Hockey Is Not For Everybody

The NHL is always keen to spout that their sport is for everybody – but it’s not.

Hockey is a far more expensive sport due to the costs of ice time, travelling, and equipment than soccer or basketball. This required wealth acts as a barrier to entry therefore hockey becomes accessible to upper/middle-class families and disadvantages those with lower incomes. Black people make up about 5% of the NHL’s population – when we compare this to the NFL (67%) and the NBA (77%), one has to question whether this is tied into socio-economic factors.

Hockey exists outside of North America, and although people will argue that European countries are predominantly white – black people still exist here too and do play hockey, for example Johnny Oduya who is black and Swedish. For argument’s sake, this piece will focus solely on North America. In 2013, the wealth of white households was 13 times the median of black families. That is a huge difference in expendable income and likely a reason why people black people are not accessing hockey.

Hockey seems to be stuck in a self-perpetuating loop whereby there are very few non-white players in the league therefore very few idols for non-white kids to look up to and want to emulate. It gets boring never seeing someone like yourself represented.  How many black boys are looking at PK Subban and imagining they’re him out there on the ice? The lack of diversity in the players is reflected by the fan base too; a pre-cursor to attendance at sporting events is previous exposure or experience to that sport. If you’ve never played hockey or ever watched it, you’re unlikely to want to be involved with it. The take home message is hockey has always been seen as a white sport and although there are people of colour in the league, not seeing them on a regular basis or being exposed that to reinforces that hockey is a sport for white people.

Black people are not a new commodity; Willie O’Ree was the first black player in the NHL and made his debut in 1958. He was celebrated for breaking the colour barrier and is often cited as an inspiration of non-white players, but O’Ree’s arrival didn’t open the floodgates to make hockey more diverse. It took twelve years before another black man entered the league.

Racial remarks from fans were much worse in the U.S. cities than in Toronto or Montreal. I particularly remember a few incidents in Chicago. The fans would yell, ‘Go back to the South,’ and, ‘How come you’re not picking cotton?’ Things like that. It didn’t bother me. Hell, I’d been called names most of my life. I just wanted to be a hockey player, and if they couldn’t accept that fact, that was their problem, not mine.

Racism existed then and it exists now. Val James, the first black American NHLer, had bananas thrown at him, and even a toy monkey in a noose was hung in the penalty box. In 2011, a banana was thrown at Wayne Simmonds. Heck, there’s a racist sat in the White House. Trump cannot condemn Nazi’s, but black athletes kneeling during the anthem to protest against police brutality? Sons of bitches.

As spoken about previously, the NBA champions declined to attend the White House. The Pittsburgh Penguins, however, continued with their visit to “respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House”. The team showed they were either completely oblivious or simply do not care about the struggles of minorities in America. Captain, Sidney Crosby, tried to explain the team’s decision:

I’m pretty aware of what’s going on . . . as a group, we decided to go.

Police might have killed 309 black people last year, and Trump creates racist atmospheres at rallies, and displays openly racist behaviour towards Mexicans, but it’s an honor to go to the White House and the team only had one black player, so what’s the issue!

Joel Ward, from the San Jose Sharks, expressed an interest in kneeling during the anthem however decided not to because the message behind the protest had been lost. Instead of a protest against racism and injustice, kneeling has become a way of offending a flag or a song.

It’s just been part of life that you always have to deal with, so when people get into Kaepernick and some of these other guys, saying that they’re disrespecting the flag, it’s not about just that. It’s about creating awareness about what people, like myself, go through on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s going to the mall or whatever.

Ward could have knelt. And if he did, he’d likely be ostracized by the team. If Trevor Daley had said to the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins “as a black man, I’m not comfortable meeting Trump” how many of his teammates would have been on his side? How many would support him and also refuse to attend? If Joel Ward took a knee, how many white teammates would have done the same out of solidarity? Devante Smith-Pelly, explained the situation in a sad but honest way:

Yeah, there’s a little bit of a lonely feeling. I mean, all of us are on our teams by ourselves: there’s not two of us together, or three of us together. So if one of us were to do this, and nobody else on the team jumped in, you’re really by yourself. I can go to Joel and say, hey — because he understands what I’m going through as a black man in America. I can’t go to anyone on my team and have them understand really how it is to be in my shoes. Just because I’m a professional hockey player: they just don’t understand. So it’s really lonely in that sense. You don’t really have anyone.

