how much hockey he covers during a year, so getting some terminology wrong is just about acceptable. However it's Brent Pope that I'm having most problems with, as an ex-player he should be correcting Ballard and even explaining to the new comers the complexities of the game etc, but he's just playing the regular colour guy. I was hoping that the BBC might and I say might have possibly looked at say CBC in Canada and seen what some of there guys were doing during the games as CTV have the Olympic's. We may have found ourselves with Don Cherry in the studio for the finals, what a coup that would have been.

    Though, at least we've got hockey to watch rather than just 5 minutes highlights like we used to get pre red button or online. We should be thankful for the BBC for showing us the tournement.

  • Comment number 72.

    I wanted to comment on this piece, but by the end of it I was asking myself if I really wanted to respond to one of the most inept and worst pieces I have ever set my eyes on from the BBC.

    I expect Sidney Crosby is probably known by more people than this guy states, there are probably more people around that know more about Hockey than he does - despite his 'claim', the NHL were pushed into letting their players go to the Olympics because the Soviet Union used to send 'professional' players in bygone years and the US/Canada wanted to 'even the playing field', and Baseball was dropped from the Olympics for 2 reasons - 1) Drug policy, 2) Release of players during MLB season (or lack thereof).

    ESPN America affords us the luxury of watching Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and many othere North American and European stars playing in the NHL right thru the whole NHL season.

    As with a lot of UK 'minority' sports, the home version will probably never match up to the US version. At least not in our lifetime.

    So for now I will continue to play and coach baseball in England, but watch MLB, NHL, NBA and NFL on TV from the US. Oh, and lose my marbles watching English Premiership football!

  • Comment number 73.

    Regarding post 65 about the 1936 Olympics I read about this recently and whilst it might be true to say only 2 of the British players were born in Canada IIRC 9 or 10 were raised there. Not to diminish their achievement but clearly it wasnt a team of players born and brought up in Britain.

    I think Peter Puck (post 17) makes a very good point about different sporting cultures. My wife is Canadian and her family go on about hockey all the time. Initially I had a few issues with stuff like the franchise aspect, the lack of relegation/promotion, draft and the somewhat sanitised atmosphere at games. Having been to a couple of games and spoken to a lot of fans I see now its just a different culture as Peter Puck stated. A few of the Canadians I spoke too seemed equally dismussive about promotion/relegation as I was about the franchising!

    Great sport anyway, by far the most enjoyable of the North American games. Ive ended up following games in the QMJHL on a pretty regular basis. I would like to see hockey get more of a profile in Britain. Hoping to see Canada run into the US again later on this tournament.

  • Comment number 74.

    Comment No. 8 has the basic insight into why hockey is a great game.
    Comment No. 24 is also right on the money.

    ---------

    To the fellow who thinks there are only five sports (Rugby, hockey, etc.,) have you ever played Lacrosse? That is definitely not a game for the faint of heart. More of a blood sport, really. Might be up your alley.

    ---------

    "Let's make sure everyone knows whose game they're playing," blasts a prominent TV advert here in Canada as the camera sweeps low over the ice."

    That kind of attitude strikes a nerve. We like our game, it's true. But that's the wrong attitude. Everyone is welcome to play.

    ---------

    To the fellow who says hockey is a great game - but not as good as football:

    That's really funny.

    More Canadians are registered to play organized soccer (i.e., football) than are registered to play hockey. By number of registrants, soccer (football) is the number one participation sport in Canada. Bet you didn't know that, eh?

    The point is, football (soccer) and hockey are essentially the same game. If you want to be in shape to play hockey in the Winter, of course you play soccer (football) in the Summer.

    As for the World Cup, think again. We have huge expatriate communities. You can always tell when the World Cup is on because the streets are quiet, and then later guys are driving around town flying the Italian flag and honking. (Or they Brazilian flag, and dancing, or the cross of St. George, and shaking their heads, yet again.)

    ----------

    Sure, an Olympic gold medal in hockey is a special thing, but it is completely different from getting your name engraved on the Stanley Cup. Don't kid yourself. Ask Canadian children which is more important.

    The only thing more important was playing the Russians in 1972. If you're of a certain age, you know the old Soviet anthem by heart. There has never, ever, been anything like it before or since. This country came to a halt when those games were played. When Canada scored, you could feel the buildings shake.

    The Olympic Gold medal is more important than winning the Memorial Cup, and maybe more important than winning the World Juniors.

    Given the very temporary nature of the teams, winning the gold medal in the Olympics has a fairly high quotient of luck to it, and the tournament is a bit of fluff. It's over in a couple of not very demanding weeks.

    Winning the Stanley cup is not fluff. After playing a way-overlong 84 game season, it then requires eight weeks of brutal physical pounding. You can't get by the other team with a single lucky win, or a goaltender who just happens to be hot one night.

