American hockey fans, the self-professed "real" fans (of which I consider myself one), often lament how the sport - in a perpetual struggle to gain legitimacy in America - typically only gets major media coverage (ESPN, etc) in its darkest moments. That, as such, if your average basketball- or football-loving (and, more speficially, NON-hockey-loving) American only sees hockey when it's being condemned, it handicaps the sport's already-hurdle-filled ability to "grow." "That there hockey sport is bull-she-it. Nothin' but a bunch of thugs and hacks! Now, football....those are some upstanding citizens and role models right there, yessir."
Well one quick turn around the internet/blogosphere today gives you a pretty good indication of WHY moments like Vancouver's Rick Rypien engaging a Wild fan outside the playing surface are the only things that move the needle at the big media outlets that normally ignore hockey.
The rabid pronounciations of disgust, the cries for swift and harsh penalty, the self-condemnation by hockey people themselves. Maybe, ESPN simply has a finger on what gets hockey fans' own pulses racing and, when our pulse becomes elevated, that's how they know they need to cover whatever "it" was that got everyone all riled up. It would seem as though we're our own worst enemy in this case.
Maybe, if we got this worked up over a sick goal, or an end-to-end rush or a huge save, that would register with the everyone elses that we're trying to attract.
Now, I admit this is a bit of a back-door argument. For a while now, I've been of the opinion that all this hand-wringing over growing the game in America is just a waste of time. That it's a way for the cognoscenti (MSM and mortals) to practice a little selflessness, by taking pity on the poor, unwashed non-hockey fan. Like a sleazy defense lawyer doing some pro bono work for an orphanage to quell the demons and sleep a little better at night.
Hockey's is a very parochial fan base. It's an expensive game to play which generally hinders youth participation (compared to other sports.) It's not dumbed down into set starts and stops like football or defense-only situations like baseball. It doesn't carry nearly the same cache as, say, basketball does with the coveted marketing segment that will go out and spend money they might not have on a pair of sneakers.
So, I think we should just let hockey be hockey. Who cares if it doesn't have an ESPN presence? Has an ESPN presence helped grow the WNBA?
Stop trying to tweak the game to make it more fan-friendly. The shootout is dumb. 3-on-3 overtime is dumb (see KiPA's piece on this below for a more definitive argument why, in my opinion.) Just play hockey. Hockey fans will dig it. And if that means hockey will always be a niche sport, fine. Whatever. It's a niche sport now and it's pretty great the way it is.
As for the game, it was easily the best effort of the year for the Wild. The third line in particular had their best effort of the young season, smart in their own zone and created chances offensively. The Wild's power play, what can you say? They're just on fire right now. I think Cullen has as much to do with this - as compared to last year - as anyone. His ability to orchestrate is obvious and clearly important.
The whole discussion of whether or not the Canucks are the Wild's big rival is so academic as to be moot to me. If you have to justify a rivalry's rivalry-ness, it's probably not a rivalry. Not in the "Claude Lemieux on Kris Draper" type of a rivalry. Much less a "Patrick Roy vs. Chris Osgood/Patrick Roy vs. Mike Vernon" type of rivalry. I agree with the old saw that rivalries are created in the playoffs. Well, the Wild has only played the Canucks in the playoffs once.
But there can be no denying that there is an added measure of angst between the Wild and the Canucks that just isn't there when the Wild plays the BJs, for example. Does that make it a rivalry? I don't know and I don't really care. As long as the hockey's good.
Back to the Rypien incident. In no way am I saying it wasn't a problem. It was. I can think of no justification for a player physically engaging a fan outside the playing surface without the fan physically initiating it. I can think of nothing that could have come out of that fan's mouth that would have "justified" what Rypien did. And, to their credit, the vast majority of Canucks fans appear to agree with that.
I'm just saying that we shoudn't be surprised that us getting so fired up about it correlates to the story getting picked up by the ESPNs of the world.
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