The only player to have protested so far is JT Brown. In homage to the black power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos, JT raised his fist. Although Tampa Bay Lightning released a statement saying they supported their players choices on political/social issues, he was dropped from the team for a short time and has since said he will no longer protest. Brown will be working with local police and community organisations to foster better relationships.

No matter what they say, hockey is not for everybody.

We knew that what we were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat – John Carlos

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NHL Awards 2017

Hart Trophy: Connor McDavid
Most Valuable Player

Ted Lindsay: Connor McDavid
Best player as voted by NHLPA

Norris Trophy: Brent Burns
Best defenceman

Vezina Trophy: Sergei Bobrovsky 
Best goaltender

Calder Trophy: Auston Matthews
Best rookie

Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron 
Best defensive forward

Lady Byng Trophy: Johnny Gaudreau
Most gentlemanly player (61 points and only 4 penalty minutes)

Bill Masterton Trophy: Craig Anderson
Dedication to hockey (took a leave of absence to care for wife fighting cancer)

Jack Adams Award: John Tortorella
Coach of the Year

General Manager of the Year: David Poile

King Clancy Memorial Trophy: Nick Foligno
Leadership/humanitarian (Foligno and wife donated $500000 to hospital that operated on new born daughter)

NHL Foundation Player Award: Travis Hamonic
Core Values of Hockey (Created D-Partner program for children who have suffered loss of family member, encourage them to be open in talking about grief/loss)

Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award: Nick Foligno

Art Ross Trophy: Connor McDavid
Highest scorer

Maurice Richard Trophy: Sidney Crosby
Top goal scorer

William M. Jennings Trophy: Braden Holtby
Fewest goals scored against

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Congratulations to all the winners!

The 2017 NHL Entry Draft

The New Jersey Devils won the draft lottery – thanks to expert Taylor Hall – and with their first overall pick, they selected Nico Hischier. Nolan Patrick went second to the Philadelphia Flyers, and third selection, Miro Heiskanen, went to the Dallas Stars.

In previous years there has been a clear number one rookie (Auston Matthews and prior to that Connor McDavid), however there wasn’t a clear cut favourite between Nolan and Nico. The two rookies have been spending a great amount of time together in the weeks leading up to the draft and there was no animosity between the two as Nico just edged Nolan for the first spot. In doing so, he became the highest ever drafted Swiss player… and some may say it’s destiny.

 

Full draft results can be found here.

Hockey Is For Everyone* (*Mostly Everyone)

During February, the NHL hosted a “you can play” month whereby they declared that hockey was for everyone. One of the prospects in this year’s draft is Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who was raised by two mothers. Nancy and Fran met whilst playing hockey, and had Jaret skating at 18 months old.

Anderson-Dolan is expected to be picked by the second round. He had a 70 point season with the Spokane Chiefs. Whilst at pre-season camp, he was invited to participate in VO2 testing – to measure the ability of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to muscles. This is usually reserved for veterans, but Jaret, at 16 years old, had a test number in the mid 60s and not a single other player reached 60 – then in his second season with the Chiefs, he hit high 60s which is generally the highest score in the NHL combine.

The player is hard working, eats organically, and studies sport psychology (good lad), and during “hockey is for everyone” ensured his stick was taped with the rainbow pride tape. The entire team followed suit despite issues with the tape being poor quality and breaking some players’ superstitions about their equipment.

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In a sport where trashtalking is the norm, he has faced backlash over his two mothers in the past. Whilst going through the WHL bantam draft, he was told by some teams that they would not take him because of his two mothers. But sure, hockey is for everyone, right?