    You have to win four best-of-seven series, against another team of guys 65% of whom (i.e., the ones born and raised in Canada) grew up knowing what it means to get your name engraved on Stanley. If you are not willing to lose a few teeth, or take a few stitches, bleed a fair bit, or maybe play with a broken ankle like Bobby Baun, it is unlikely that your name will be on that Cup. We are mild and gentle people most of the time - but not where Stanley is concerned.

    You can tell the guys who understand - and the ones who don't. Year after year some of the regular season "stars" simply disappear in the playoffs. They're the same ones who think an Olympic medal is important.

    It is a completely different, and far, far more serious thing than winning at the Olympics. Not in the same universe.

    ---------

    The thing is that hockey is an expensive sport, it takes a lot of time, it requires a lot of equipment, and it just isn't very convenient. So unless you grow up with it ..., well I don't see it ever becoming a big sport in the UK or France, or in most of the US.

    As a rule of thumb, hockey is not commercially viable anywhere that does not have a good, cold Winter, and a fair amount of snow. For 40 years the NHL has been trying to prove otherwise, and to this day more Americans watch "bowling for dollars".

    But they won't give up. Their greed won't let them. There is something pathetic about it.

    ----------

    King Canute, er, Gary Bettman, has been trying to sell hockey in places with palm trees. The financial losses have been unsustainable. Still, they won't give up on this hopelessly misguided strategy. They have NFL-envy.

    But when a real, genuine billionaire, a home-grown Canadian who grew up playing the game, with a genuine love of hockey, wants to put a team in the richest, most concentrated hockey market on the planet, where lack of competition has led to a 42 year farce, the NHL raises every possible objection, and runs the guy out of town on a rail.

    Time for an anti-trust investigation, methinks.

    ----------

    Hockey is a great game. It's a great game to watch, and an even better game to play. Everybody is welcome to play.

    If you want to play in the UK, more power to you.

    But if the game doesn't catch on in the UK, that's no great disaster. The UK already has three of the best games on the planet - Football, Rugby and Cricket. The world isn't going to come to an end just because they don't play hockey in Burkina Faso.

    When you come to visit, we'll find some skates, and you can come out and join us. If it takes you a while to learn, we won't make fun of you. That's not how we are. Everybody gets to play.

  • Comment number 75.

    I can no more understand why ice hockey is not a high profile sport here any more than football is in North America.Although i would class football as my favourite sport i first got into ice hockey around 1993 and have been a massive fan ever since.Coming from someone who has been to Old Trafford many times to see Utd,the atmosphere in NHL games is far superior and much more spectator-friendly.I was lucky enough to see the NY Rangers play at MSG in Nov 2006 whilst i was over there and would recommend it to anyone.

    The domestic league here just isn't as interesting and more needs to be done to promote it.Just look how the IPL in India has taken off with the right people promoting it.True,cricket is a popular sport on the sub-continent anyway,but as a northern hemisphere country,ice hockey is something we should not only have a decent league in,but a competitive national team.

    Can anyone remember the last British player who played in the NHL?I'm fairly sure it was Steve Thomas of the Detroit Red Wings.

  • Comment number 76.

    Hi, Brett - nice comment but needed to correct you on something. Steve (Stumpy) Thomas, while born in England, was raised in Canada to English parents. Steve was very much Canadian and will be remembered mostly for his time spent with the Leafs. He grew up in Markham (suburb of Toronto) and played for the Waxers. Stevie was a great little soccer player when he was young, too. The reason I know this is that I grew up in Markham and my family knew his personally. He would never be (and never was) considered a British player.

    Just a little fyi...

    Cheers

  • Comment number 77.

    Ollie. I want to gently point out to you an error in your column. First of all you say "Olympic game's second big worry: the lack of any real international competition outside North America. In the men's game the Swedish are defending Olympic champions and the Russians are a threat". This is very misleading. It makes it sound like the main hockey nations are Canada and USA and the europeans are improving. The truth is that in the 70's the BIG nations were Soviet Union and Canada with finland, sweden and czechoslovakia. Canada's first serious competition was from Europe not the USA - indeed in the inaugural canada cup (1976) people openly questioned why the USA was invited as they had only a handful of NHL players at the time. Since the 80's they have greatly improved and they have now joined the elite group abd we now have - including them - 7 elite countries with a few others knocking on the door.

    To say that Russia are a threat..... they are actually ranked number 1 in the world and ever since 1972 (quote from the 1972 canada coach - "The Russians gave us a lesson that myself, all our players and I guess
    the whole country won't forget for a long time") have struck fear in all us Canadians.

    Secondly you seem to imply that not many countries play at an elite level or care about the sport yet I believe the numbers compare favourably with english sports (how many elite countries are there that play cricket or rugby)

    Its good to have someone from the bbc actively blogging on hockey and interested in its development here. It may help though to read up on the history of hockey so that you get the context right and that you also view it as a truly global sport.

