Hello South Florida and everywhere else, I'm Bird and back in action.
As we get ready for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey I do wish to comment on the growth of the game. No, not the NHL expansion which is taking place. I'm talking more along the lines of how the game is growing world wide.
I was attracted to the game early as I mentioned. There were only six teams back then but the names sounded international. Not much longer than a few years the league did expand and soon after, the first european players arrived in the NHL. The Rangers hired the Swedes. Most don't know but in 1965, the Rangers signed the first Euro trained player Ulf Sterner. Prior to that most players were Canadian with a few US born players.
The WHA had Euro players but the NHL absorbed that league and Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg soon joined the NY Rangers and thus began the games internationalism. Todays game features players from many different countries and the upcoming World Cup of Hockey puts that on full display, much like the Winter Olympics.
Growing up during the Cold War it wasn't surprising when Petr Nedved defected to Canada to play in the NHL. I remember watching him play for Team Canada during a pre-Olympic match vs. the USA team at Nassau in 1997. Some Russian born players defected as well. In fact many eastern bloc players came to North America to play in the NHL and for freedom. To see the first four Russian born players win a Cup in '94 with the Rangers was kinda cool and I was there when the first Russian born goalie won a Cup in Tampa.
Yes, the game is truly international. Kenya now has an ice hockey program.
It's true, the NBA has become more international as has a few other games but Hockey is like no other game on earth. It really takes a lot to get good at it and a lot of money. Especially in places with warm weather and few rinks. One has to be really dedicated to play at a high level.
In my last post there's a link to a local program here in Florida whose mission is to grow the game and eventually send players to division one schools and the NHL. That brings me to another point. There are no radio stations here that talk puck. With so many transplanted hockey fans down here I just assumed there would be a place on the radio dial for us. Nope. I tried ESPN West Palm but unlike the Mike & the Mad Dog show in NY who reluctantly covered the sport, these guys just ignore it or make stupid, ignorant comments about the game. It's frustrating to say the least. I tried to get the host Evan Cohen to at least cover the Panthers playoff run and while they gave away tickets and reported the scores there was no hockey coverage except disparaging remarks. 106.3 is no longer on my playlist in the car as they also have tried to cover the Kapernick issue but failed miserably.
As this great game grows it becomes important to teach the game, it's history and get kids involved. It's part of why Hockeybird is now covering the Panthers and not the Rangers anymore. The worlds most famous arena is sold out most if not all nights even when the team sucks. They don't need my help promoting the team or the game. There are now plenty of rinks and players born in NY now dotting NHL rosters. Here in South Florida the Panthers still suffer from visitors fans filling the BB&T center with the lack of home team fans taking up those seats. The Panther franchise does need help and that's what I'm setting out to do here. I want to gather together the current fan base and then expand it. If Tampa Bay can do it, so can we.
No one I've ever taken to a live hockey game walked away saying they didn't like it. Introducing the game here to new people is not really my intention but I'll take it. What I really want to see is an excitement and buzz for the Cats, to the point that games sell out and out of towners have a hard time getting tickets. I want to see PANTHER FANS in those seats. Together this is possible. The team is showing signs of becoming a playoff force and this area backs a winner. 1996 is a long time ago and Rats aside, not many remember Beezer standing on his head and carrying that team. It's time that a real PANTHER NATION emerge and Hockeybird is going to help get that done.
If you have a Panther fan site, contact me and I'll post a link and we'll partner up. It won't be long before the World Cup is over and the NHL season begins. It's time to take Hockey to the next level here in South Florida! And if Mr. Vinny Viola wants to come on Hockeybird I'll have him any day. I was impressed by his appearance when the Cats unveiled the new Logo. Mr. Viola looks and sounds like a guy I could work with/for. He also sounds serious about bringing a Stanley Cup to South Florida.
Let the games begin!