“I can’t change people’s opinions. If that’s how they feel about it, I’d honestly rather not be in that organization if they’re going to be like that. I’d rather be in an organization with the Chiefs where they support it completely. Maybe that ended up with me falling in the draft a little bit, but I don’t really care, honestly. I’m proud of my moms. I’m proud of my uncles, my aunties, everyone I know that is openly gay. I have no shame about it, and neither do they.”

Good luck to Jaret in the lead up to the draft and beyond. He’s sure to be a great representative of the sport!

Stanley Cup Playoffs Round Two

It’s with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to half of our teams until next season. See ya in October: San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, St Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, and the Montreal Canadiens. But to the remaining eight… welcome to round two – four wins down, twelve to go.

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Preds/Blues

For the first time in NHL history, an 8th seed swept a first seed and I think we all became fans of the Nashville Predators for the way they took out the trash. When Shea Weber was traded for PK Subban, a lot of people thought it was a crazy move. Blackhawks captain, Jonathan Toews, certainly was relieved, but too bad… the lmao.pngPreds are more than one man! Elite goal tender, Pekka Rinne saved 123 of 126 shots he faced giving him a tasty .976sv%, but rival goalie Jake Allen has also been incredible with a .956sv%, and since Mike Yeo took over the Blues _ months ago, the team have allowed less than two goals a game average. Yet before players can get to the goal, they have to get past Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, and Subban, who have been defending spectacularly. Firing from the offense, Blues have Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka, who has tumblr_oorr91sO9T1wngza3o1_500returned from three years in the KHL, and Paul Stasyny, back from injury. The Preds have Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Filip Scorsberg Forsberg, and should hopefully have Colin Wilson back from injury after missing round one. This will be the tightest series in the Western Conference because the teams are so evenly matched.
Prediction: Blues win in seven (I’d really love it to be Nashville though…) 

 

Ducks/Oilers

The Oilers will be feeling pretty proud that they knocked out the San Jose Sharks in six games as the Sharks were last year’s runners up, and the Oilers haven’t been in the playoffs for a decade. That being said, the pressure from fans is high, but they have captain Connor (McJesus) McDavid who has won the Art Ross trophy this year for most points – in only his second season. (Let us not forget that he spent a few months out in his rookie year following a dirty hit into the boards that broke his collar bone). The Ducks always surprise me when they consistently make the playoffs… I forget they exist because I never come across their fans (should have stayed as the Mighty Ducks). In their 22 year history they’ve made the playoffs 12 times, and of those twelve times, they have been the division champion a staggering six times, and won one Stanley Cup. They swept Calgary, so they’re doing something right. Talbot was outstanding in goal against the Sharks, and the Oilers have no significant injuries in the team, but they’re inexperienced – particularly in the playoffs – and up against a very physical, (sometimes dirty) experienced team with the likes of Kesler, Bieksa, Getzlaf, and Perry.
Prediction: Ducks win in six. 

Rangers/Senators

I’m not sure if anybody expected the forgotten Canadian team, the Ottawa Senators, to make it past the first round but the Bruins were sluggish this season and niggled by injuries, so they had an easier opponent. Last time the New York Rangers faced the Canadiens, the Habs were without Carey Price and were beat in six. They declared that if they had their brickwall of a goaltender they’d have beaten the Rangers; well they had him this time and they still got whooped by the Rangers. The Sens are carried more often than not by Erik Karlsson, but so far Bobby Ryan and ex-Ranger, Derick Brassard, are leading in goals and assists in the post-season. The Rangers are favourites to win here. In their last fifteen matches, NYR have taken ten of them. Rangers have good depth; Zuccarello led the team in points, but hot on his tail were Miller, Stepan, and Kreider then they also have the King of Sweden, Henrik Lundqvist in goal.
Prediction: Rangers to win in five. 

Penguins/Capitals

This is gonna be the best match up – without a doubt. I am biased as HELL but I’ll be cheering for Pittsburgh – but they have the players to back it up. They’re without Kris Letang and Carl Hagelin who are on injured reserve, as well as

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The End of Crochkin? Say it ain’t so!