  • Comment number 78.

    What chance have we got in the UK when ice rinks are closed and replaced with bowling alleys/gyms/five-a-side football facilities/parking lots?

    (the football is particularly galling considering the amount of money invested in English football... and for what? Foreign investors' pockets? We have to hark back to 1966 for any success whatsoever, which is hardly a good ROI; GB has won olympic ice hockey exactly as many times as England has won the world cup)

    Until NHL hockey (Crosby, Ovie et al) is promoted properly and shown on regular TV here, there isn't going to be any revenue potential for investors and the grass roots game will always be stifled by a lack of investment, facilities and fresh impetus and ideas. No grass roots = no hope for GB hockey on the world stage.

    Removing NHL players from 2014 in Russia would serve only to damage hockey's fragile grip in the UK, but let's be realistic - Bettman has orgnaised season openers in non-American markets for a few years now, so while the juicy worm of American TV revenue is his priority he sees the potential in Europe and knows the value of NHL invovlement in the OLympics; the talk abuot an NHL Olympic hiatus is most likely a negotiating chip to be used in talks with the NHLPA when the current bargaining agreement expires, because the players want to go to the games (96% of them, according to The Hockey News) and the Olympics represents a cheap concession on Bettman's part.

    Besides, it's no use closing the stable door after the rather large workforce has bolted - taking the NHL players back out of the olympics having given them a taste is too risky, especially when they can earn a pretty penny in Russia's KHL if they feel inclined.

    ANyway, lets start in the UK with decent Olympic coverage of the hockey fireworks already going on every tournament (did anyone see the US v Canada epic battle on Sunday?!) and get commercial channels interested in NHL coverage first before prematurely altering the UK leagues again for TV - get the kids playing!

    By the way, I defy anyone to not enjoy a live NHL game, regular season or otherwise... even UK hockey in it's shambolic form has more to offer people of all ages and varying sporting engagement than top level cricket - did someone say atmosphere?

  • Comment number 79.

    At last, a chance to write some stuff down. Sorry for the interminable delay.

    The two big issues raised appear to be:
    1. Why doesn't the BBC try showing some more hockey, then maybe it'd become more popular; and
    2. One particular paragraph where I managed to make it sound like I thought the US and Canada are the only two decent men's teams.

    Let me deal with the second one first. Here's the offending paragraph:

    "Related to that is the Olympic game's second big worry: the lack of any real international competition outside North America. In the men's game the Swedish are defending Olympic champions and the Russians are a threat, but even Switzerland's valiant and ultimately futile battle against Canada the other night was seen as a big shock."

    What I meant was: the Canadians, Americans, Russians and Swedish are all very strong teams, and there are one or two others coming up the ranks. However, that's your lot, and that doesn't seem about to change any time soon.

    I managed to garble that though and made it sound as though I only rated the US and Canada, which is clearly not correct. Sorry.

    On to the BBC side of things. First off: I cannot answer in terms of what the BBC commissions. I'm a reporter, no more. Those decision aren't mine and, more importantly, I'm not party to information like budgets that informs those decisions. So this can't be a definitive answer regarding ice hockey coverage in the UK.

    However, at the moment I don't believe British ice hockey is in the kind of state where it would do itself justice on TV. I don't think the Sky Sports figures for ice hockey are particularly earth-shattering and that production is made on a televisual pittance, as it would have to be at the BBC, because the money simply is not there to devote to the sport.

    What the BBC does, however, do is devote plenty of regional airtime to hockey, whether that's in local TV news or on radio. I started ice hockey commentaries in Berkshire while working for local radio there and still do them every fortnight, available worldwide via the BBC Sport website. I'm not alone in doing that either, and more and more regional BBC websites carry reports on their local teams. I try to encourage and support that where possible.

    Developing coverage of British hockey relies on having enthusiastic staff within the media and an excellent product to sell. The latter is probably the big deal. It wouldn't matter how many people in the media liked hockey - if it was clearly drawing big crowds and offering a very good TV spectacle, it would get attention. However, as several people have alluded to in these comments, TV never seems to quite do hockey justice. I have banged on about this before and said that HD apparently does a much better job - I've not seen that for myself but I hope it's the case.

    Rest assured I'm working on ensuring the sport receives the best coverage we as an organisation can devote to it, within our resources and staffing, and within my capabilities.

    On to a few individual points:

    AberdeenBluebird (2) asked why hockey is less popular now in Britain than in the 90s. I wasn't really old enough in the 90s to see too much of it, but I do believe British hockey hasn't been as well managed as it could have been. Again, commenters above mentioned "chasing the money" and certainly there was a lot of cash, glitz and glamour thrown at British hockey a decade or so ago. That was never going to last in hindsight. Now, the Elite League - in my opinion - overreaches itself a little. I'd cut the number of imports. That would damage the product even further in the short term; however, it would put the focus on developing young, British talent to plug that gap, and that would in turn create a far more solid foundation for the sport in future.

