Red states shouldn’t like hockey!’

By and

And so an entire country has to hold off on that victory celebration once again. The glasses aren’t raised, the corks remain in place and that country’s crown jewel is once again in American hands.

It’s the middle of summer in the South, meaning it’s in the 90s. And given the never-ending humidity, that means it feels more like it’s in the 100s. And yet the Stanley Cup rests here in this strange land. A team from North Carolina has just won it, and an entire legion of hockey purists has let out a collective, depressed sigh.

Hockey is Canada’s sport, and yet no team from our northern neighbors has won the cup in 13 years. The last two seasons, it’s been almost crass. Two former powerhouses, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, got all the way to Game 7 of the Finals only to be dispatched from teams residing in, respectively, Tampa, Fla., and Raleigh, N.C.

I’ve been told that this is unacceptable, that it’s a bastardization of the game. That hockey has no place south of Chicago-and even Chicago’s pushing it. This is what I’ve been told.

Hockey fans say this, and then they wonder why their sport hasn’t gained more widespread popularity. I am a hockey fan. When I run into others (yes, there are more of us), there’s always that excited look on their faces-that look of desperate anticipation, as though they have finally found someone who understands them. It seems we will soon become great friends.

Then I proceed to tell them two things: 1) That I am a proud Dallas Stars fan, and have been since I first started watching hockey; and 2) that I lived in North Carolina and enjoyed going to a few Carolina Hurricanes games while living there.

They are crestfallen. They thought I was one of them, but no, they tell me, my teams are unacceptable, and so am I. They grimace. They hold their tongues (usually) and are quite polite about it, but it’s also clear they are quite disappointed in me.

The politics of the situation are obvious: The two teams I have just mentioned were once strongholds of the North, residing in the bitter cold of Hartford, Conn., and Minneapolis, Minn. Hockey towns! Let me be clear-I, too, was against the Whalers’ move down South, if only for the sake of tradition and loyalty. And had I been a hockey fan when the North Stars moved, I probably would have felt the same way back then.

But the fact is there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s not my fault they moved.

Anyway, the point is I understand the politics regarding those two particular franchises-but with too many hockey fans, it’s not that simple. The attitude I’ve encountered is indicative of a greater sentiment: Hockey was born in the North, it belongs in the North and it should stay in the North, no matter what.

I’ve never understood this logic. It seems like a rather elitist attitude to have, especially considering all the whining so many of us do about hockey’s lack of popularity in the States. It’s like they’re saying, “You should appreciate our sport, but you should not get the chance to watch it in person or follow a local team unless you reside in a cold-weather climate somewhere in the North.”

Every year I talk to dozens of people, and hear dozens more on sports radio, who don’t care whom wins the Cup as long as it is a team from Canada. As long as it isn’t Carolina or Dallas or Tampa Bay or Los Angeles or Phoenix.

This kind of exclusivity has no place in the NHL. Shouldn’t hockey fans want to increase their fan base, rather than limit it to certain specified areas of North America? Shouldn’t that be the goal? I, for one, was actually pulling for Edmonton to win the Cup, but now that the Canes have it, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe now people in the South will actually start watching hockey.