Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Is This the Week I Get Back Into Hockey?

So the NHL playoffs begin this week. The Red Wings begin their post-season Thursday against the Calgary Flames (and old friend Darren McCarty). The Wings' marketing department has rolled out their new slogan for the Stanley Cup run: Join the Red Wave.

Usually, I'm less than impressed by these dippy rallying cries, but there's something appropriate about this one. In past years, there was no "joining" in Detroit. You'd been following the Wings all season long. There was no playoff bandwagon to jump onto. Everyone was already excited and eagerly anticipating the affirmation that the playoffs would surely bring.

But now, it does kind of feel like fans need to be recruited. More specifically, they need to be reminded. The Wings once ruled Detroit. You know, "Hockeytown" and all that. Sure, maybe some of that was because the Pistons and Tigers were down, but there was also a genuine love and passion for the team. And for the sport.

I know I need to myself that at one point, I loved hockey. I couldn't get enough of either the NHL or college games. Come playoff time, nothing mattered more than the Wings game. I cancelled dates. (And as you might imagine, they were rarely, if ever, rescheduled.) I tried to grow a playoff beard as the weather neared summer temperatures because that's just what you did at that time of year.

I alienated family members by sticking to my superstitions. Every time I watched the first period of a Wings playoff game, they seemed to lose. So I'd listen to the first period on the radio, sometimes in another room, sometimes in the car. One Sunday afternoon in May of 1998, the family had gathered for a birthday dinner, and someone wanted to turn on the game. I told everyone my superstition, and of course, everyone laughed. But I was serious. I was not going to watch that game on TV. There was too much at stake.

So while the rest of my family ate dinner, I sat in my car to listen to the beginning of the Wings game. And I ate my meal during the first intermission. The Wings won their second straight Stanley Cup that year. I'm comfortable with my decision.

But I can't imagine doing such a thing now. At least not for a hockey game. (I could think of several reasons to bail on my extended family during a meal, however.)

I wrote a Red Wings preview for a magazine assignment, and listening to various analysts give me quotes about Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Dominik Hasek stirred up some of those old feelings. I thought that writing that article might reignite my interest for hockey. But I didn't watch any regular season games this year, other than when Steve Yzerman's jersey was retired. And I barely checked to see how the Wings were doing. If a blog I normally read decides to write about hockey that day, I often either just skim the post or skip it altogether. And as I'm off to another site, I find myself thinking, "Why is he writing about hockey? No one cares anymore."

What got me thinking about all this is an article in today's Detroit News. Apparently, I'm not the only one who's either trying to re-familiarize myself with the sport or just turning away from it altogether. Who's got tickets? The Red Wings do. Lots of 'em. Need an entire row? Operators are standing by. 2,500 season ticket holders passed on playoff tickets.

Times are most definitely tough around here economically, and those seats ain't getting any cheaper, but that's almost unheard of. Maybe people decided to throw their ticket money at the Tigers this year.

Anyway, I think I'll tune in on Thursday night. Although I do love The Office (Oh, does someone do a podcast about that show? Ahem.) and 30 Rock...

▪▪ While I'm on the subject of hockey, belated congratulations to the Michigan State hockey team for winning the national championship on Saturday night. I got home in time to catch the third period, and was rewarded with one hell of an ending. If I recall correctly, MSU was "the hockey school" in the state when I started to become familiar with college hockey. And Munn Ice Arena is always a nice place to catch a game (though not as loud as Yost - c'mon, you know I'm right). So a tip of the cap to Sparty for bringing a trophy back to Michigan.

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  • At April 10, 2007 10:17 PM, Blogger Kurt said…

    Ian, I've taken in a couple games at Munn from press row, and a few friends have, too. We all conclude it's an awful arena from a fan support side. Yost is one of the hardest sheets of ice to play on thanks to M fans.

    But as a Sparty grad wearing a shirt commemorating Comley's first return to NMU, I think it's all around great.

  • At April 11, 2007 9:40 AM, Anonymous E.J. Smith said…


    Excellent take on Motown's rather tepid collective response to yet another Red Wings Stanley Cup Crusade. As a nearly life-long fan and player of the game, I've also found myself wondering why the Wings' once unquestionable emotional hold on this town has waned in recent times.

    In my mind it's a combination of things. First and foremost, the guard has changed.

    While remnants of the recent Stanley Cup squads remain - Nick Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Chris Chelios, coupled with the second-coming of Dominik Hasek - the identifiable heart and soul of the team - Steve Yzerman - has gone on to other pursuits.

    A lot of peoples' new-found love for the Wings beginning in the 1980s came with the ascent of Steve Yzerman as a player and as the centerpiece of an emerging NHL powerhouse. We all rode the emotional roller coaster with Stevie Y. as the Wings attempted to overcome Edmonton, Chicago, Toronto, New Jersey and finally Colorado to win their first Cup in three decades.

    The remnants notwithstanding, with Stevie gone and replaced by a cast of young, highly-talented and yet anonymous players, the personalities who attracted the average Detroit hockey fan simply are not there. Outside the small circle of Wings die-hards, who really knows who Pavel Datsyuk is? Add that to the recent playoff early-exits and there isn't much to which the non-diehard can hitch their wagon.

    While the economy may have something to do with it, most of the truly die-hard fans that I know are hard-working blue collar types who traditionally scrape together their cash to hold on to their family season ticket spots or to grab a few seats during the season. Money was never the issue.

    The lock-out probably didn't help the NHL's image even in so-called "Hockeytown." In retrospect, you may right that people struggling to hold on to their jobs find little empathy for millionaire athletes and their contractual dispute with the League.

    Perhaps the main reason is that times simply have changed. When the Wings had their emotional hold on this town, they filled an emotional void left by the Pistons' and Tigers' implosion in the early 90s and the Lions' continuing struggle to achieve respectability. The Wings were a great story and a good bunch of guys to root for. In the Wings' wake, the Pistons and now the Tigers have appeared.

    You're right on that "Join[ing] the Red Wave" is pretty much what the Wings' current Cup run is all about. However, the truth is that only a deep playoff run will ensure that it becomes a "wave" rather than a mere ripple.


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