    At least, that's what I reckon. I know there are about a million different perspectives on what's wrong with British hockey and how it should be solved, and don't believe for one moment that I've got the answers!

    Peter Puck (22) - I don't think you understood quite what I was getting at. I don't feel threatened that Canadians love a sport other than one played in Britain - I believe the sport in question should be played in Britain too, and elsewhere. I just feel as though some of the big players in hockey should be more open to sharing the game instead of looking after narrower, commercial interests - which might actually be helped by a concerted effort to boost the game's global profile. I certainly don't begrudge Canadians the sport!

    Michael Maguire (42) - Hockey is "singled out", as you put it, because sports like luge and biathlon have a berth at the Winter Games but nothing like hockey's profile in Canada. Nowhere in the world do those sports enjoy the love hockey feels from Canadians, even if some Scandinavian nations do a good line in biathlon. It feels unique to me, certainly at the Winter Games, for hockey to be so popular in a handful of nations and so anonymous in so many others.

    And yet, as several people pointed out, other sports suffer a similar fate: cricket being one of them. I don't disagree with that, but a blog on "why some sports are more popular than others" would go on forever. This was specifically about how hockey might go about improving its situation, with reference to the game in Britain. (Being a British broadcaster, and all.)

    Hankmoody (50), I agree with almost all of what you say but I don't see how you end up taking such huge issue with my statement that "most people don't realise the game exists". There are at least two or three continents I can think of where hockey has barely scratched a surface, and certainly in Britain the phrase "ice hockey commentator" is on a par with "unicorn handler" - people don't think such things exist here. As I say above, I agree that most other Winter Olympic sports appeal to even smaller audiences, but none face quite the same conundrum of being incredibly popular in a few territories and all but non-existent in so many others.

    RedWingedDevil (52), just because I'm a BBC reporter, I don't think it makes it hypocritical for me to find ice hockey enjoyable, spend my time commentating on it, and wonder if it will ever be more popular in the UK. As I say, I'm not in a position to comment on what the BBC broadcasts because it's not my call and there are issues involved which will be well above all our heads. There is no one person sat in Television Centre decreeing that there won't be any hockey shown because they don't like it - these things do have reasons. However, it doesn't stop me being enthusiastic about the game and taking every opportunity to follow its progress in the UK. That's not hypocritical at all.

    And Andrew, 77, I hope I've addressed your (and many others') point about that paragraph. I didn't phrase it well and you're right that it didn't make a lot of sense. As for the point about cricket or rugby, as I've written earlier in this response, I agree - but the focus here was hockey. I do, I promise you, have a fair grasp of the history of the sport. Just not of paragraph structure, apparently.

  • Comment number 80.

    Thanks for clarifying re the offending paragraph. I now understand better what you meant however "Swedish are all very strong teams, and there are one or two others coming up the ranks.". This is still incorrect. This sounds like Finland, Czech, Slovaks are good but are still in the process of improving. As I said in my comments back in the 70's when Canada started playing their pros against other countries, Finland and Czechoslovakia joined the elite long before the USA ever did. Indeed when Canada first played soviet union in 1972 few rememebr that the 'worlds Champs at the tme was not the soviets but the Czechoslovakian team.

    Secondly IF I was to group (& hockey experts like the hockey news etc woudl concur) the elite 7 into 2 groups then it would be Canada Russia and sweden and then followed by the next 4 USA, Czechs, Slovaks and Finland. You can read the hockey news version for the olympics for concurrign evidence. So what you are saying is out of step with most every hockey expert, though given the USA Canada game and Ryan Miller maybe you know something the rest of us dont!

    PS - My son was going back into school today (haivng just returned form Canada). I tried to get him to take the hovkey news in to his class with Sid the kid on the cover however he was too shy!

  • Comment number 81.

    Ollie wrote:

    "Developing coverage of British hockey relies on having enthusiastic staff within the media and an excellent product to sell. The latter is probably the big deal. It wouldn't matter how many people in the media liked hockey - if it was clearly drawing big crowds and offering a very good TV spectacle, it would get attention. However, as several people have alluded to in these comments, TV never seems to quite do hockey justice. I have banged on about this before and said that HD apparently does a much better job - I've not seen that for myself but I hope it's the case."

    "Rest assured I'm working on ensuring the sport receives the best coverage we as an organisation can devote to it, within our resources and staffing, and within my capabilities."
    __________

    You might get some HNIC tapes.

    HNIC is one of the most innovative of all sports broadcast programmes, with several of its innovations later being copied by other sports.