Matt Murray who is unable to skate. Their fourth highest point scorer was Sheary with 53 points in his first full season… to put that into perspective Zuccarello, the point leader for rangers, had 59. Kessel notched up 70, Malkin had 72, and Crosby leads the league with an 89 point season. However, hot on his tail was all star Nicklas Backstrom with 86 points. Ovi scores 33 goals and 36 assists – don’t accuse him of not passing again. Big scorers all round in these battles. It’s not just about the points; both teams are notoriously close in terms of cohesion and play like well oiled machines. Whilst Holtby has a .925sv%, Fleury has the edge at .933sv% for the playoffs. However, the Pens are without Murray to back him up, and Fleury can be shaky at times during playoffs in previous years. The big worry for the Caps – besides the two headed monster and the other penguins – is that they tend to fall apart during the playoffs despite being a regular season juggernaut. Still, the Caps ended Toronto’s playoff dreams in game seven whilst Justin Bieber was in attendance in his Maple Leafs shirt, shame.
Prediction: Penguins take it in seven (I really hope)

 

 

 

RISE AND SHINE… IT’S PLAYOFF TIME!

The Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing which means hockey season is almost over. However, the race to sixteen wins is underway and the first round has already conjured up some expected and unexpected surprises.

For those unfamiliar with the NHL playoff format, after an arduous 82 game season (that’s per team – bit ridiculous, but if you’re a season ticket holder then at least you get your money’s worth) the top four teams in each division make it through to the play offs. The teams in the Western conference face off against each other, and same for the east then in the final, the champion of the West plays the champion of the East to be crowned the Stanley Cup Champion. Now, you need sixteen wins to lift that cup, four wins in each round – seems simple enough, but each round can go to a maximum of seven games which in theory means a team could have an additional 28 games in the post-season. When you consider pre-season starts up in September, these players give up almost their entire year to hockey.

Here’s how the first round is looking:

stanley.jpg  Toronto managed to sneak into the playoffs, so that city has already gone insane at the prospect of lifting a cup. However, Toronto is leading 2-1 against the Washington Capitals. The Caps are a juggernaut in the regular season, but seem to have a meltdown each year in the playoffs. Maybe one day Ovi will get his cup. What’s great about Toronto is that there are so many rookies on that team (Matthews, Marner, Nylander, Hyman, Kapanen, Brown, Zaitsev, Soshnikov, and Gauthier) who have a combined 112 goals, 283 points in the regular season. Even better is that if they got swept then a Chris Brown concert would have been played at the Verizon Center, however an over time win in game 2 forced a game five which will be played there and Chris Brown will be rescheduled, nice.

Last year no Canadian teams made the playoffs, this year Toronto and Edmonton make a long anticipated come back together with the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators, and the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are leading 2-1 against the New York Rangers, another of the Original Six teams, so these two heavyweights have had many match ups in their illustrious history. Another Original Six team, the Boston Bruins are currently losing 2-1 to the Sens. All’s well in Canada so far…

Head west to Alberta and Edmonton are leading 2-1 against the San Jose Sharks, last year’s runners up. The Flames are truly going up in flames. They’re facing the Anaheim Ducks who are currently leading 3-0 in the series; the Flames have not won in Anaheim in THIRTEEN YEARS. Yikes!

Another FANTASTIC result is that Nashville are leading 3-0 against the Blackhawks. In the first two games, elite goaltender Pekke Rinne recorded two shut outs and two assists. A goal tender had more points than the entire Blackhawks roster, amazing. Of course, the motto of the Chicago Blackhawks is “one goal” so many memes ensued. Not only are Nashville on the verge of sweeping Chicago, their captain’s wife, Carrie Underwood, sang the national anthem last night and was incredible.

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Elsewhere, reigning champs, the Pittsburgh Penguins are leading Columbus 3-0, and St Louis are leading 3-0 against the Minnesota Wild.

No matter what happens for the remainder of the post-season, we’re gonna see some really great hockey!