    Here are some features that have been very successful:

    1) The film essays set to music - either setting up the game, or recapping the game between periods. It helps that CBC has umpteen camera angles of every shot, but still, the essays (indeed, when set to music, the rhapsodies) are creative, eye catching, and insightful.

    2) The camera crews go out to elementary schools, and they will have a group of kids introduce the game from e.g., Joe Batt's Arm, Newfoundland.

    3) The main host, Ron McLean, is a qualified referee, and he still refs at a fairly high competitive level. It gives his commentary credibility. In the segments between periods he goes out on the ice while some of the pros and kids demonstrate drills. Again, it has a credibility, and an intimacy, that you don't see on pro Football, Basketball, or Baseball programming.

    4) The interplay between Ron McLean and Don Cherry on the "Coach's Corner" segment.

    The exact reason why this segment is so successful is hard to explain, because it is deeply cultural. How successful? Well, how many sport broadcasts have their ratings peak for a feature in the intermission after the first period?

    Don is edgy, sometimes outrageous, sometimes deeply offensive, says rude things about French speakers and Europeans, is relentlessly bombastic, and wears outrageous clothing. But he also played and coached for many years in the AHL, then coached the Bruins when they were a tough, hard-nosed team. He lived through some very hard times, and has earned everything he has in life by hard work. Underneath the bombast he has a heart of gold. Sometimes wears his emotions on his sleeve. Works endlessly for charities. He can also be very humble.

    While Don represents our bombastic side, Ron represents the voice of reason, the thoughtful and patient side of the national character - the Canadian everyman.

    And it works. Tough to duplicate.

    5) Hockey Day in Canada - particularly if the games are played outdoors.

    6) The competition to host HNIC from small towns. It may sound hokey, or cheesy, but it works.

    7) The incredible camera work. HNIC is the absolute pioneer in North American sports for creative camera work. Baseball? NFL Football? Mere amateurs by comparison. It isn't mere camera work, it approaches art. If Leni Riefenstahl had been born two generations later, she would have been choreographing camera work for HNIC. It's that good.

    ---------

    The thing is, hockey is a truly great game to play. There is no feel like the ice under the blade, outside on a cold still night. You race down the ice with the puck, and that cold air is in your face. It tastes so good in your lungs. The sound of the blades carving the ice. The click of the puck on a good pass. Then walking home in the dark, with your toes feeling like they are on fire, and the magic, magic sound of the snow squeaking under your feet.

    It isn't going to grow because it is sold where it doesn't belong. It'll grow because people enjoy playing the game. That's what you identify with when you watch. It's that experience of joy on the ice that wins over people. That's how the game has to grow, from within people's hearts, and not because Bobby Hull, or Wayne Gretzky, or Phil Esposito or anybody else is parachuted into some place with palm trees.

    ---------

    Canada will be in tough tonight against a pretty good Russian team. We have great respect for the Russians. When Canada plays Russia, there is always something on the line that goes way, way past winning any particular tournament. It's far beyond mere rivalry.

    Canada lost against the Americans, and gave up two needless goals against the Germans, because coverage in the Canadian end has been poor.

    They get confused. They start running around. They are disorganized. They miss their coverage. They give up avoidable scoring chances. And the puck ends up in the net.

    They may have beaten the Germans handily, but giving up those two goals was a telltale warning. It shouldn't have happened. If they make the same mistakes against the Russians ... Well, you can't make mistakes like that against the Russians and expect to win.

    The Canadian defense need to tighten up.

  • Comment number 82.

    When they're not on, nothing works.
    But when they're on...

    The first period of this evening's game was as good a clinic as you'll ever see on offensive power by a group of big, powerful forwards playing as parts of a team, and playing at a furious, blistering pace.

    Now if only they had awarded the broadcast rights to a broadcaster who could actually follow the puck consistently ...

  • Comment number 83.

    The NHL has to market its sport in the UK like the NFL has... The Wembley NFL game last year was a huge sell-out, yet NFL doesn't even compare as a live sporting spectacle to NHL.

    I'm a Brit who recently lived in Calgary for almost a year and have watched all manner of live sports events around the world (6 Nations deciders at Cardiff and Twickenham, Anzac Day AFL in Melbourne, Boxing Day Ashes Test in Melbourne, Wimbledon under Henmania, NFL in Miami, baseball at Fenway Park, Premiership and Champions League football, even Van der Velde in the 1999 Carnoustie gloom), but none of these come close to a Calgary Flames play-off decider in terms of atmosphere and live sporting spectacle.

    Add to that the fact that these guys are some of the best all-round athletes in any sport in terms of physical capabilities combined with vision and skills, plus a game that's blisteringly quick, skilful and aggressive, and you have a sport with a huge potential audience in this country.

    They already play early regular NHL season games in cities like Stockholm, where the NHL players are household names, so why not London?

  • Comment number 84.

    Forgot to mention -

    Full marks to the The Swiss.

    Played Canada to a shoot-out. (Ought to be sudden-death overtime. Shoot outs are for soccer, not hockey.)

    Put the fear of God into the Americans.

    Their team is like a hedgehog, plays a sort of the "rope-a-dope" style of hockey that Buffalo used to play so infuriatingly when Hasek was in net.

    Good, gritty, resourceful team.

  • Comment number 85.

    Thanks Ollie, it's good to see you responding to some of the points raised. I didnt' mean to take issue aggressively with what you said and hope I didn't. However I think it is only natural that hockey's appeal be restricted geographically - it is ineluctably a winter sport. Cricket would never be popular somewhere like Sweden, we can hardly expect that hockey's appeal would spread to continents like Africa and Asia. Though the NHL is more than half USA-based it is far more popular in the north than in the south. Ice hockey does very well considering it is a winter sport, as winter sports by their nature are not as universal as summer ones.

    One other point. Some people have said that football is Canada's number 1 sport but this isn't really true - every Canadian boy grows up wanting to be a hockey player. Even their Prime Minister, when recently asked 'would you rather have your job or play in the NHL,' replied 'as any Canadian boy would say - I'd rather be in the NHL.' So to suggest that it is not by far the biggest sport in Canada is pretty misleading. Someone metnioned 'registration' statistics - I can't account for these, but would suggest that they're really not painting the whole picture.

  • Comment number 86.

    85 hm

    Yes, hockey is the national game in a way that soccer (football) just isn't. Hockey, and to a lesser extent curling and three-down football, have a place in our culture that no other sports come close to matching. No question.

    But hockey is much, much more expensive than soccer, it requires far more equipment, and in most parts of the country the organized game depends on the availability of arena ice - which is a scarce and expensive commodity. Even outdoor shinny requires somebody to maintain the rink, and the season for outdoor ice is a lot shorter. In Southern Ontario and the Fraser River Delta, the natural ice "season" can be one or two days, now and again.

    Soccer on the other hand, basically requires football boots, i.e., cleats, and a ball. You can play it on any open grass space. Registration is far, far less expensive and there are both Summer and Autumn seasons. You don't need anything like the amount of equipment, and you do far, far less driving.

    A very high percentage of those who register for Hockey in the Winter also register for Soccer in the Summer because of the very close similarity of the two games, and the highly overlapping skill sets (well, except for the diving, that is). In that sense, for hockey players, Soccer is effectively an extension of Hockey - and a lot of the Hockey players also play 3 on 3 hockey in the Summer at the arenas that stay open all year.

    And it isn't just confined to the super competitive. Go and watch any house league game - where the kids can't necessarily skate all that well, can't really handle the puck, and often don't have a clue about positional play. But they get the same undiluted joy out of the game as if they were playing for the Stanley cup. You see it in their faces, in the desire to put the puck in the net, or keep it out.

    Watched the women's game tonight, and it was the same thing. The level of play is nowhere near the NHL caliber play on the men's side, it's more like 15 year olds playing AA, or even junior B, but the passion and the desire are every bit as great. And when they sing the anthem, they mean it just as much.

    I'm not sure why we are so passionate about hockey - but we are. Where we go, it goes - no doubt they're playing ball hockey in Kandahar today. Not all Canadians are crazy about the game, but an awful lot of us are. It's that magical feel of the ice running under the blade, the speed of skating, the way the edges of the blades carve the ice, the feel of the cold air on your face, the feel and sound of the puck on the stick, the speed and precision of moving the puck up ice, or riding the opposing forward into the corner. I am no longer young, but even now, just to feel the ice under the blades. There is nothing like it. It makes you feel alive.

  • Comment number 87.

    Ollie - first of all, as a Canadian, I want to say thanks for being so enthusiastic about reporting about the Vancouver 2010 Olympics! I hope you are enjoying your time here!

    Secondly, the issue at hand.

    I lived in Oxford as a student, and was having hockey withdrawal so I went to see a game at the local arena, not sure how that team is ranked in your leagues, but it was an awful game lol. They had heart, but it was a hot mess from beginning to end. Dreadful. I thought it was an old timers league, but apparently it was a real league?

    I'm not saying this to be mean, but the issue is maybe that yes, as stated, the UK doesn't have the same passion or infrastructure as the other countries like Canada.

    We have outdoor and indoor rinks, we learn to skate as kids (it is even part of our physical education). BUT there is a socio-economic divide here - hockey IS expensive. That's why there are big companies here that fund children's leagues so they can play too - like Tim Horton's and Canadian Tire.

    The flip side. I witnessed some amazing soccer games while living in the UK as it was the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and I've also seen the Toronto FC play (my pro soccer team here in Canada). The Canadian team, although not as bad as those poor Oxford players, do not compare to European soccer players. As a pro sport it is new here, so it will take a LONG time for us to get as good, if we ever can, as the rest of the world.