Bettman vs the Olympics

What’s greater than representing your country in the Olympics? Skipping it and competing in the same league as per usual, according to NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman. Negotiations between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) are fraught with tension. On the 21st March, the commissioner had this to say, in regards to the 2018 Winter Olympics:

Assume we are not going

We, being the NHL players who would be representing their countries in PyeongChang. The main issue is that because it falls in January/February, the NHL season must shut down for almost three weeks in the final push for the playoffs. The added weeks cause the season to lengthen… the final game of the Stanley Cup in 2014 was played on June 13th and the pre-season then began three months later on the 21st September. But it’s less than three weeks, once every four years… IT’S THE OLYMPICS. If they want to shorten the season then cut down on the number of games, collapse teams, remove the all-star game or the recently introduced bye week.

There is also a thinly veiled concern for “player injuries” – this is coming from a league that sparsely enforces its player safety, shows little consistency, displays favouritism, and has lawsuits against it from former players due to the effects of repeated concussions. I say their concern is not genuine because they do not show much concern for fourth liners, but because their star players are at the Olympics – the ones who draw in viewers and the cash – they worry about the size of their wallet.

This is terribly disruptive to our business

For big bosses like Bettman, hockey is just that, a business.

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Candid photo of Bettman guarding his gold

However, to players who have given their entire lives to this sport, the opportunity to represent their country on the biggest stage and win a gold medal means everything. IT IS THE DAMN OLYMPICS. Bettman is complaining about the costs involved in sending the players (around $15-20  million due to accommodation, charter costs, and insurance),but as the majority of these players are on contracts worth millions of dollars per year, I’m sure they’re capable of producing the money as individuals to have the chance to play for their country.

Take the Russian Machine, Alexander Ovechkin, for an example. He’s said that if the NHL refuses to send players then he doesn’t care and is going anyway. Ovi is the face of the Washington Capitals franchise and if he says “nope, I’m out” then others might follow suit. Caps owner, Ted Leonsis, has even given Ovi his blessing to go to the Olympics.

He knows I have his back on this one. If this is what’s so important to him and he wants to go to the Olympics, he should be able to do that. Alex has meant so much to us. He doesn’t ask for much back. I’m not shy about saying it, I would support the player in this instance.

And if Ovi goes, what if his team mate Backström decides he wants to play for Sweden? And if Crosby says he wants to win his third gold and leave the Penguins for three weeks? And if McDavid and Matthews want the opportunity to represent their country for the first time? Who will stand in their way?
Another of Bettman’s issues is that participating in the previous Olympics has had no benefits to the NHL. Olympic games would be broadcast in the morning in North America due to the time difference and in February, only hockey and basketball are the major sports on. It’s absolutely ridiculous. People will still tune into the Olympics no matter what time of day it is hosted.

We don’t get content for the NHL Network, we don’t get content for our social media platforms and NHL.com

GET OVER IT

Bettman pushed the World Cup of Hockey enough – a poor man’s replica of the Olympics – but hockey exists outside the NHL of course. Canada and the USA would most likely send teams made of AHLers, college athletes, or ex-NHLers. Russia could come with a very strong KHL team (and Ovi leading the way as an abdicator). But here is the real kicker… Bettman is keen to line his pockets with as much money as possible, or so it seems: With the arrival of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL has ANOTHER team in the desert. He also would like to penetrate the Chinese sports market because there is lots of cash to be had there. Guess who is hosting the Olympics in 2022… Cha-ching, China! The NHL planned to hold games every year there in the lead up to generate interest* in ice hockey, but Rene Fasel, head of the IIHF has declared:

If the NHL doesn’t come to Korea, they can’t just go to China.

Yikes! The greedy heads of the NHL could potentially shoot themselves in the foot and lose this lucrative Chinese market if they do not participate in the Korean Olympics.

That being said, the NHL didn’t agree to the Sochi Olympics until June 2013, so it is still up in the air… at least until Bettman stops throwing his dummy out of the pram.

*cash, you know it’s for cash. These new “fans” would have to watch games first thing in the morning… oh wait wasn’t that an argument against going to Korea?