    Same with hockey - if the investment is made, the UK might learn to embrace hockey at a young age and learn to love the sport more.

    BUT, even before I lived in Europe I could name you the best soccer players in the world, from most countries. I think it is because there are so many ex-pats living in Canada that we've embraced it in our culture more...

    So, it is a bit shocking that most people in the UK don't know who Sidney is, or Ovie, but after watching that Oxford game, I can see why maybe there is not much of an interest. If NHL games were more widely available, you'd see how amazing this sport can be. BUT it doesn't compare to seeing a NHL team play live. It's such a thrill, especially if the team is a Stanley Cup contender.

    If you want to know how much we love the cup? Google "Sidney Crosby sleeps with Stanley cup" lol.

  • Comment number 88.

    Emily - sounds like that would have been the Oxford City Stars, who play in the ENL, which is effectively the third tier of British (certainly English) ice hockey, below the Elite and EPL. It's not the top level of hockey in the UK by any means, but nor is it that bad by British standards.

    I didn't realise big companies funded the junior leagues in Canada to that degree. That's something I can't see happening in the UK, but you're right - that investment will be needed before British hockey takes a step up. Hockey in the UK has to earn that investment somehow. How it does that, I don't know...

  • Comment number 89.

    Emily: That really was funny.

    Broadcasting note for Ollie:

    Complained the other day about poor coverage by CTV. Example last night: Dull game turns into a desperation, last minute effort by the Slovaks, and an equally desperate Canada struggling to hang on. Goal-mouth scramble. Wide open net. Miraculous save.

    But CTV didn't have the ability to (a) replay the action slow enough so that you could see the puck; (b) show it from a good angle. Critical play in the entire game, and CTV just didn't have the technical competence to get the job done.

    The between-periods panel was far below par - unimaginative, distracting format, copied from the NFL; four guys trying to out-do each other at pretending to be jocks. Painful. Uninformative.

    Gold Medal curling match, being watched by millions of viewers, CTV systematically runs vapid, already-overplayed commercials while the lead rocks are being thrown. Have they no respect at all for the athletes?

    In the women's game, CTV interrupted the emotional moment of the women singing the anthem to show a ridiculously, squirmingly uncomfortable, overlong frieze of the most reviled man in Canada. It was like pouring vomit all over it. Have these people no common sense?

    Therefore, note to BBC for London 2012: Do not spoil a really special moment when all attention should be focused on the athletes (it's their special moment, remember?) by cutting to a politician, a very smug looking politician, the most reviled politician in the country.
    A beautifically smiling and appreciative Sovereign? Perhaps.
    A grubby partisan politician? Absolutely not. Completely inappropriate.

    Last, a special note to Wayne Gretzky, supposedly knowledgeable about marketing. There is an old saying from Huey Long's time in Louisianna: "Never be caught in bed with a dead woman or a live man" - or sitting beside Stephen Harper. You demeaned yourself there, Wayne.

    And never, never, never, grant broadcast rights to CTV. Always use CBC. CBC is competent at sports. CTV isn't. Never has been. Never will be, no matter how much they bid for the rights.

  • Comment number 90.

    In reading the comments I came across one that I have to reply to. It's from hazsa19MKD about how soccer (football for those of you who are from Europe) is more watchable than hockey. I would have to attribute this to either what this person is used to watching or else to a cultural difference because I couldn't disagree more. In my opinion I couldn't be bothered to watch soccer because I find it mind numbingly boring (due to factors such as the vast size of the field, the lack of any volume in scoring, the almost complete lack of physical contact, DEFINITELY the lack of fighting - I think I speak for almost every hockey fan (not to be confused with opinionated non-fans) when I say that fighting is as integral to the sport of hockey as pucks and sticks - etc.) As to the atmosphere, I can't understand where this person may have watched an NHL game and had the music and air horns drown the crowds out. Certainly not in a Canadian city. Anyways, I admit my opinion is biased because I am Canadian and I'm not belittling the other poster or soccer as a sport, but I won't lie - I can't imagine ever finding another sport as entertaining as hockey, I just don't think it exists.

  • Comment number 91.

    Oh, and one further note on the comment by Interestedforeigner - I hate to drag myself down to your level and bring politics into a sports column, but Stephen Harper is hardly the most reviled man in Canada. Obviously you're a bleeding heart liberal from the East or a communist NDP supporter. If you're looking for reviled Canadians (to use the term Canadian loosely), maybe we could start the list off with a few names like chretien, martin, etc...

  • Comment number 92.

    91. At 9:18pm on 27 Feb 2010, trthgrt wrote:

    "... but Stephen Harper is hardly the most reviled man in Canada. "

    ---------

    Well, actually he is. In poll after poll he has the highest negatives of any current federal politician. Very nearly 70 % of Canadians want nothing better that to see the back of him, once and for all. And that's a fact.

  • Comment number 93.

    The fact of the matter is that you simply can't force someone or will someone to love a sport because you as an individual love it. You know why I love ice hockey? Number one is that I grew up surrounded by it. I started playing ice hockey at 4 years of age. I've played in a league every winter from the time I was 5 years of age. I'm 37 and I still play twice a week. And the fact is I don't care if any of you love it the way I do. Love what you want, watch what you want. For hockey fans in the UK it must be frustating that you don`t get to see all the games you want. They simply aren`t shown, or they are at inconvenient times or whatever. Well, if you truly love it, you`ll find a way to see it. You just have to accept it will never be a mainstream sport there. Get over it!!!
    I have to live with the same problem with football here in Canada. I was the first in my family born in Canada but my scotish roots (sport and otherwise) we`re massivly influential on my life so I`ve been just as big a football man as I am a hockey man for my entire life. As for the first half of my life it was nearly impossible to catch a football match on the telly. We had to rely on my grandfather`s pals sending over tapes of matches. Even today here in North America we have to settle for maybe a match or two from the Premiership or Serie A each week, or even worse watch the unwatchable MLS. The true football fan can`t rely on the big network to bring the footy to us, we have to go find it. I don`t care that football is a minor sport here because if I want to see my club I`ll find a way, rather that sulking about it while wishing maybe the rest of the continent will suddenly love what I love. I just don`t care. I don`t miss a match because I take things in to my own hands and I am ok with that.
    In fact, sunday is shaping up to be a great sports day for me. I get to watch Canada v USA for Olympic gold in the afternoon, after starting my day with a pie and bovril watching the Old Firm match! GO CANADA GO and `mon the Hoops!!!!

  • Comment number 94.

    93. Henke7

    Not sure where you are in Canada, but you can get all the football you want via cable or satellite. English, German, Italian, South American - it's all there. Every time I go to the barber it's on, usually the Premiership. They watch hundreds of games a year.

    Of course, the commentary isn't always in English, but after a while you get used to it and you begin to understand whatever it is they're speaking.

  • Comment number 95.

    Ollie, you picked the right man.

    A grateful nation salutes you, Sid.

  • Comment number 96.

    I've never yelled so loudly at anything (other than Arsenal scoring the the Champions League final) in my whole life, and I'm not even Canadian. I got into this sport when I was 8 and a Canadian girlfriend recently got me back into it. I think the NHL has the potential to be far more popular than any of the other American sports in the UK. I'm definitely subscribing to ESPN America. It's a real pity it's almost impossible to pick up if you don't already play and I live in London where you would have thought it's pretty easy.

  • Comment number 97.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 98.

    It would be appropriate if Brits were more interested in hockey since "as the story goes", hockey was invented in Canada "by British soldiers" serving garrison duty, sometime in the mid 19th century.

  • Comment number 99.

    First of all thanks to the BBC for showing the hockey final live. It was a great game and I'm feeling very Canadian today after their win.

    It would have been good to have a Canadian ice hockey pundit in the BBC studio instead of a downhill skier who claimed to not know what all the fuss was about. I detected a distinct effort to play down the magnitude of last nights hockey match by the whole team and Matt Pinsent just didn't seem to get it and seemed a little disappointed to find that ice hockey was on his 'portfolio' for the Olympics as he called it. Fortunately us Brits don't need hockey sold to us.

    Throughout the Olympics I also had the impression that the BBC have no idea of how popular ice hockey is in the UK. It is true that the top levels of the game have suffered over the years financially but despite this it has a massive following and excellent grass root support and is now bigger than ever in the UK. The fan base is immense.

    Just at the rec level alone there are 117 teams registered with the EIHA and all are engaged in regular competitions and challenge matches.

    We also have the English Premier League with National leagues underneath this including womens hockey. At the top of the tree there is the Elite hockey league.

    The GB U20 team recently won gold in the World Championship and promotion to Division 1 Group A.

    The Sheffield Steelers became the first ever Elite League Team to make the Super Finals of the Continental Cup and also came away from the event with a Bronze medal which is a massive achievement.

    The GB Seniors team are in Div 1 B and will play in the World Championships starting in April.

    The NHL also schedule regular season games in Europe and in 2008 it was the UK's turn to host the best league in the world. Brits are avid watchers of the NHL feeds into this country.

    It looked very much like the BBC researchers had done very little research with regards to how big a game ice hockey is in this country which is a pity.

    No disrespect to the curlers but if I never see another curling game as long as I live I'll be happy. It's like darts on ice.



  • Comment number 100.

    Richard Harris you are correct. The original game was called shinny and I think Brits were playing it here during the winter and exported it to Canada. There is a book called 100 years of hockey which does doff its cap to this historical fact.

 

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